High prices, too few available apartments and a lack of space have caused large cities to lose inhabitants. The pandemic has accelerated this trend. How will we be living tomorrow? The German future researcher Matthias Horx sees “rurbanisation” as a new global trend – a mix of village and city.  

How we live seems to have become complex. At least there used to be more clarity in the past: a place to live here, the economic centres with jobs and everything that makes a good city (culture, leisure, shopping, sport, etc.) there. And the best time of the year was the holidays, which most people liked to spend elsewhere. This balance has been upset.  

Life outside of the centres is once again seen as a promising alternative to the city. Some people have had enough of massive buildings, hustle and bustle, noise and crowds at the train station. A bit more greenery around you, fresh air and space are newly discovered qualities! The German future and trend researcher Matthias Horx says, “The coronavirus crisis is leading to a slowdown in the influx into cities.” He has observed a clear migration tendency towards rural or small-town regions and ways of life.  

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Rurbanisation: briefly explained 

«High-density settlement conglomerates” would be increasingly perceived as suspicious and threatening, claims the trend researcher Horx. He refers to the city and culture of tomorrow as “rurbanisation».

  • This is a portmanteau of rural 
  • and urban. 

Living in the country becomes a little more “urbanised”, and the city has to offer more of what makes life in a village so appealing. Many people want to greet each other in the street and get to know their neighbours – without it leading to a sensory overload in a big city. Yet people also don’t want to go without a certain amount of variety and the amenities of city life. Rural living is being reinvented.  

Rurbanisation: a turning point for the city and countryside 

In what context should we view rurbanisation? Crises have always also represented a turning point in the past. With rurbanisation, Horx presents the thesis that we are beginning a new chapter. Perhaps similar to after the last major pandemic in the years 1918 to 1920: overcoming the crisis also marked the turning point towards light-heartedness and the optimistic spirit of the 1920s. This turning point also changed the face of the city. New architecture was created, and new meeting rooms, cinemas, sports stadiums and major theatres sprouted up in towns and cities. 

Case study USA 

The current debate surrounding rurbanisation is now focusing on the USA: While it has been necessary for many people to live in New York, San Francisco or in other major cities up to now, a radical change is now emerging. To put it succinctly, property experts and trend researchers talk here of Zoom towns. This is a combination of the words boomtown and Zoom, i.e. the video conferences which have now become part of everyday life for many people. The big tech giants in California and many employers in general are significantly expanding the opportunities for working from home (remote working). Direct geographic proximity between the company and your place of residence is no longer essential.  

Megatrend: Zoom town in the USA 

The US business magazine ‘Fast Company’ talks of rapidly growing new “gateway communities”. These are generally medium-sized communities with around 25,000 inhabitants. Also typical of the US trend: people like to move to places that promise proximity to national parks, beautiful natural landscapes, and holiday and ski resorts. For many people, this is their new outlook on life: They work more individually, in a place or in a house that is “remote-friendly” (independent of time and place). Meanwhile, sun, tranquillity, views and magnificent natural landscapes beckon right on their doorstep. This is a brand new perspective for a good work-life balance. Above all young Americans are so taken by this that they are settling in the Zoom towns and buying their own house. Much more affordable than in New York with more space and at least one more room.  

Let’s take an average young family from New York as an example: Ben, the father, is a marketing consultant. The mother, Susan, works on a freelance basis as an author. They have recently left their 90-square-metre apartment in New York and purchased their own house in Saugerties. The community is around a two-hour car journey north of the city, in the heart of the magnificent landscape on the Hudson. “The room for our 3-year-old son and also the terrace are much larger,” says Susan, delighted. Lots of greenery, their own garden and a lovely neighbourhood are right on their doorstep. We conclude from this: This is clearly an Americanised vision of rurbanisation – but nevertheless a clear trend towards getting out into the country, which heralds a new culture in spatial development.  

Small and medium centres booming 

In Switzerland, too, the indications can no longer be overlooked. Most experts are convinced that working from home or perhaps also decentral office buildings with co-working are not just temporary in nature. Hervé Froidevaux, an economist at Wüest Partner in Geneva, says, “If people are no longer commuting into the office in the city every day, many things will change.” The expert presents the theory that this will change not only the market for offices over the medium term but also the market for residential space over the long term. “We are seeing, for instance, increased demand for comparatively affordable purchase deals in the smaller and more medium-sized centres or even towards the mountains in some cases,” says Hervé Froidveaux. Small and medium centres are expecting new impulses. Incidentally, this also applies to local businesses: the shop or hairdresser’s round the corner is valued all the more when fewer people are commuting into the city.  

Even if rurbanisation sounds abstract in many people’s ears – the change is already reflected in the figures. In the search subscriptions of major online portals, the share of properties outside the cities and with more of their own upturn has increased. It is also typical that the property prices in certain communities are increasing more significantly than in other places. This applies, for instance, in the area around Laax and Obersaxen in the Canton of Graubünden or in the lower Valais region. In short, people are moving to places where beautiful natural landscapes can be reached within a reasonable period of time.  

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Photo: Co-Working at Galaaxy, Laax

Tourism & property: Long-stay in the mountains 

Incidentally, new hotel offers are also looking very different. “Work where other people spend their holidays!,” says the slogan. More and more hotels in Switzerland and abroad are offering a long stay at attractive conditions. Why not spend a few weeks with your laptop at a hotel before you start feeling claustrophobic? Switzerland Tourism has, for example, introduced the new category “Bed ‘n’ Bureau” (Bed ‘n’ Office).   https://www.myswitzerland.com/de-ch/unterkuenfte/hotels/bed-n-bureau/

An attractive vision, especially for winter sports enthusiasts: Why not clip on your cross-country skis in your lunch break and go for a quick spin right outside your door? 

Many trend researchers are naturally connecting the idea of Zoom towns with the young generation (Generation Z). It’s possible that the demands on living – whether in the city or country – also change significantly depending on a person’s stage of life. 

Whether a rural idyll or a pulsating city is currently in demand also depends on typical wave movements, prices and job availability. The Zurich property expert Bernhard Ruhstaller says, “The attractiveness of cities is likely to remain.” He can, however, imagine that the typical suburbs in major agglomerations will grow in importance: If, for instance, major companies also relocate there, if the places are well-connected and offer everything you need for life – a great many people will prefer to settle there.  

Rurbanisation: Checklist 

Consider whether you really want to leave the city in the long term. Based on this, your checklist should also include the question of whether the place would be suitable for children (schools, education, culture, leisure, high schools, possibly university, etc.). 

If a place really has a magnetic pull (“boom town”), the land and property prices there will rise. Take a critical look at whether the prices in your preferred location have temporarily experienced a sharp increase. You may be facing a scenario where the place is growing much too quickly (lots of new builds, population growth, increase in traffic, etc.). In the worst case scenario, you would experience similar disadvantages to being in a city.

In any case, you have to take into consideration whether you are really the type of person that is suited to a very individualised way of living and working. Some people miss the social aspects of a team. Or they consider the long distances from friends and family to be a disadvantage. 

The fundamental question of whether you may need to go into the office more often later on is just as important. Talk to your employer or your most important client (for the self-employed). 

Many employees dream of living and working with a view of a magnificent mountain backdrop or a sunny beach. As a result, hybrid hotel offers, serviced apartments, etc., are also booming. The complete package with all the bells and whistles not only offers space and a good Internet connection! Check what services are really important to you and what costs you should expect (cleaning, laundry, leisure and sport, administrative work, IT & support, catering, etc.).  

You can read more information about tomorrow’s living trends in our articles Generation Z: how we’ll be living in future and HOffice: Co-working at home.