In my favourite café, I am daily surrounded by signs of the new world. This new world is represented partly by ‘smart phones’, partly by open laptops, and partly by the sheer number of people dropping in for coffee – from their home office.
My husband has a home office, but most of his fellow employees still go to work at tall buildings in the urban core every day. His work at home is dominated by international conference calls, so he can’t participate in the coffee-shop buzz. The number of home offices in the neighbourhood grows year after year. But those whose work occurs via computers and/or the internet, have more flexible location potential. And many enjoy – or need — the free wireless internet most cafes now provide.
Not everyone with an open laptop is working, of course. Some are communicating with friends in various parts of the world; some are writing books; and some are merely entertaining themselves. Some are looking for work – and some need to remind themselves to keep looking.
As I sit here, one customer is writing a major paper for her degree. One, a well-known musician, is negotiating a ‘gig’, using his cell phone and laptop at the same time. A gentleman to my right is working on an email.
I, of course, am writing a blog post, and I’ve been thinking how widespread and steadily increasing these forms of communication are becoming. It really is a new world, and people have barely begun to notice the changes.
The other day, I noticed that WordPress (perhaps the most popular blogging service and software) has at least 30,000,000 – yes that’s thirty million – bloggers. I wonder how many of them are in Roncesvalles Village. Several write here not far from me.
I am sure this trend is going to continue, and is already having an impact on the world around us. For one thing, it means fewer people driving and using public transit. It also impacts each café – suggesting a need for new rules of etiquette. Sharing tables, for example.
Many of us spend a whole morning or a whole afternoon here, and I do wonder about the economic impact on the coffee shop as well as the world at large. Will the office towers gradually empty? Will there be a significant impact on this neighbourhood because of the large houses and their potential for home businesses?
I had noticed a few years before I left real estate, an increase in the number of younger people looking for homes with an extra room — or sometimes more — to be used as home offices. Not all neighbourhoods have homes that accommodate these needs. What kind of changes will this create in my community? More restaurants are opening for lunch, with people like my husband going out for a daily lunch as they always did, but now close to home. For a long time there was only one restaurant available at lunch where the food was enjoyable; now there are a half dozen.
All of the increased demand by people with sufficient money, professions, and the need, has meant a dramatic increase in the cost of accommodation, forcing many of the lower-income creative people to move out. This is a “cultural” factor in Roncy – for example, more lawyers and fewer writers. But while I worried, I have not yet noticed a negative impact on the quality of conversation here in the café.
It may be that a tendency I noticed during my 20 years in real estate, is a factor here: people are drawn to a “feeling” about a neighbourhood. My hope is that a high proportion of the lawyers, business owners, high-end designers, and so on, who are increasingly moving in, were somehow drawn to much of what I love in Roncy: a certain social-consciousness that isn’t obvious everywhere.
Many in Roncy seem to intuitively understand the importance of resisting chains, or big box stores, and supporting local businesses. Witness the community saving of the old Revue Theatre.* Or the recent ‘Celebrate Roncesvalles’ festivities.** And I believe residents try hard to participate in events on their block, as well as greeting each other – and strangers too. There’s no doubt that all of these things contribute to a certain atmosphere – the ‘je ne sais quoi’ of a neighbourhood.
Among the more recent high-income professionals I have met, I notice a caring perspective more often than a preoccupation with money or investment, and this is encouraging. So far, I’d say there’s a good chance that ‘community values’ will continue to dominate.