Post Urbanism?

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JasonL
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Post Urbanism?

Post by JasonL »

Need a better title. Musings on what long run effects if any we may see on urban environments post covid.

So I work in most years on a campus for an employer that is by far the largest source of tax revenue for the city in which that campus nominally resides. Let’s call it 4,500 employees at good wages. Looking at taxes this year, as everyone one worked from home, we will be entitled to claim 100% refund of withholdings from that city.

My first thought is man the city is screwed. My second is that the whole premise of location based municipal taxation is kind of upended. We aren’t consuming services in any real sense from that city. Not traffic, not water not really anything. But then, let’s say my earned income is at my home address - should that really be a boon for my local town? I’m not really “using” more public facilities here either. In a real sense I don’t know what logic should apply when decentralized highly scalable online work is more the norm.
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JasonL
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by JasonL »

There’s an underlying premise in our current tax system that urban centers entail a large positive externality to labor performed within their boundaries. Amenities, spillover from network effects like “Wall Street” and so forth. If we unwind that premise, life under Covid showing little actual decrease in high skill productivity, I wonder what other things we are implicitly unwinding.
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lshap
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by lshap »

Living in Florida has changed my perspective on income tax a bit. Not that I was ever a big fan, but here we pay other sorts of taxes at higher rates and things generally work out.

The ultimate result of everyone realizing they can work from home, I think, is going to be more massive movements of workers to places they'd rather be. That's likely to change the economy broadly as people continue on various waves of migrancy (to cities, to burbs, to sunny places or places where they can afford big properties, etc). It will be an interesting thing viewed in hindsight in 20 years.
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Eric the .5b
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Eric the .5b »

Or people will associate working at home with being locked down and isolated.

I'm curious which will win out.
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Ellie
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Ellie »

I'm very pessimistic about working from home really staying more popular once Covid is no longer an issue. I mean, my current job is doing social media and email marketing which is fully online by its very nature, and I still had to get special dispensation to keep working remotely for all of 2021 so I could move up to Fargo, AND once the building opens back up they still want me to come in two days a month. For staff meetings! Literally the MOST telecommutable part of a job!

So anyway, I don't think anything is going to change for anyone. Hope I'm wrong.
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Hugh Akston
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Hugh Akston »

My job has made it clear that WFH is not the new normal. Once covid is behind us, they will expect us in the building at least some/most of the time.
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JasonL
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Re: Post Urbanism?

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My role is basically being asked what we want to do. Our management structure will basically be doing what most people decide. There's talk of a hybrid approach but my sense is the real estate costs simply won't justify one day a week at the office or whatever.

Now, I don't have kids driving me crazy or anything like that. I do feel the constant presence of my own 4 walls but I kind of associate that with being locked in moreso than the nature of work. I just told the boss that all things equal even though had you asked me two years ago I'd say I didn't want to work from home, the technology and having my own standing desk now and being able to use my own big display and keyboard and such, plus the lack of commute ... I don't really want to go back. The commute is a big deal. It was never that long - like 25 minutes or a hair more, but I very much feel liberated by being able to check in as soon as I get up, maybe address any hot items right away, then make myself some eggs and listen to a pod while I'd normally be in the car.

Around here some people commute across the Ohio to Cincinnati - thats a HUGE difference in traffic related misery poof gone. I'd be very surprised if the consensus were to go back to the office.
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nicole
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by nicole »

JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 14:13 My role is basically being asked what we want to do. Our management structure will basically be doing what most people decide. There's talk of a hybrid approach but my sense is the real estate costs simply won't justify one day a week at the office or whatever.

Now, I don't have kids driving me crazy or anything like that. I do feel the constant presence of my own 4 walls but I kind of associate that with being locked in moreso than the nature of work. I just told the boss that all things equal even though had you asked me two years ago I'd say I didn't want to work from home, the technology and having my own standing desk now and being able to use my own big display and keyboard and such, plus the lack of commute ... I don't really want to go back. The commute is a big deal. It was never that long - like 25 minutes or a hair more, but I very much feel liberated by being able to check in as soon as I get up, maybe address any hot items right away, then make myself some eggs and listen to a pod while I'd normally be in the car.

