Sep 04, 2020
Fleeing residents, empty offices and tourists made scarce by the pandemic are causing wide ranging debates on how steep a recovery cities are facing.
Among the challenges:
- Tourists: International tourism’s recovery is expected to be held back by travel restrictions as well as lingering fears of flying, even when a treatment or vaccine becomes available. Domestic tourism as well could be restrained by economic recession and possible continued virus spikes.
- Workers: Concerns over using mass transit, in particular, are seen inhibiting returns to offices, and some may never return due to increased comfort with telecommuting.
- Residents: Home sales in many suburbs are soaring as city dwellers, now with the ability to work remotely, escape the health risks of living in densely packed urban neighborhoods, as well as the always-inherent space limitations.
Even if workers return, the recovery from a pandemic is expected to take time. Smaller shops, restaurants and other businesses may not be able to ride out the pandemic’s restrictions and lean traffic in the months ahead. Wrote Ryan Kailath for NPR, “When people do finally return to the office one day, they might find the city around it to be completely different.”
In an op-ed on the World Economic Forum’s website, however, Christian Ulbrich, CEO of JLL, the commercial real estate firm, wrote that global cities will be “reimagined” but eventually “flourish in a post-COVID future.” Workplaces were already being rethought to add flexibility and the future office will place “more focus on supporting learning and development, creativity and collaboration — the real reasons people and businesses want to work together.”
The “allure and variety of metropolitan social and cultural scenes” as well as career development opportunities will continue to attract youth and drive urbanization. Unless a vaccine fails to emerge, Mr. Ulbrich also feels “people’s innate desire to socialize, enjoy culture and share experiences will eventually drive renewed growth.”
In an op-ed for The New York Times defending New York City’s comeback chances, comedian Jerry Seinfeld expressed skepticism about the allure of “remote everything” versus the vibrancy of experiencing New York City. He wrote, “Energy, attitude and personality cannot be ‘remoted.’”
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: How serious a threat is COVID-19 to the viability of cities and the retailers doing business in them? Do cities need to be reinvented and, if so, how?
“As I look at the world through rose-colored glasses, I like to believe that time will heal all wounds. “
“There will be many lingering and overall changes coming out of this, but cities will not be going away, just reformulated.”
“This is not doomsday. There have been pandemics before and the world has worked its way through them.”