5 Reasons City Living Will Continue

Many people living in New York City and other urban centers are seeking more space during the COVID-19 pandemic, but here's why you can expect cities to weather the storm.

U.S. News & World Report

5 Reasons City Living Will Continue

City view uptown during the day from an apartment window in the NoHo neighborhood in downtown Manhattan, New York City.

Cities remain centers of business and industry, which will always attract new residents looking for job opportunities.(Getty Stock Images)

Over the past six months, the question about why one would want to stay in a major city like New York despite all of the complications and dangers of the coronavirus pandemic has come from homebuyers and sellers, the press and even the friends and family of those city dwellers who have stayed put.

After all, it isn’t easy being locked down in an apartment with roommates or young children for months on end. But as we’ve learned to contend with the pandemic through widespread public health measures and safety precautions, people are returning to urban centers – and not just New York City, but cities all around the country.

While the pandemic is still a very real threat, it's not likely to be the death knell for major urban centers. People choose to live in cities for myriad reasons, and given that we’ve all had our fill of social distancing this year, many folks will likely return simply to feel a sense of camaraderie and belonging.

Here are five reasons major cities still appeal to people:

  • Remote working, learning and living has its limits.
  • Cities are business and education hubs.
  • Cities offer opportunity.
  • Some people aren't cut out for rural or suburban life.
  • Cities are adapting.

Remote Working, Learning and Living Has Its Limits

Whether it’s work, school, or Zoom-based happy hours, remote life has its limits. As comedian Jerry Seinfeld wrote in an August op-ed in The New York Times: “Energy, attitude, and personality cannot be 'remoted' through even the best fiber optic lines.”

Millions of people move to cities in order to tap into the energy. While video conferencing and working from home may have been convenient and fun at first, many miss in-person interactions. Our social lives suffer, too, as there are no post-work happy hours to attend or dinners to be had. It can be draining.

Before you uproot your life to a far-away town to commit to full-time remote work, remember that we're social creatures, and that's why we all didn’t take after Henry David Thoreau and go live solitary lives on our own before a pandemic made it safer to remain at home. Remote interactions aren't the same as live, in-person ones – sometimes you just need a hug or a high five.

Cities Are Business and Education Hubs

One of the biggest reasons people flock to cities is for the economic and educational opportunities they offer, as centers of commerce and industry. Because cities are where people are clustered, they are often rife with business activity, which means jobs for workers and problems for entrepreneurs to solve.

If you want to work in finance, for example, you'll find more job opportunities in a finance hub, like New York City. If you want to work in technology, you might pack up and move to San Francisco or Seattle. Or if you dream of making it in show business, Los Angeles is the place to be. The pandemic may have slowed things down for the time being, but these hubs aren’t going away, and for those who truly want to make it in their chosen profession, moving to the right city is likely a necessity.

It’s also important to remember that many universities and colleges are located in cities, or at least larger towns, too. While it’s possible these days to earn a degree or diploma online, there’s a social aspect to attending school that’s incredibly important, particularly for making connections with future employers, colleagues and other students.

Cities Offer Opportunity

Major cities are often viewed as a place of opportunity when you have nowhere else to go, and serve as social and cultural centers where anyone can be anything. No matter who you are – a fresh college graduate, someone hoping to find fame or an entrepreneur looking to bestow your ideas on the world – you generally head to the city to chase your dreams.

Cities also offer a unique advantage over rural or suburban areas in that almost everyone is granted a degree of anonymity. There are so many people coming and going that no one has the time or mind to worry too much about who you are or what you’re doing (within limits, of course). If you’ve lived in a small town, you know that everyone knows everyone else’s business. Having a sense of anonymity can be freeing for a lot of people.

Moving to the city can strip you of all pre-existing notions – you can be who you want to be, often with little or no judgment from the masses who share the city with you.

Some People Aren’t Cut Out for Rural or Suburban Life

In the same way that city life isn’t for everyone, neither is living in the suburbs or rural areas. Many people left cities this year due to the pandemic, and plenty of them are ready to come back home.

That home, for many city dwellers, isn't just about their house or apartment. Home is more about the extended surroundings, such as a local coffee shop, library, doorman and the many people who frequent the same spots. There’s a feeling, or a vibe, that can’t be matched in more sparsely populated suburban or rural settings.

For some people, the feel of city life is as important as anything, and the diversity found – be it racial, cultural or even architectural diversity – adds an extra dimension and inspiration to their lives that can’t be matched outside of the city.

Cities Are Adapting

Cities change. People, businesses and entire industries come and go, but the cities themselves remain and adapt to changing circumstances. The New York of today is not the same as it was during the 1990s, for example.

Pandemics have occurred before, too. During the 1918 flu pandemic, densely populated cities like Philadelphia and New York were hard-hit, with tens of thousands of deaths. People fled to the surrounding areas but eventually came back once the threat of contracting the flu had largely passed. Outbreaks of plague in London in the early 1500s led many people to leave for smaller towns and the countryside.

But New York recovered from the pandemic in 1918, as did London 500 years ago. Cities change, adapt and evolve. They go through crisis after crisis, but continue to grow, expand and attract new residents. People have, throughout history, always returned to the city.

While city life can have its downsides, we’re drawn to them, their opportunities, and to each other. For that reason, we should expect to see cities stage a post-pandemic comeback.

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