Around here some people commute across the Ohio to Cincinnati - thats a HUGE difference in traffic related misery poof gone. I'd be very surprised if the consensus were to go back to the office.
Yeah, I expect our experience to be closer to this. Of course some of us were already fully remote in part of our org (I've been remote for 13 years, but we've been acquired since then). But it seems like very few people are going to want to do anything like spending most of their time back in the office. For sure a bunch of people bought houses in the suburbs.

I am all about that exact model you describe of checking in early and then having breakfast or walking the dog or whatever.
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Shem
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Shem »

JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 11:20My second is that the whole premise of location based municipal taxation is kind of upended.
I don't understand what you mean by this. Do you have municipal income tax?
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D.A. Ridgely
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by D.A. Ridgely »

Given that, hunting and marketing aside, most people throughout most history worked at home; that is, their work life and family life all took place at the same place, it might be interesting to see how heteronormative gender roles in the 21st century play out if and when both 'working' spouses are nonetheless working from home.
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Hugh Akston
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Hugh Akston »

Shem wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 15:37
JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 11:20My second is that the whole premise of location based municipal taxation is kind of upended.
I don't understand what you mean by this. Do you have municipal income tax?
Workplaces pay property tax. But if their employees live/work out in the burbs then there's no reason to lease downtown office space and the city tax base collapses.
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Jennifer
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Jennifer »

Some municipalities charge income taxes, I know -- pretty sure NYC does or did at one time -- but I don't know if that applies to remote workers who don't actually live in the city. (I also don't know if it would apply to an NYC resident who worked outside the city for whatever reason.)
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JasonL
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by JasonL »

Shem wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 15:37
JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 11:20My second is that the whole premise of location based municipal taxation is kind of upended.
I don't understand what you mean by this. Do you have municipal income tax?
Yes. 2.5% in the city in question. NYC it's like 3.5 or something I think.
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JasonL
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Re: Post Urbanism?

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We see disputes on earned vs lived area taxation all the time in my industry. It's constant squabbles about who is entitled to the income of someone who lives in NJ but works in the city but then moves to Florida to quasi retire but only snow birds.
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Jennifer
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Jennifer »

JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 16:13
Shem wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 15:37
JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 11:20My second is that the whole premise of location based municipal taxation is kind of upended.
I don't understand what you mean by this. Do you have municipal income tax?
Yes. 2.5% in the city in question. NYC it's like 3.5 or something I think.
Is the income tax on every worker who lives in a given city, or everyone whose job is in a given city? And does every city in your state have such a tax, or does it depend on which municipality we're talking about?
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JasonL
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Re: Post Urbanism?

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I think most if not all municipalities and cities have an income tax in KY. Like in this case I'm talking about Covington of CovCath maga kid fame. My wife was on the road for many years working for the same company with a theoretical desk in the offices that are in the larger municipality centered in Covington. So I worked in the office and I had Covington taxes withheld from every check. I effectively owed 2.5% of earned income to that municipality. My wife had the same withholdings but because she worked on the road, we'd file a special form to reclaim those taxes withheld from her check. We'd get like 80% or something back. In theory it's hours worked in the location where the municipal tax applies.

In theory, as my wife was on the road to all kinds of places usually 3 per week during this period, she was supposed to look up state and local rules for each place, but nobody ever did that and there is effectively a deminimis amount of earned income per location nobody's laws bother with.
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Jennifer
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Jennifer »

So which city gets you rincome tax now -- your residence (since you work from home), or the city where the job's actually based?
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Shem
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Re: Post Urbanism?

