Our company moved from our bland, suburban, office in Needham, MA to a new space in Harvard Square last week. We picked this location not because it was more convenient, but because we all thrive on human energy, and Harvard Square is alive. But Cambridge is not a car-friendly place. There’s hardly any parking and what’s there is expensive. Driving to the office sucks. And I couldn’t be happier.
So as we settle in, we’re all exploring the best ways to get to work. Mike, who has commuted by public transit all along is thrilled, because his total transit time is now 1/2 what it used to be. Rob is not happy: he was scowling today after having ridden the bus for the second time, but he wants to get a Vespa scooter. The rest of are riding our bikes in. Jennifer said yesterday that maybe she didn’t need her gym membership any more. I am getting exercise for the first time in … we’ll, let’s just say it feels good to be getting exercise.
We all have to figure out something, because the lack of parking and other car amenities make other choices (even the dreaded bus) more appealing. I won’t ride my bike on snowy days, but there are several reasonable bus options, even if I have to drive my car to the bus stop.
So the interesting thing is that my commute now is about the same distance as my old commute. Why wasn’t I riding my bike in to my old office? Because it was so easy to drive. There was always parking available in a garage under the building. There was no traffic. It was on the way to drop off my daughter at school.
So this raises an interesting aspect of energy, namely that cities are, in most ways, very efficient, especially residential cities like NYC, Boston and San Francisco (and probably almost every city in Europe). If we live in cities, we live in multi-unit dwellings. If we work in cities, we work in larger buildings. Things are closer so we can walk or use mass transit. Groceries and shops are around the corner. Cities are efficient — New York City is one of the most efficient places in the US.
And perhaps most important, moving out of the sterile, typical office environment to an office where we can open the windows, hear the sounds of the street, and be connected to our surroundings is in many ways a tremendously better experience. There are trade-offs to make, like the inconvenience of commuting, panhandlers, noise, commotion. But in my mind, at least, the benefits of having 50 places to choose for lunch, banks, stores, shops and all sorts of people around make for a much more fun and lively work environment.
We have all run away from the commotion and discomforts of cities to the big, comfortable houses in the suburbs. Actually, we have driven away in Minivans and SUVs. And following that, the companies have run away to the big comfortable suburbs to standalone office buildings that are usually ugly. Yes, cities are a pain in the neck, because they have so much … character. But for the same reasons cities have always made sense, they’ll make sense again in our coming new world.
As we see that our lives will change as the cost of energy becomes more apparent, we’ll all need to make changes. Mostly people look at change as a bad thing, but not because what you change to is worse, but because it’s harder to change than not to. We tend to get used to changes that seemed onerous, and accept what is necessary as a given, after a while. And I think we have all accepted so many parts of our lives as “necessary” but only because it would be a pain to change.
We need to learn how to embrace change. And I think the people that change now, gradually, as the opportunities arise will be the winners over the big transitions that will be happening in the next 15 or 20 years. Those who resist change will find that the changes they eventually make are forced, and forced changes are always less appealing.