Cities aren’t shrinking because everyone’s moving out, but because no one’s moving in

By Henry Grabar, Slate, February 22, 2021

“Big cities have clearly lost some verve during the pandemic. … The suits at McKinsey report on the ratio of arriving workers to departing ones, as captured by LinkedIn profiles. That ratio is down 27 percent in New York, 24 percent in San Francisco, 13 percent in Boston, and 11 percent in Los Angeles and Seattle. ‘This could be driven either by a greater number of workers leaving these areas or by fewer people entering these areas in 2020 compared to 2019,’ the researchers note.

“If the populations of the nation’s largest cities are truly plummeting, they are in big trouble. In the short term, they’ll have to cut public services and manage mass unemployment as the service sector withers. In the long term, they’ll have to confront the fact that the model behind the urban renaissance of the last 30 years — immigrants and yuppies — is dead.

“But what if all these departures aren’t actually out of step with historical patterns and the problem is instead that no one is coming to take their place?

“A handful of American cities have been dependent on foreign arrivals for almost all their population growth in recent years, including Cincinnati, Birmingham, and Miami. In many larger cities, such as Los Angeles and Chicago, immigrants have for many decades helped stabilize urban neighborhoods and jump-start local economies.

“[I]nstead of heeding complaints from departing suburbanites about ‘law and order’ or parking, pols ought to double down on the things that make dense urban neighborhoods attractive to the people who still want to live in them. … Clean streets. Better public space. An easy road for small businesses.”

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