There’s a simple trick to making America’s cities great again after the pandemic

America’s major cities are recovering, albeit slowly, from the shock of the pandemic and its divisive aftermath. However, don’t expect them to fully recover to their former status any time soon.

Aristotle famously postulated that the city “is created for the sake of life, but exists for the sake of the good life. ” At a time when fewer people got to live in a city dependent on their employment, this is an old lesson that cities desperately need to relearn.

Amid the rise of online work, coupled with rising levels of violent crime discouraging people from returning to trains and fears of the plague, population numbers, particularly in inner cities, have fallen dramatically over the past two years – accelerating a longer-term trend has which major metro areas have seen a net loss of domestic migrants to smaller cities since 2015. From 2022, the big cities will also lose local migrants to more rural areas.

As anyone walking in the largest inner cities can clearly see, the crowd is returning to the office –that Key Function of Traditional Inner Cities – is much slower than expected, particularly in San Francisco, Chicago and especially New York, where less than 10 percent of office workers are behind five days a week and less than 40 percent are even one day behind a week.

Some city boosters continue to see this as a temporary phenomenon. But as mayors, governors and even President Biden push for a return to the office, their ineffective intimidation makes it clear that the remote-working genie is already out of the bottle.

According to a Bay Area Council survey, San Francisco businesses expect employees to come into the office three days a week or less, with barely one in five seeing a return to “normal.” Similarly, a survey by the Partnership for New York showed that about three out of four Manhattan offices allow for either a hybrid model with two to three days of office use or no office days at all. All of this comes at a time when many landlords are offering freebies, like paying for moving expenses and room upgrades.

The impact on office work will be profound. Adam Ozimek, an economist at the Economic Innovation Group, claims that about half of white-collar jobs can be done remotely, and a University of Chicago study found the same dynamic applies to Silicon Valley. As Apple tries to push workers back into the office with a three-day-a-week commitment, 90 percent of workers in a survey said they had the option of ending “office-bound work” entirely, and one director left Rather retire than accept the new policy. With demand for skilled technicians soaring, companies are finding they have little leverage to push them back into the office.

The shift in the tech industry has been accompanied by a broader demographic shift, with better-off and better-educated people steadily moving from urban centers to the periphery for decades, a recent Harvard study finds. Since 2010, the suburbs have accounted for about 90 percent of all US metropolitan growth. Between 2010 and 2020, the suburbs and outskirts of the major metro areas gained a net 2 million domestic migrants, while the core urban areas lost 2.7 million of them.

Jane Jacobs’ vision of a city that “creates” a middle class is now obsolete, as is the idea of ​​a freeway running through Washington Square Park. As a recent MIT study shows, dense urban areas just don’t work the way they used to for working-class households, due in part to a maze of zoning and other constraints that have made housing an artificially scarce resource, attracting global capital rather than providing affordable housing for local workers and their families. In 1970, half of Chicago’s residents were middle class; According to a 2019 University of Illinois study, that number has dropped to 16 percent. In the meantime, the proportion of poor people has risen from 42 percent to 62 percent.

These hollowed out top-down cities are ideal breeding grounds for social conflict. The number of people living in extremely poor neighborhoods has increased doubled since 2000, according to a recent study. Cities like New York, San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and Boston that were once solidly middle-class now have large gaps between the bottom and top economic quintiles.

In tech-rich San Francisco, decades of tolerance for even extreme deviant behavior has shaped a city with more drug addicts than high school students and enough human trash on the streets that there’s a “poop map” to haunt it. Not surprisingly, San Francisco has lost 31,000 homeowner families in the last decade. In the far more proletarian city of Los Angeles, a UN official last year compared conditions in Skid Row to those in Syrian refugee camps.

Wealthy liberal parents left behind in these cities often rage against segregated public schools while sending their own children to private or elite public schools; They protest against the police while largely isolated from the effects of rising violent crime. Or, as many do, they may simply move away to live or spend much of their time somewhere cheaper and more comfortable.

In order to be successful, cities have always changed. Today they must adapt to a broad “connected” urbanity, the “City of Bits” first proposed by futurologist William Mitchell in 1999, where location is inherently fluid and cities rather than a “captive audience” of residents and Regulating businesses must cultivate an environment in which people and businesses can thrive.

Some cities could build on the “luxury city” model that New York pioneered during the Bloomberg years and evolve into “places of meeting and meeting,” as HG Wells predicted over a century ago. This aspect of urban appeal continues to be evident in Manhattan’s tight luxury market post-COVID-19. Similarly, some young graduates still want to temporarily rent in large “gateway cities” where they can mingle and be noticed by their bosses before heading to the suburbs and suburbs to seek dating and starting families.

But a better approach than assuming the status of elite and youth amusement parks would be to return the promise to middle- and working-class residents. This would require a new generation of strong leadership, like the successful, pragmatic mayors of both parties — including Houston’s Bob Lanier and Bill White, New York’s Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg, and Los Angeles’ Richard Riordan — who are focused on reducing crime , encouraged business and improved basic city services in the 1990s.

Such a political turnaround is likely to be more difficult today as core cities have become less and less politically diverse. But there are signs that some urban voters are moving towards the centre. African-American mayors such as Houston’s Sylvester Turner and New York’s Eric Adams have been vocal in rejecting anti-police movements. Austin, the blue capital of Texas, lifted tolerant urban camping regulations in 2021, backed by its progressive leaders. Even in San Francisco, a fertile hotbed of far-left agitation, progressive school board members were overwhelmingly defeated in February 2022, just months after left-leaning Seattle ousted its ultra-progressive district attorney and Buffalo voters defeated a Socialist-backed Democrat and a moderate African-American incumbent . In Los Angeles, developer Rick Caruso, a longtime Republican, has made surprising strides and could win the race for mayor.

There is a chance for a trend reversal. Massive new business growth, a positive outcome of the “great resignation,” suggests the grassroots may be poised to reinvent the city economy. Retail spaces in places like Manhattan are a third to a half vacant in some areas, but the outer boroughs are still attracting investment. New luxury towers and huge office complexes are not avatars of the future; Some offices should be converted into apartments or flexible workspaces for entrepreneurs. Expense report lunches are a thing of the past; Food trucks and small family run restaurants and shops are the future.

Ultimately, what makes cities great isn’t real estate speculators, wealthy part-time workers, public relations geniuses, or the media class. It’s ordinary people who are drawn to the city because they seek opportunities and the unique things in the urban experience. A renewed, more people-friendly metropolis can restore the promise that has characterized cities since ancient times. There’s a simple trick to making America’s cities great again after the pandemic


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