The attraction of big city life has taken a bit of hit this year. What with pandemics sweeping through crowded populations (Milan, New York, London, Wuhan) and now rioting and looting sweeping through many US cities, it will not be a surprise to see more people look to move to the suburbs and further afield in the upcoming years.

According to this article, flight from the city in the wake of the Coronavirus and the rioting might be merely accelerating an existing trend. Despite some predictions 10 years ago that the 2010s would see sustained large scale growth in US cities, the decade saw much more uneven city growth and, in recent years, population decline.

The Brookings Institution has analysed new US Census Bureau data and has demonstrated that the last decade was really a tale of two halves (or a tale of two cities…) While the 10 cities with populations greater than one million exceeded a 1 per cent growth rate during the period 2010-2015, over the last year only two of those cities (Phoenix and San Antonio) have experienced similar growth rates higher. During this last year New York, Chicago and San Jose have experienced negative growth.

Similarly, the first five years of the decade saw more growth in city populations, but the last five years have seen suburbs dominating that growth within the country’s largest 53 metro areas. In 2010-2013 seven cities had declining populations; in 2017-2020 that number had jumped to 20 cities.

What is interesting is that some have been predicting that the aftermath of the pandemic will see younger generations (Gen Z and millennials) heading back to the cities in greater numbers. William Frey, report author for the Brookings Institution and senior fellow of the Metropolitan Policy Program, argues that big cities saw their most significant growth during the aftermath of the Great Recession. Thus, in the economic recovery following the coronavirus, younger adults could again migrate to cities for jobs and opportunities.

But of course the aftermath of a pandemic is different from the aftermath of a banking crisis. Thus, Moody’s Analytics report author, Adam Kamins disagrees that young people will come back to the cities in large numbers:

“The generation growing up today may remember the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and be more likely to opt to live in less densely packed places”.

As many metropolitan neighbourhoods are being burned down and coming to resemble war zones throughout the USA and there is talk of defunding or disbanding police forces, I think that Kamins’ view is more likely to be the correct one in the future.

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...