The Death of Offices Could Actually Be Great

One way to solve the vacancy problem of many of the office buildings in downtowns is to rezone or redistrict them so they can be converted to mixed-residential spaces.

Riad Kherdeen

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Photo by Megan Allen on Unsplash

One long-lasting impact brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic is sky-high vacancy rates of office buildings in downtowns and other types of central business districts.

New York City, for example, has a historical vacancy rate of 16% as of June 2022, or the equivalent of over 120 million square feet of empty office space. Nationally, office occupancy has hovered below 50% according to date from summer 2022.

While most people have resumed many aspects of their daily lives that were curtailed by government mandated pandemic policies — such as gathering with friends and families, dining out, traveling, and attending shows — many of these same people have been reluctant, if not entirely resistant, to return to the office five days a week. This is not out of fear of getting sick.

Rather, it is entirely due to avoiding the waste of time and inconvenience that is commuting and a preference to work at home. Many people have switched to a hybrid schedule, going in to the office between once and three times per week, and working the rest of the days from home.

The result of this drastic shift away from work taking place in an office building to one that takes place remotely from home has been the unprecedented hollowing out of downtowns and the untold suffering of those who relied on lively downtowns for their economic survival.

Instead of bemoaning the rise of working from home — something that I view as hugely positive and empowering to workers — and arguing for policies that encourage, or force, people to return to the office as many employers and local governments are advocating for, I think it would be more productive to accept these new conditions and instead imagine new possibilities for what downtowns could be.

One way to solve the vacancy problem of many of the office buildings in downtowns is to rezone or redistrict them so they can be converted to mixed-residential spaces. Long before the pandemic, downtowns were bustling…

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Riad Kherdeen

PhD Candidate at UC Berkeley. Your source for original, critical, thought-provoking content about art, history, culture, and politics.