What makes a city an attractive place to live, work and play? In the past, it was largely the 'network effect' - masses of people, sharing services, assets, culture and ideas in a dense web of interactions.

Now, however, it seems that the physical network effect of the city is comingling and integrating with digital network effects. And this is forcing cities to radically rethink their value proposition. While urban centers will continue to serve as hubs of economic activity, it is becoming clear that - in a 'live, work, play' society - the role played by central business districts (CBDs) is changing.

The need for some form of reinvention is looming. Nobody yet knows how long term social and work patterns will evolve. What is clear, however, is that people have become much more focused on their time, safety and convenience. And that, enabled by digital technologies, has created very different needs and expectations.

Individuals will want different things (often depending on their age bracket). Some are more than content to return to a world of hour-long commutes and day-long trips to the shopping districts. Others are looking for what is being called a '15-minute city'; a place where people can access everything they need to live, work and play within 15 minutes of their home. Many are asking themselves how close they must live to the city center in order to enjoy all of the benefits that flow from it.

Cities will also likely react differently to these changing pressures. In some cases, we expect cities to embrace the 15-minute concept wholeheartedly and from a 'place-making' perspective (with appropriate changes to zoning and development requirements). A handful of innovators may even choose to allow the traditional central business district concept to dissipate almost entirely, in favor of distributed hubs and self-sufficient ecosystems (some technology companies have already gone completely virtual for the foreseeable future). Others, however, may prefer to try to stay as they are. Multiple paths are diverging in the woods; cities need not select just one.

Smart, digitally-enabled cities will also undoubtedly play a role, helping government evolve the urban environment in order to deliver a better, cleaner and more efficient quality of life for its citizens.

While this trend has certainly been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality is that many cities had already been moving towards greater use of live/work development concepts for years. The recent rise of shared workspaces in suburban and residential areas has brought work much closer to the home and has provided workers (white collar ones, for the most part) with much desired flexibility.

Until very recently, cities acted as magnets, pulling people, capital and ideas inwards. How cities respond and adapt to the multipolarity catalyzed by the pandemic remains to be seen. While a new equilibrium is potentially a long way off, we believe cities will start looking looking at alternatives to nurturing a central business district, as a way to help optimize transport and other infrastructure needs. For instance, Singapore has already envisaged a 2nd CBD to offer a better live, work and play environment through lively and vibrant mixed-use business districts while ensuring optimized infrastructure development for the city state.

Over the coming year expect urban planners and city infrastructure leaders to begin reassessing the infrastructure needs of their cities to understand not only how they deliver value to citizens today, but what citizens will consider value-adding in the future.

Those who build consensus through vision and leadership will also then start to create much stronger links between the planning system itself and the infrastructure development proposals being created; expect the debate around regional versus city growth to become reenergized.