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Can rural become the new urban?

Julio Gil, UPS, looks at how technology is set to “flip the equation on our future cities”.

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Technological innovation has traditionally been one of the magnets attracting people to cities. Ever since the early inventions of steam power, machines and chemical processes, cities have always been synonymous with vibrant meccas of activity.

People habitually flock to cities to pursue their careers, explore culture and make human connections but they also have to contend with the downsides of crime, overcrowding and inequality. Today, the most exciting technology advancements are in the form of virtual reality, 3D printers and smart glasses which, ironically, might cause the end of the cycle of urbanisation.

Finding the balance

I believe countryside living can have all the benefits of city life but with the added bonus of more space and a more relaxed, healthier pace of life. Countryside spaces can be eco-friendly, provide a valuable sense of community and be equipped with all of the modern technological amenities that modern life requires. Cities will not disappear, of course, but instead they will evolve, alongside their countryside counterparts, to become new spaces with a renewed sense of balance.

Cities have traditionally provided services and goods that cannot be found in the countryside. It used to be the case that exciting, instant services could only be provided by a city’s infrastructure and, from a logistics standpoint, this was advantageous.

Densely packed urban spaces mean one lorry can deliver a spate of goods to several locations in a way that is efficient in terms of time and energy. But the e-commerce boom is steadily changing this; deliveries become expensive in more ways than one when a delivery truck is dropping small items off at multiple locations; it impacts the environment as well as the workers operating the vehicles.

Drones have a potential to play a key role in accompanying the drivers. Imagine a delivery vehicle accessing a countryside area and making his usual stops while simultaneously utilising a drone to reach areas further away from his path. Just like an extra pair of hands, the drones can help drivers make their delivery process much more streamlined.

High street shifts

Even UK high streets are changing the way they operate, particularly in the light of major retailers issuing profit warnings or disappearing altogether. This is not at all surprising considering consumers can order whatever they want and have it delivered to their doorstep within an hour, thanks to online shopping platforms that are open all day, every day.
City dwellers no longer have the monopoly on being able to get the newest, shiniest products before anyone else - consumers outside of cities enjoy these benefits too thanks to e-commerce.
In terms of people, cities offer the opportunity to interact with diverse sections of society and be on the cutting edge of culture meaning they are exciting places to live. But cities can often be alienating places, making loneliness and social isolation more acute. In recent years, apps and social networks have made it easier to establish human connections all over the world without ever leaving the sofa.

This has also affected the way we work. Office workers, for example, can stay connected with their teams and avoid long daily commutes by working remotely. Recent research found 87% of the UK’s employees either work flexibly or would like to do so , meaning more employers are investing in diverse schemes where employees can choose their hours and work from different locations. As these modern working practices become more commonplace, there’s less need for expensive office space and fewer staff needed to manage premises. In terms of human capital, industrial automation may reduce staffing needs, bringing thousands of workers to need to reconsider their careers, to re-skill and potentially relocate. We’re close to seeing manufacturing companies transform into highly efficient automated factories which require a lot less workers.

Human interaction

But what about those who crave the human interaction their job requires? Many of us enjoy bouncing ideas off of our colleagues, socialising after work and feeling part of a team. For these types of workers, flexible working doesn’t appeal. This is where two major disruptors come into play: augmented reality (AR) and telepresence robots. Future workplaces will be virtual spaces, rather than bricks and mortar, where we interact with our colleagues. We will also be able to wrap a robot into a human form with holograms and AR so they are more familiar to us; less of a tablet on a stick and more of a virtual colleague that you can converse with.

There have been many reactions to our rapidly evolving cities. Organisations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the World Economic Forum issue warnings about city density exacerbating problems like inequality, congestion and crime. As such, urban planners and city developers come under increasing pressure to create cities which are able to cope with ageing populations and dwindling public space. But these problems may become less prevalent as technology provides a golden opportunity for citizens to enjoy all the benefits of a city lifestyle away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

 

Considering the significant changes we have seen in our cities and how much they are predicted to further develop over the coming years, it is worth considering what life outside the ring road can offer.

 

Julio will be speaking at the 2018 International Business Festival, on Global Logistics and Shipping Day, June 21 2018.

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