What if
no one works in the city anymore?

Melbourne’s Central Business District (CBD) name says it all. For most of the 20th Century and the start of this one, the heart of our city has focused on business, and the workers that make them function. The office towers that create the CBD skyline; the ecosystem of cafes, restaurants and other services that support them; the transport networks that bring workers into the city and take them home at the end of the day, all evolved in response to the concentration of high value work (and workers) in the centre of the city.

COVID-19 brought many challenges and changes to the way that we work and live. One of the most significant was the need to work from home for non-essential workers. For many office workers, working from home was revelation and they do not want to go back to working from the office full time, or in some cases at all.  The development and increasing sophistication of machine learning and expert systems may impact knowledge-based office work, in similar ways to how automation has impacted factory-based work, with significant reductions in the number of office-based workers especially in ‘head offices’ based in CBDs.  The effects of COVID on the concentration of work in the CBD may, or may not be transitory, however these and other treads suggest that the future of work may not lie in the centre of the city.

The City of Melbourne’s ‘Postcode 3000’ policy of the 1990’s increased the resident population and broadened the types activities that occur in the central city, with significant expansion of hospitality and cultural activities. Will these current trends, accelerate and expand these changes? Will the heart of Melbourne become the centre of leisure, tourism and entertainment rather than the central business district?

Ben Milbourne