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Creating great communities for all

Why Americans are leaving downtowns in droves

By Derek Thompson, The Atlantic, April 25, 2022

“The metros of New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Minneapolis–St. Paul, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. … shrank by a combined 900,000 people [in 2021] according to an analysis of census data by the Brookings scholar William Frey.

“In every urban county within the metros of New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, immigration declined by at least 50 percent from 2018 to 2021.

“Nearly 5 million Americans have moved since 2020 because of remote-work opportunities, according to Adam Ozimek, the chief economist for the Economic Innovation Group, a think tank in Washington, D.C.

“[Yet] … housing prices are going up in almost all of these metros [and] rents are up in every city on the above list, except for San Francisco.

“The … simpler answer is inflation. That is, cities really are struggling with population loss, but urban rents and housing values are rising along with national inflation, which is surging toward 10 percent.

“America’s superstar cities might be in a little more trouble than we think. … Mass-transit ridership has collapsed from its pre-pandemic highs in New York, Boston, the Bay Area, and Washington, D.C. … In San Francisco, vacant office space has nearly quadrupled since the pandemic to 18.7 million square feet. … America’s downtown areas support millions of jobs that can’t be made remote — in retail, construction, health care, and beyond.

“With rising prices and shrinking populations, with emptier downtowns and bustling residential neighborhoods, with booming leisure and busted offices, the near future of America’s richest cities could be pretty weird.”

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