Making predictions about the future is always challenging, but predicting how the pandemic will alter our world is an exceptional challenge. So far, those predictions have been wide ranging, but have included a resurgence of suburbs and more work-from-home office models, at lease in the near term. At the June 2020 Economic Outlook on residential real estate hosted by the UCLA Anderson Forecast and the UCLA Ziman Center for Real Estate, academic Richard Florida, however, predicted that cities would make a strong comeback following the pandemic with the potential for positive changes.
“I don’t think this is the end of cities. I think that cities will comeback strong,” he said in the virtual conversation. Florida, 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, has a lofty history of making predictions about urban environments. He predicted the rise of urbanization in the early 2000s and the resurgence of the urban core after the 2008 financial crisis. He says that the pandemic will be no different.
Since the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, Florida has researched the impact pandemics have on urbanization, and he found the impact is generally nominal and temporary. “What I have come to conclude through my research is that pandemics have not really altered the course of urbanization,” he said. “The gravitational force of clustering and locating around each other is a much stronger force than infectious disease. Our cities will be fine.”
In fact, the pandemic may present the opportunity to positively reformat and reset cities to make them more affordable and equitable. “We could have a moment where cities could reset themselves,” said Florida. “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.”
Cities currently serve two functions: productivity and amenity. Currently, the amenity function, which attracts more affluent residents, is more prevalent, but the pandemic could cause a shift toward productivity value. “That would be a good thing,” said Florida.
In fact, cities serve vital purposes as a labor market that can been essential for young people to build professional networks. “That labor market is especially important for young people,” says Florida. “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.”
Health and safety and social justice will also almost certainly become part of the conversation about building and improving cities in the post pandemic world. “Health and safety will enter into the planning discourse,” says Florida. “The intersection of urbanism and public health and the Black Lives Matter movement and social unrest will bring the issues of diversity and inclusion to the table. This could actually help us build more diverse and inclusive cities. We are going to have to be intentional about that.”