Will Our Cities Come Back?

This Research Brief from the Institute of Governmental Studies at Berkeley measures the extent to which cities and, specifically, downtowns have recovered from the covid shutdowns. The piece is noteworthy because of its methodology: it uses cell phone data to track the extent to which people are returning to various cities and the downtown areas within those cities, so it is based on objective reality.

I encourage you to follow the link, because there is a lot of information there. One obvious takeaway is that there is enormous variation in the extent to which cities have recovered to 2019 levels of activity. Some cities, and some downtowns, barely missed a beat, while others were crushed, and remain so. This chart shows the extent to which large cities have recovered to pre-shutdown levels. Note that San Francisco, Portland, Detroit and Chicago are at the bottom:

It is interesting that, contrary to what one might expect, New York has rebounded relatively vigorously.

This chart relates to medium-sized cities. Salt Lake City is going gangbusters.

What medium-sized cities are doing the worst? No surprises here: Cleveland and Minneapolis.

The whole linked article is worth reading, simply for the data. But why have some cities, and some downtowns, come back much faster than others? On this question, the piece is not reliable. Why do I say that? The word “crime” does not appear anywhere.

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