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JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 16:13
Shem wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 15:37
JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 11:20My second is that the whole premise of location based municipal taxation is kind of upended.
I don't understand what you mean by this. Do you have municipal income tax?
Yes. 2.5% in the city in question. NYC it's like 3.5 or something I think.
Maybe it's just that I live in a state with no income tax for anyone, but that seems bonkers.
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Rachel
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Rachel »

JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 16:16 We see disputes on earned vs lived area taxation all the time in my industry. It's constant squabbles about who is entitled to the income of someone who lives in NJ but works in the city but then moves to Florida to quasi retire but only snow birds.
Yeah, there were years I lived in NJ for part of the year/worked in NYC and I never officially changed to my NYC address with work (because I never change my NJ license - no need to) and avoid paying city taxes. Technically I could still do this, but hassle.

With so many people in NYC working from various locations, I'm curious to see how the squabbles intensify.

When I interviewed for this job (a little before Labor Day) we were expected to be back in the office full time January 1. Now it's April 1. It seems like that means full-time in the office, every day, even though it is clear that the job can be done from home. What is worse (in my view) is that much of the work we do is trainings/observations/etc. that require people to go to remote jurisdictions, engage in inefficient travel, and also there are conferences to put on. From what I've seen, it makes so much more sense just to keep it going virtually, with few exceptions. My boss was like "oh, but sometimes they hold conferences in cool places and we all want to go there."

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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Warren »

I was excited about the idea of WFH back in the 80's when the interweb was but a twinkle in our collective nerd eyes.
Now we have all the bits to make WFH as feasible as it possibly can be. This past year pushed as many people to WFH as possible, and from what I see, it's not going to last. I think it will be more popular in 2022 than in 2018, but not that much more. For one thing, as appealing as WFH sounded to me, most people seem to really need to mingle with their cow-orkers, and feel "trapped" WingFH.

I was really hoping the high unemployment would push people to find more gig jobs and other nonW2 ways of getting by.
Going forward that is where all my optimism lies; in making small/micro-buisiness more competitive than mega corporations/institutions.
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Highway »

I think the main thing is that people want to have more variety. Working from home a few days a week, even maybe most days? Great, especially if you've been required to go to the office every single day for the whole reasons of "using the work computer" and "being where the boss can see you". Having to work from home and also being limited on going out to restaurants or bars or movies or malls or museums or anywhere else? Yeah, not so much. But soon after those same people have to go back to the office every day, they'll be like "Yeah, working from home was nice..."

I think there are a lot of people who found they could work from home very effectively, sometimes even more effectively than going to the office. I was not someone who was looking to work from home, ever, before Covid. I felt like I would have motivation problems, not get my work done, and slack off too much. That really hasn't been the case. I've been able to figure out workflows that work for me, hours that work for me, and have felt like I'm more productive. Plus, there's still the opportunity to be collaborative, although it's probably limited to fewer people than it would have been in the office. But not to the point where it feels like there is a loss of productivity or professional development.

Things I've liked:
-Meetings via software. So much more flexibility. Can schedule meetings one after another without having to build in travel time. Can *much* more easily demonstrate issues or show examples from my computer. And for those meetings where you're invited for your 5 minute part of a 2 hour meeting, you can be present, but continue to do other work, and shift focus to the meeting if needed.

-Roll out of bed and be 'at work' immediately. Literally take the time to brush my teeth and change out of pajamas (yes, I change into work clothes every day, but for an engineer, that's not saying much: jeans and a polo shirt), turn my computer on, and that's working.

-Also the ability to take more productive work breaks: clean up dishes, make some lunch, go get the mail, bring in packages. Things that don't take time, but get me out of the seat and walking a little.

-Dealing with repairs or other things: I'm home already. Can get the soffit fixed or the heat pump repaired without taking time off work.

-Not being sick: not hanging around other people much really reduces the opportunity to catch colds and flu. Plus, even the times I haven't felt great, it's a lot easier to do some work from home and just stop if it gets too much / too tired.

