Index of papers Phil Gyford: web | email
Spring 2000
World Futures

Urbanism Framework Document


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Information sources
Current Conditions
Expected future
Potential wildcards
Issues, dilemmas, choices
Key uncertainties
Alternative futures
Leading indicators

Alternative futures

Using two uncertainties concerning price of oil and the number of home workers in a GBN-style matrix. Four scenarios for 2010.

1. Island suburbs -- many home workers, the price of oil has risen dramatically.

Maisy has been working from home for several years now. Her company offered telecommuting as an option to all phone operatives a long time ago, but it wasn't until the price of oil shot up the first time that she decided to give it a try. It was tough at first, stuck in her sprawling neighbourhood day after day, resisting the temptation to use the car as often as she'd like to visit the office or go shopping or just drive the few miles to the nearest mall to meet up with friends. But more and more people in her neighbourhood have started working from home, one by one deciding they can't afford to make the daily car trips to work any more, so they meet up at each others houses for lunch sometimes. The city started a regular (gas-powered) bus service to downtown last year now the demand is there, although it's still a twenty minute walk to the main road from Maisy's end of the development.

Next month though the new shopping centre opens on the previously vacant land between this neighbourhood and the next. Well, it's more than just a shopping centre, with offices and some small apartments above the stores too. Maisy's looking forward to being able to walk to the shops again, especially with the delivery charges for all the estores going up so much the last few years. Maybe she can find a job there that'll let her meet people for a change! It would be good to get out of the house more often, as being cooped up in the same place 24 hours a day with her husband can get a bit much at times. He decided to go back to college, and even though it's only the other side of town he studies from home most of the time as it works out cheaper.

2. Standing room only -- few home workers, the price of oil has risen dramatically.

Another wait in the dark for the train. Ben's been getting up earlier than ever recently, as the trains have become increasingly crowded. Unless you get to the station for 7am they're full by the time they pull in here on the way to downtown. He can hardly believe everyone used to drive to work; he's only been out of school a couple of years and the price of oil went through the roof a long time before then. He went to a university that was only on the other side of town, but he got a room there as the rent was cheaper than driving from his parents' house every day. When he left university he had to turn down the perfect job offer because it was at an office complex by the mall and with no public transport going there he couldn't afford to drive on the entry salary. He couldn't afford to replace his old car with an electric model, like his parents did when they passed it on to him, but he plans to do so soon.

Until then he squeezes onto the train early every morning. They say they're upgrading the lines to allow for more trains, using money diverted from the hurriedly aborted roads program. The long train journey takes him past the really expensive housing closer to the business district. It doesn't seem long ago that these were run down inner city areas, but as gas prices rose the idea of living close to the centre of town became more appealing. Anyone who could afford to moved away from their sprawling and distant suburbs to town houses and apartments above shops that went rapidly upmarket.

It's so different from Ben's neighbourhood; no one wants to live there now, with little chance of finding work nearby, and the prospect of an expensive or crowded commute every day. His neighbour tried working from home for a while, just before he moved away, but he couldn't take the isolation and felt cut off from the people who still went into the office every day. Ben doesn't like the idea either. It may be an uncomfortable journey to work, but it's better than spending every day alone in the house without even a corner store within walking distance.

3. Business as usual -- few home workers, the price of oil stays steady.

Another day, another traffic jam. It's taking Terry longer and longer to get into work each day and she regrets buying a place so far away from work now. But it's a lovely house, plenty of garden and greenery, a long way from the pollution of the more crowded parts of town. Still, it could be worse; quite a few people have electric cars these days, although not as many as the government predicted; with gas still affordable most people have stuck with what they know, although the younger kids seem to be taking to the EVs more. But even these add to the congestion. The city extended its light rail system a few years ago, but most people still prefer to sit in their own cars rather than park and ride, even though driving takes so long. Besides, housing close to the light rail has shot up in price, especially since they introduced all the traffic restrictions in the area.

Some days Terry works from home, but only occasionally, when she needs to concentrate on a project. It's no problem with video conferencing and everything, but she couldn't do it all the time. But she may have to stay home more often if the city restricts car traffic into town, like they're threatening to do.

4. Moving on out -- many home workers, the price of oil stays steady.

Not long ago Danny moved away from his old neighbourhood to this new place further out. The old place had seemed spacious and a break from the city when he moved in, but over the years all the new development in the area made it seem like any old neighbourhood, especially with all the extra traffic it brought. So he moved even further out to this brand new suburb, and just in time too; prices began to plummet in the old neighbourhood, what with so many people wanting to move further away.

It's a hell of a long way to drive to most places now of course, but that's not a big problem for Danny. He's been working from home for years and doesn't miss office life one bit. He can sit at the far end of the garden and imagine he's in the countryside, all the time still in close contact with his workmates (most of whom are working from their homes too). He goes into the office maybe once a week, to touch base and meet clients face to face; it's a couple of hours drive, assuming average levels of congestion, but that's OK.

It can get lonely of course, but he often drives to visit friends or meet up at one of the malls that have followed the residential development out into the countryside.

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