Coronavirus will not harm urbanization, cities have a ‘bright future’: professor

The novel coronavirus has hit densely populated cities like New York hard.

But it won’t mean the end of urbanization, according to Richard Florida, professor of economics and urban planning at the University of Toronto, who has studied historical pandemics and their impacts on cities.

“I have now looked at the history of pandemics and plagues going back centuries. Not once has any serious — the bubonic plague, the Black Plague, the Spanish flu, we can go on — dented the course of urbanization. New York, London, Paris, Rome, we can go on, have all remained great cities,” Florida told Yahoo Finance On the Move. “I think cities actually have a very interesting bright future. What we find is that in history of crises, in history of pandemics, the young people, ambitious people, people from rural areas who want better jobs flock to cities.”

But Florida acknowledges that urban areas may be negatively impacted in the short term as families with young children and older people move to the suburbs.

“Those folks are going to leave places like New York City or Chicago or the inner city,” he said, adding that “new families, older and vulnerable city dwellers who planned to move in the next two to three years might consider moving in the next few months.”

The share of renters with “imminent” move dates rose 10% in the second half of March compared to the same time period last year, according to an Apartment List analysis of renter searches. And people are looking in the same places they always have, even as searches accelerate. For example, pre-pandemic, 15.4% of users in Chicago were looking for apartments outside the Windy City. Now, that number has jumped to 34.9%, but they are still looking to smaller Midwestern cities including Indianapolis, Kansas City and Milwaukee, according to Apartment List.

Suburban-bound city-dwellers may indeed move sooner than they planned.

Cities could become affordable

The migration will cause some cities to experience a tax revenue shortfall, with fewer people taking transit and shopping. But Florida notes that the financial blow will be temporary.

“It’s like a forest fire. It clears out the stuff that was there and in the process of clearing, new stuff grows up. Look, we’ve been through pandemics and plagues for all of human history. Have cities failed? No! They come back even stronger.”

The flight to the suburbs will cause real estate prices to fall, a positive for some cities where prices have soared over the years. Since it could mean individuals who were once priced out of some cities may have an opportunity to return.

“Our cities might become affordable enough for artists and creatives and middle class people to move back,” said Florida. “Now, we have a chance to arrest that and turn our cities into places creative people, artistic people, the middle class can live in.”

“So net-net, I think cities will lose some people. They’ll gain some people, but they will come back strong in the next couple of years,” he said.

Sarah Paynter is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @sarahapaynter

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