Perspectives from ESI & ANBOUND: Life in Cities Part 1

An ESI-ANBOUND collaborative article based on an internal survey that asked opinions for future cities

What does life in urban settings look like going forward? Living through a series of social uprisings, environmental consequences, and conflicting political agenda priorities, we are experiencing not only a changing landscape, but also the increased expense of living in cities. All the while, many people remain optimistic, curious, and imaginative about the future of urban living. Through a two-part internal survey on the future of cities, urban enthusiasts from ESI and ANBOUND reflect on their experiences and share their perspectives. Part 1 talks about social environment while Part 2 discusses life quality concerns in cities going forward.

The social environment of cities includes the immediate physical and social settings in which we live, think about, react to, and plan for daily activities. The survey asks about how the 5 settings of city life – Economic Opportunity, Mobility, Equity, Quality of Life, and Environment—have changed from 20 years ago and will change for the next 20 years. Most participants are optimistic that these settings are getting better and better in general, while they expect Equity and Mobility would be much better in the future compared to the past.

Participants further shared their thoughts or reasonings behind their answers that may or may not align with the collective answers above. These thoughts concern the challenges in improving equity and mobility, ponder upon what it means to have better economic opportunities, and even worries on a bleak future.

Survey Response 1: In Equity, we have become both better and better: better for the increasing amount of transparency, worse for the equity in opportunity and result. The basic infrastructure must be people-oriented, social environment must be diverse and inclusive.

Survey Response 2: The awareness in both equity and mobility has the potential to increase equity in general and with mobility in particular, as well as address other important issues such as pollution and climate change.

Survey Response 3: I think anti-globalization will create an economic downturn, and we are not necessarily better off in 20 years.

Survey Response 4: People tend to be optimistic towards the future. In particular, younger generations and better educated groups tend to be more optimistic towards the future, because they understand the content.

Technology breakthrough will also give rise to many new industries while devastating traditional ones. Thus, I think the future technology advancement can bring new economic opportunities, while retiring traditional ones. In the future, people need to learn about new tech to adapt to the new environment. The faster one can adapt, the more opportunities one will discover.

Social Environment Scenario – the Pandemic on Personal Life

The COVID-19 pandemic (COVID) has shocked the world and triggered a series of rippling effects in the existing social environment. Through the survey, participants reflected on how much COVID has changed their personal lives. Many said that they started to seek more connections with friends and family; make more short-term, easily adaptable plans; and increase investment in self-care activities. In addition, they are willing to compromise social time if it would otherwise expose them in higher health risks.

What else do participants have to say about COVID impact on their personal life? These short answers discuss the change of understanding of COVID impact over time, the challenges that COVID brought to personal life, and potential benefits one perceives.

Survey Response 1: Personally, the negative impacts of COVID is bigger than the positive side. I have not been able to meet with my family for the past two Spring Festivals, and my travel pattern have been affected by local conditions. I have to prepare for the COVID Risk QR code (jian kang ma) which affect lifer efficiency. But I have gradually been getting used to these inconveniences in the third year in COVID. The good side is that I care about my personal health, stay more connected with my relatives and friends, etc. I may need to think about a savings plan for the future.

Survey Response 2: Work/life balance is difficult given that both work and family time happens in the same location. However, it also increases the amount of both in some ways.

Survey Response 3: People don’t care enough about the psychological impact by COVID. The pandemic brought uncertainty, triggering anxiety and the changes of the overall image of a city life.

Survey Response 4: The hierarchy among people within groups and in certain space is diminished via online communications.

Looking forward to the recovery period, many participants desired more social opportunities and opportunities to develop long-term plans. However, as people benefitted from self-care activities and staying closer with friends and family, these activities are likely to be permanent change in their personal lifestyle. The anxiety for personal finance increases, probably due to the increase of the expectation of uncertainties like COVID in the future.


What else do participants expect in the recovery period of COVID?

Survey Response 1: Both the housing market and the design of interior space will change significantly. The government therefore will need to formulate policy to address such changes.

Survey Response 2: COVID provides an opportunity for groups and countries to think about city planning and how it would affect residents’ living experience. For example, the civilization of public places, policies of working-from-home, and the improvement of platforms for remote working, etc.

Survey Response 3: I believe that place will be less important for work going forward–I don’t believe that this will negatively affect cities, but instead equalize cities in that people may choose places to live based on amenities other than employment.

Survey Response 4: I hope that I can work four days a week.

Survey Response 5: In the era of COVID… working-from-home can reasonably improve life quality and efficiency, as people can use the time saved from traveling to work to do more things, and alleviate the over-population problem.



Special thanks to Bao Yutong, Kennedy Sampson, and Laura Burtner on their work filming and editing the video response!


Joyce Liu | [email protected]

Joyce Liu is an analyst at Econsult Solutions. Prior to joining the firm full-time, she was a research assistant. Joyce graduated from University of California, Los Angeles with a B.S. in Biology in 2018 and completed her M.S. in City Planning from the University of Pennsylvania in 2020.

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