by Joel Kotkin
Monday, 28
March 2022
Spotted
10:03

The exodus continues from America’s biggest cities

Covid, crime and hybrid work are remaking urban life
by Joel Kotkin
Credit: Getty

The recent Census report about the mass migration away from America’s most celebrated centres — New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago — may have come as shock to many urban boosters, but actually is simply a continuation of a long-running trend that extends for at least 70 years. These putative occupiers of the “commanding heights” lost more of their population than some of the perennial urban losers like Cleveland and St. Louis, while the sprawling sunbelt cities like Dallas and Houston saw large gains, as did such metros as Austin, Raleigh-Durham, Phoenix, and Jacksonville.

Consider that in 1950, the core cities accounted for nearly 24 percent of the U.S. population; today the share is under 15 percent. Between 2010 and 2020, the suburbs and exurbs of the major metropolitan areas accounted for about 90% of all US metropolitan growth; over that time  suburbs and exurbs of the major metropolitan areas gained 2.0 million net domestic migrants, while the urban core counties lost 2.7 million .

This was also true economically — despite some gains in big traditional cities, roughly 80 percent of all job growth has been in the suburbs. For the past decade, the leading job creating metros are largely away from the big coastal cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles and towards Austin, Salt Lake, Riverside-San Bernardino, Nashville, Phoenix and Raleigh-Cary.

These areas, in which offices tend to be spread out largely in suburbs, most people live in more spacious accommodations and rarely take transit, are ideal for an online or hybrid work model. But places like New York, San Francisco and Chicago are built around big central business districts, and the notion that people have to be in that geography to succeed. Yet despite attempts by some big employers like Goldman Sachs to frog march their employees,  McKinsey & Company reports that more than one-half of surveyed employees favour more flexible hybrid working models. More than one quarter of employees indicated that “they would consider switching employers if their organisation returned to fully on-site work.”

Online and hybrid work is not about to go away. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom suggests that even after Covid has faded , remote workers will constitute at least 20% of the workforce, more than three times the pre-pandemic rate. Midtown New York offices are still barely 50% full — hybrid work has turned central business districts into anachronisms. To be sure some businesses will remain, but much of the workforce will be, for the most part, somewhere else.

If they seek to return to something of their previous glory, cities need to deal as well with the crumbling social infrastructure of cities, as evidenced by soaring crime rates, dysfunctional schools and a political climate that often embraces notions of post-capitalist governance not particularly competitive with the more market based, pro-business economies common in interior states or developing countries.

Big cities, even dense ones, need to be receptive to reality. Grandiose visions may be beloved by the urban-centric media, but the future cannot be secure by building to the clouds, but in confronting the gritty street-level realities now chasing even the urban-minded out of the country’s great cities.

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Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
1 month ago

It’s strange how the defund the police movement lost wind after the Democrats cheated themselves into the White House. Sheer coincidence, I expect. The return to sanity is most notable in Seattle where the Bolshies and the spineless civic bureaucracy got the police on the run. Now with a new mayor Seattle is paying $25k bonuses for cops to sign up. Reality has sharper teeth than ideology.

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
1 month ago
Reply to  Jerry Carroll

They have to pay mad bonuses in places like Portland or Seattle after crazily demonising all police officers.

Douglas Proudfoot
Douglas Proudfoot
1 month ago

My Florida grandson has just been admitted to a STEM PhD program at the University of Chicago. Normally, you would think everyone would be pleased, because it’s an excellent program. We live in North Suburban Chicago, so we’ll get to see him more. However, my wife and I are worried about the crime down near the U of C. People get shot down there. If he had been accepted anywhere else, we would have preferred he go there, instead of Chicago.

Democrats control Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois completely. Their agenda is high taxes, high pensions for government workers and high crime through lack of prosecution. Occasionally, Republicans win an office, like governor. However, since they don’t have even a strong minority of seats in the state legislature, a single Republican in office can’t do anything much to bring sanity to state government.

Democrats have wrecked Chicago, Cook County and the state of Illinois, with high taxes and increasing crime. There’s almost no hope that Republicans can reestablish any control at any level that matters. People leave here for a reason.

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

No mention of the evil ‘white flighters’ here then? I thought evil white people moving to the suburbs and no longer paying taxes in the CBD was meant to be primarily responsible for urban decay, or at least from what these metropolitan liberal elites say

Warren T
Warren T
1 month ago
Reply to  R Wright

The only ones who really want to defund the police seem to be the young, white Zoomer class (your metro elites) seeking a cause and who are addicted to social media.

Last edited 1 month ago by Warren T
Giles Toman
Giles Toman
1 month ago
Reply to  R Wright

What is evil about wanting to get away from high crime, crap schools with violent enwords in plenty, and live somewhere nice, eh?

Matt Hindman
Matt Hindman
1 month ago
Reply to  Giles Toman

When they end up turning those places into the places they just left.

AC Harper
AC Harper
1 month ago

“How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm (After They’ve Seen Paree?)” is perhaps becoming “How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Up in the City (After They’ve Seen the Burbs?)”.
You can argue that technologies becoming ‘ubiquitous’ have shaped how we live. Ubiquitous transport, power, sanitation, literacy, radio, TV and now the Internet have all had their effects. You might even, in a pessimistic moment, think that ubiquitous crime has had an effect too.

Richard Falardeau
Richard Falardeau
1 month ago

All the major cities that you mentioned have participated in the Covid Show! The damage is done!

Derrick Hand
Derrick Hand
1 month ago

The coming food and fuel shortages will be eye opening, especially in the larger cities. Mankind has tripled in number since I was born in 1948. Is it possible that we have outrun our ability to supply ourselves with the means of sustenance?

Ted Ditchburn
Ted Ditchburn
1 month ago

It could be that the Conservatives might have attached the label of Levelling Up to an idea that is actually running with an unstoppable tide for once…and even if the Manchesters, Leeds and Newcastles struggle a bit, the Harrogates, Yorks, Durhams, Boltons, and the like might be laughing fat cakes.