If you live or work in a city, you have a greater chance of being exposed to them. It could happen at the office coffee machine, or at Starbucks, or while waiting at the bus stop. They can be transferred from one person to another whenever there is contact between people. And not only that, but they tend to mutate at lightning speed. Once they are rampant, there’s no way to contain them. Face masks don’t help. Vaccination is futile. But fortunately, none of this necessary. I’m not speaking about virus particles. No, I’m referring to something else, with an equally viral impact: ideas.
We owe our wealth – for a significant part – to the “contagiousness” of good ideas and their tendency to “mutate”: to merge with other good ideas. There was no need for Elon Musk to invent the wheel, and Steve Jobs didn’t have to go through the bother of developing the internet before he launched the iPhone.
Still, every new idea needs a springboard in order to evolve and be disseminated. And what better place for this than a city? The presence of universities, cultural institutes and venues, as well as restaurants and cafés where people can meet – whether by chance or not – plays an important part in this. Like they say in Silicon Valley: “Knowledge travels at the speed of coffee. Cities are a determining factor in economic growth: the bigger the city, the higher the productivity.”
The circumstances that facilitate the exchange of ideas are, unfortunately, also those in which the novel coronavirus easily spreads. Cafés, bars, and restaurants have once again closed their doors because of the virus, and many people are working from home.
Will cities still serve as an engine of economic growth in the post-COVID era? The virus has caused us to break quite a few ingrained behavioral habits. The thirty-day period apparently needed for habits to be broken is easily reached by most people who work from home. Once the big teleworking experiment is over, not everyone will want to return to the regimen of five days at the office. You may have missed your co-workers, but seeing them only a few days a week is probably more than enough.