The engine of Seattle’s economic boom over the last decade or two has been cutting-edge, high-tech industries. Office towers were sprouting like mushrooms to accommodate all the new employees being hired. Downtown was a forest of construction cranes.
Then came COVID-19. All those new workers were suddenly stuck at home. Offices were empty. Downtown shops and restaurants languished for lack of foot traffic. Graffiti and homeless encampments spread through the city core.
With pandemic restrictions now lifted, downtown has bounced back, but only about halfway. There are plenty of tourists on the streets, and cops have begun to reclaim the neighborhood from drug dealers and petty criminals, yet a great many office workers have failed to return. For many of them, working from home has turned out to be saner and more desirable than making a daily trek to a sterile cubicle. Without long commutes and distractions from chatty colleagues and intruding bosses, many stay-at-home workers are more productive and less stressed out.
Even though employers may want them back in the downtown buildings, significant numbers of employees are resisting or outright refusing to return to the way things used to be. This revolution in the American workplace means that entire floors of those shiny office towers may remain empty and, as result, we could face the daunting challenge of imagining revolutionary new ways to keep our downtown healthy and vibrant.
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