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City Centers Are Bouncing Back from the Pandemic Lows

Blu Putnam and Erik Norland, CME Group


  • Many people moved out of cities in the early months of the pandemic, but the opportunities there still offer many benefits, say CME Group economists
  • Many are looking for more walkable areas as the number of miles driven in cars has leveled off in the last year

One of the major lifestyle trends emerging from the pandemic has been movement out of cities to smaller suburban or rural locations. U.S. Postal Service change-of-address data showed that in the February – July 2020 period, New York City saw a 487% increase over 2019 in change of address forms to other locations. Chicago saw its change-of-address requests double from 2019.

Remote working allowed many people the opportunity to relocate to places with less density and more distance between neighbors. In New York, the move to home offices has led some commercial office towers to begin converting to apartments. It’s one sign of a changing downtown environment in many cities. But are these trends here to stay?

In the latest episode of The Economists, CME Group Chief Economist Blu Putnam and Senior Economist Erik Norland look at the health of cities 18 months into the pandemic and explore whether the movement trend was only temporary.

“A year of remote working introduced many urbanites to the pleasures of suburban and rural living, and some of them might not come back to cities at all,” says Norland. “That said, cities still seem to have a hold on the imagination of the young who can benefit from being in close proximity to one another and to more experienced workers as they begin their careers.”

With offices beginning to re-open to workers in hybrid settings, cities could begin to see a revival in downtown business districts decimated by the work from home trend. Putnam says that ultimately, cities are likely to see a return to the vibrancy they experienced before the pandemic.

“In the broad context of history, cities have always come back stronger, even when destroyed by war or laid low by pandemics.  This time looks no different.”

Watch the full episode of The Economists above, and see more episodes here.

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