Predictions about how the world will change post-pandemic have been wide-ranging, but most have included more people working from home and a revival of suburban areas in the near future. However, academic Richard Florida made a different prediction at the June 2020 Economic Outlook on residential real estate, hosted by the UCLA Anderson Forecast and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate.
During the virtual event, Florida said he believed that cities will make a strong comeback after the pandemic and could even see some additional positive changes.
Florida, who is the director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, global research professor at New York University, and the founder of the Creative Class Group, shared:
“I don’t think this is the end of cities. I think that cities will come back strong.”
Hope for Big Cities
Florida has a history of making forecasts about urban environments that turn out to be true. For example, he predicted the move towards urbanization in the early 2000s, as well as the resurgence of the urban core after the 2008 financial crisis. According to Florida, the COVID-19 pandemic will be no different.
Since the outbreak began, Florida has been researching what impacts past pandemics have had on urbanization. What he found is that the effect tends to be temporary and less severe than expected.
“What I have come to conclude through my research is that pandemics have not really altered the course of urbanization. The gravitational force of clustering and locating around each other is a much stronger force than infectious disease. Our cities will be fine.”
Other Positive Outcomes
A positive result that could come out of the pandemic is the opportunity to reevaluate and change cities to make them more equitable and affordable. According to Florida:
“We could have a moment where cities could reset themselves. If not, my fear is that we will forget about it and our cities will go back to the old trajectory and become more unequal. This is an opportunity to build our cities more equal and better.”
Right now, cities serve two functions: amenity and productivity. The amenity function is currently more prevalent and tends to attract more affluent residents. Still, after the pandemic, we could see a shift toward productivity, which Florida said would be a good thing. Particularly for young people, cities offer a vital labor market and can be essential for building professional networks.
“That labor market is especially important for young people. Once you establish your career, you can work remotely, but young people need to establish a network. Our cities on balance are going to get younger.”
A good example is Generation Z or those who were born after 1996. According to a March survey by Pew, half of older Gen Zers (between ages 18 and 23) said they had someone in the household lost a job or go through a pay cut due to COVID-19. Considering the US economy was strong, and the unemployment rate was at a record low before the pandemic hit, Gen Z saw their job prospects seemingly dry up overnight, with the unemployment rate jumping to 14.7% in April. The labor market and networking benefits offered by urban areas will be particularly attractive for this demographic after the coronavirus crisis passes.
Finally, two factors that will play a key role in building and improving cities are health and safety.
If Florida’s predictions are correct, cities may see residents flock to suburban areas immediately after the pandemic. Still, the trend will likely be short-lived as job opportunities and amenities draw people back to urban areas after the initial coronavirus-related fears will have calmed.