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The Covid-19 pandemic has completely altered urban life. All across the globe, the lockdown has meant people are barely using public transport, city centre offices have been left empty while people work from their homes, and high-streets are deserted. All these changes pose one question: will cities survive Coronavirus?
To find an answer, we talked with Professor Richard Florida, a leading commentator on cities currently working at the University of Toronto, Canada, and author of numerous books on the role of urban areas.
You can listen to the full podcast here. As a teaser, these are three of the factors – two push and one pull – Florida believes will determine how the role of urban areas will change after Coronavirus.
1. Fear of the virus will push people away from cities to less dense, rural areas
While density is not the only factor determining the likelihood of catching a virus, all other things being equal, living in close proximity to many other people does increase the chances of getting infected.
As a result, once the lockdown is over, people might decide to move out of cities, for fear of catching the virus in a second wave or in a future pandemic. This might be particularly the case for older people and other groups considered at ‘high-risk’, such as people with underlying health conditions.
2. Interest in private amenities will increase, while demand for public amenities will fall
By their very definition, less dense areas also offer more space, meaning people can enjoy bigger houses, larger gardens and – where the weather allows for it – even pools.
According to Florida, this matters as social distancing measures put in place to fight Coronavirus have disproportionately increased the value of private amenities, while decreasing the value of public amenities, such as theatres, cinemas and pubs. And as the first are disproportionately easier to find in less urban areas, while the second are overwhelmingly urban, this might also point to a decline in the importance of cities as a result of the pandemic.
3. The importance of networks – especially at the early stage of a career – will continue to attract young people to cities
The highest-skilled, highest paid jobs, such as software developers, finance professionals and consultants prefer city-centre locations. While these jobs might be easily carried out from home at the moment, proximity plays a central role in these industries: it sparks innovation and it offers young people the opportunity to build a network and move up the career ladder. This means that, despite the pandemic, young people in particular will still move to cities in search for job opportunities and being in the ‘right place’ will be even more important if travel restrictions continue.
These and a number of other factors outlined in the podcast will determine how quickly cities will return to play a central role in the economy. But if the timing might be unclear as of yet, on one thing Florida is certain: cities have survived the Black Death, Cholera and the Spanish Flu – they will survive Coronavirus too.
You can read all of our work on how Coronavirus is affecting cities and their economies here.
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