-Not feeling like I have to make a decision about bad weather: True, we don't get 'snow days' if we're working from home, but snow days were always just vacation time anyway. And now I don't have to sit at work obsessing about the weather - "Is it getting worse? Should I leave now? Is it going to end?" - and can just enjoy snow falling outside.

Now, granted, I don't have kids, just cats. And my wife is supportive of me working from home, and helps keep me at it. Having done this for a year, I'd like this to continue to be part of my work. One thing I'm sure of: when I go back to the office, it will feel quite limiting. Bad desk setup. Bad computer equipment. People coming over to interrupt me, where from home if they message I can decide when to reply. Meetings where you're either obviously paying attention or you're obviously not (to the detriment of your reputation), no matter whether you need to be at the meeting or not. An additional wasted 90 minutes per day driving (for a 25-30 minute commute, plus time to get in / out of the building and parking garage, get home and wound down, etc).

I'm hoping that my workplaces keep the accommodations to continue to work from home even as some or most people are back in the office. Allow for meetings via Zoom / Teams / Google Meet, especially for inter-organization meetings. Personally, I'm probably past a point where it would hold me back for promotion or anything to not be in the office (I am pretty much at the ceiling of what I'm going to do, and having consciously resisted moving into management, I think that has passed me by, which is mostly welcome, although a little bit regretful), but I can see people not in the office being thought of as less productive, less 'present', which could affect them.
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Kolohe
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Kolohe »

Shem wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 15:37
JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 11:20My second is that the whole premise of location based municipal taxation is kind of upended.
I don't understand what you mean by this. Do you have municipal income tax?
Even without that, a critical revenue stream for cities has been the meal tax for the office lunch crowd.

The trend in my observation due to internet commerce has been for retail storefronts to shift to some kind of eatery. But if there’s nobody downtown at all, an entire economic sector goes poof.
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Jennifer
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Jennifer »

Kolohe wrote: 14 Feb 2021, 17:05
Shem wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 15:37
JasonL wrote: 12 Feb 2021, 11:20My second is that the whole premise of location based municipal taxation is kind of upended.
I don't understand what you mean by this. Do you have municipal income tax?
Even without that, a critical revenue stream for cities has been the meal tax for the office lunch crowd.

The trend in my observation due to internet commerce has been for retail storefronts to shift to some kind of eatery. But if there’s nobody downtown at all, an entire economic sector goes poof.
There can still be a restaurant industry [post-covid], since there will always be some people who either can't cook at home, or don't want to, in addition to various people specifically looking to eat out rather than at home; we just [hopefully] won't see many more of those downtown districts that shut down at 6 pm on weekdays and are deserted on weekends because the businesses don't even try catering to anyone other than the semi-captive audience of office workers who can't stray far from the office during their workday.
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Pham Nuwen
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Pham Nuwen »

I just don't see it from my limited knowledge of all this. To much state, municipal, and corporate revenue would be at stake. A fall in commercial property values would probably* swing to residential property values falling. That's a lot of boomer wealth right there. And most tax laws mainly deal with property as I understand it. I don't see it happening.

*maybe? I don't know
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Jennifer
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Re: Post Urbanism?

Post by Jennifer »

Pham Nuwen wrote: 14 Feb 2021, 19:28 I just don't see it from my limited knowledge of all this. To much state, municipal, and corporate revenue would be at stake. A fall in commercial property values would probably* swing to residential property values falling. That's a lot of boomer wealth right there. And most tax laws mainly deal with property as I understand it. I don't see it happening.

*maybe? I don't know
This definitely explains why city leaders would hate the thought of losing all their brick-and-mortar businesses and workplaces -- but I doubt most employers or would-be business owners spend much time thinking "How can I run my business and hire employees, in a way that maximizes state and local tax revenues?"

There's definitely going to be some institutional inertia among companies which became established in the Before Time -- but going forward, how many would-be company founders are going to spend the upfront cost of acquiring and furnishing physical office space, in lieu of hiring people to work online with the computer and internet connections they, rather than their company of employment, had to pay for?
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