The Bartlett Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis


Why Face-to-Face Still Matters: the persistent power of cities in the post-pandemic era

18 March 2021

A new book by Dr Jon Reades (UCL CASA) and strategic planning consultant Martin Crookston explores critical questions about how we live and work together in a time of pandemic and ongoing technological change


After a year in which many of us rarely saw colleagues, clients, or vendors except on the other end of a Zoom or Teams call, it might seem hopelessly optimistic to title a new book Why Face-to-Face Still Matters: The Persistent Power of Cities in the Post-Pandemic Era; however, in this “highly readable and endlessly thought-provoking” book CASA’s Dr Jon Reades and strategic planner Martin Crookston tackle critical questions about what COVID-19 and ongoing waves of technological change mean for the future of towns and cities.

In a look back over a century’s worth of thinking about cities, business and office locations, this accessible book is rich with examples drawn from headlines both recent and long-past. Reades and Crookston explain the ongoing importance of places that thrive on face-to-face meetings to negotiating uncertainty and ‘sealing the deal’. The book argues for the continuing value of the ‘right’ location, and identifies the factors that will push and pull both activities and people to and from cities over the next few decades: the importance of network hubs; the proportion of activity that relies on professional judgement and personal confidence; the specialisation of inner city areas in these activities; and the continued value of face-to-face contact.

The book builds on doctoral research undertaken with the Bartlett’s late Professor Sir Peter Hall and CASA’s Professor Michael Batty, but updates the work with data drawn from interviews both pre- and in-pandemic. These interviews — with central bankers and artists’ assistants, television producers and insurers, lawyers and software developers — provide a taste of the wide range of roles within  knowledge-intensive sectors that keep the urban economy going.

The timely findings give readers, including developers, policy-makers, investors, and students of planning or geography — as well as the curious — essential tools for thinking about the future of places ranging from market towns to great World Cities. The ‘COVID-19 lessons’ reveal ways in which businesses and cities need to adjust to new pressures, new technologies, and new potentials.

You can listen to Jon and Martin speaking about the research on the City Talks podcast, published last year from the Centre for Cities, the leading national think tank dedicated to improving the economies of the UK's largest cities and towns.

From publisher (UK): https://bristoluniversitypress.co.uk/why-face-to-face-still-matters-2 (£20)

Amazon CA: https://www.amazon.ca/Face-Face-Still-Matters-Post-Pandemic/dp/1529216001 (CDN$45.53, available in mid-April)

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Face-Face-Still-Matters-Post-Pandemic/dp/1529215994 (USD$29.95, available in mid-April)