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How new technology will bring the benefits of city life to the comfort of the countryside

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible)

In an increasingly globalised world, you would be forgiven for thinking that cities are the way forward. Indeed, studies would agree with this hypothesis as experts predict 66 per cent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. However, this scenario does not come without its challenges and it is not a foregone conclusion that city life will be the future. Organisations such as the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and the World Economic Forum are warning if we don't plan for increased density, current problems in our cities like inequality, congestion and crime will worsen. Urban planners and city developers have a duty to create cities which are able to cope with growing and ageing populations and technology constantly changing the way we interact with our surroundings. The elements that have traditionally drawn people to cities, mostly due to advancements in technological innovations, can just as easily push people back to the countryside. In fact, I see people moving back to rural, less-dense living spaces in the future and technology will play a major role in this shift. 

If we look back to the beginning of urbanisation, technological innovation was the magnet that pulled people away from the countryside’s rural settings. Steam power, machines and chemical processes meant people could enjoy a faster, higher quality of living that was exciting and new. Today, people feel drawn to cities for opportunities like jobs and careers and the ability to explore culture and make human connections; they inevitably move to cities but we will soon be able to enjoy the benefits of city life from anywhere. Looking at today’s technological landscape, similarly disruptive innovations can just as easily draw people away from cities, especially augmented and virtual reality, drones and an increasingly connected social network.

Jobs are one aspect of city life that is changing. Due to the rise of flexible working, more employers are investing in diverse schemes where employees can choose their hours and work from different locations. Recent research found 87 per cent of the UK’s employees either work flexibly or would like to do so . For employers, and the cities themselves, remote working can be advantageous. There’s no need to for expensive office space, there is less pollution and less need for employers to maintain and manage office premises. What about those who don’t like being isolated? 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.

Augmented reality is here but it just needs finessing before we can truly engage with it. 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. Soon enough, robots will be less of a tablet on a stick and more of a virtual colleague that you can converse with in a similar manner to your human colleague.

Keeping in touch on long distances

Cities also traditionally provide 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. The e-commerce space is slowly but surely encroaching on this. If we look at the UK high street, it’s extremely gloomy at the moment with major retailers issuing profit warnings or disappearing altogether - implying that the footfall and demand just isn’t there. Plus, 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. Why would someone wait in line when they can order, pay and receive their item within an afternoon? More and more, people in cities 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.

Densely packed urban spaces are advantageous for logistics. It means one lorry can deliver a spate of goods to several locations in a way that is efficient in terms of time and energy. Deliveries become expensive in more ways than one when a delivery truck is dropping small items off at multiple locations far apart; 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 and their tasks. 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.

We often associate cities with a rich social buzz, miles apart from the sleepy towns and villages we leave behind. But now people socialise in their own homes. Apps and social networks make it easier to establish human connections without ever leaving the sofa. You can keep in touch with friends and family, forge new relationships and work with people for years without ever meeting face to face. Cities, on the other hand, can often be alienating places, making loneliness and social isolation more acute. City workers are also more at risk of being displaced by automation, which will inevitably bring them back to the countryside. This means people will have more need for handymen, technicians and tradesmen which will bring back a stronger sense of community and human connection.

I believe countryside living can have all the benefits of city life. Cities will not disappear but instead they will evolve, alongside their countryside counterparts, to become new spaces. A lower density of cities will help them recover their balance and help eradicate some of the problems associated with cities such as congestion, crime and inequality. 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. Taking all of these arguments into account, it is easy to question city life and wonder what life outside the ring road can offer.

Julio Gil will be speaking at the 2018 International Business Festival, on Global Logistics and Shipping Day, 21st June 2018. To find out more and buy tickets 

Image source: Shutterstock/everything possible

Julio Gil is Industrial Engineering Manager in the Innovation and Advanced Technology Group at UPS Corporate.