Tag Archive for: urban density

Never Going Back

For months, corporate hegemons, real estate brokers and their media acolytes have been insisting that a return to “normalcy,” that is, to the office, was imminent. Some companies threatened to reduce the incomes of remote workers, and others warned darkly that those most reluctant to return to the five-day-a-week grind would find their own ambitions ground down to the dust. Workers have been reported to be “pining” to return to office routines.

Fears of returning to the office due to the Delta variant have delayed a mass return to gateway cities. Office vacancies grew in August. Since the pandemic began, tenants gave back around 200 million square feet, according to Marcus & Millichap data, and the current office vacancy rate stands at 16.2 percent, matching the peak of the financial crisis. Overall, it is widely expected that office rents will not recover for at least five years.

Things could get ugly as some $2 trillion in commercial real estate debt becomes due by 2025, particularly in large, transit dependent central business districts, reflecting in part reluctance among commuters to ride public conveyances. This is a world-wide phenomenon—occurring in New York, Hong Kong, Paris, London, and other financial centers—and accompanied by a marked decline in business travel, with conventions and meetings particularly devastated.

A New Economic Geography

So where is the work getting done? Increasingly, in the suburbs and exurbs of the big metros, smaller metros, cities and even some rural areas, all of which offer lower urban densities, which usually means less overcrowding. In the first year of the pandemic, big cities, according to the firm American Communities and based on federal data, suffered the biggest job losses, nearly 10 percent, followed by their suburbs, while rural areas suffered 6 percent and exurbs less than 5 percent. The highest unemployment rates today are in coastal blue states, while the lowest tend to be in central and southern states.

The shift towards dispersed and remote work suggests the beginnings of a new geographical and corporate paradigm. Suburbs and exurbs accounted for more than 90 percent of all new job creation in the last decade, but with the rise of remote work, proximity to the physical workplace has lost more  of its advantages. University of Pennsylvania Professor Susan Wachter notes that telework eliminates the choice between long commutes and inordinate housing costs. The areas where remote work is growing most are generally small cities, as well as Sunbelt locales in Florida and South Carolina.

The dispersion of work is not a matter of low-wage workers heading to cheap places to do low-status jobs. In metros over one million such as Raleigh-Cary, Austin, Orlando, Salt Lake City, Nashville, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, and Charlotte, professional and business-services jobs are growing much faster than they are in San Francisco, Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles. The number of employees using the office started to drop as early as 2017 in San Francisco, the biggest winner in the tech economy.

The pandemic supercharged these trends. The disturbing rate of fatalities and hospitalizations in the Northeast, notably New York City, including Manhattan but particularly the poorest sections of the outer boroughs, chased many urbanites to the suburbs, exurbs, and beyond. Even as infections spread to other regions, it remained easier to endure the pandemic in a more spacious house, particularly if mass transit is not necessary.

Demographer Wendell Cox shows that, despite the considerable spread to less crowded areas over the past year, areas with the highest urban densities, in spite of their lockdowns, have experienced two times or more overall adjusted Covid fatalities, after more than one year of draconian social distancing regulations that eliminated much of downtown employment and cut mass transit use by up to 90 percent. Car-dominated places, where people can more easily afford space, have lower infection and fatality rates; if other pandemics follow, as many suspect, memories of the recent hegira will remain.

The longer the pandemic lasts and new variants appear, the greater will be what new research from Jose Maria Barrero, Nicholas Bloom, and Steven J. Davis refers to as  “residual fear of proximity.” The team suggests that when the pandemic fades, roughly 20 percent or more of all work will be done from home, almost four times the already growing rate before the pandemic. A study from the University of Chicago suggests this could grow to as much as one-third of the workforce and as high as 50 percent in Silicon Valley. Roughly 40 percent of all California jobs, including 70 percent of higher paying work, could be done at home, according to research by the Center of Jobs and the Economy.

Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo credit: Carol M. Highsmith, via Library of Congress under CC 1.0 License.

The Battle for Cities

America’s cities face an existential crisis that threatens their future status as centers of culture, politics, and the economy. Many urban advocates continue to delude themselves that U.S. cities are about to experience a massive post-pandemic return to “normal.” But the disruptive technological, demographic, and social changes of recent times are more likely to upend the old geographic hierarchy than to revive it.

A representative New York Times article from July 12 denied that the pandemic has impacted dense urban areas in particular, and blamed negative attitudes toward cities instead on what it called “alluring” anti-urban attitudes. Perhaps urban advocates need to ditch their own attitudes and confront reality (and the statistical evidence): Many key problems facing our core cities—growing social instability, rising crime, out-migration, increasingly radicalized politics, high costs, and tight regulation—predate the pandemic, and are not likely to go away easily. Clever proselytizing by urban media likely won’t be enough to convince Americans liberated by the efficacy of remote work to eventually return.

To survive and thrive, American cities need to reinvent urbanity by returning to a more diverse economy concentrated not in the central districts but in neighborhoods stretched across the city. Such a shift can only take place if the trajectory of urban politics changes. Some cities, notes Seth Barron, author of the newly published The Last Days of New York, have been captured by “an equity oriented social ideology” paid for by real estate interests and public sector unions, and backed by mainstream media and nonprofits, that has proven profoundly self-destructive. Outside New York, political leadership in cities like Portland, Oregon; Minneapolis; Seattle; and San Francisco continue to work assiduously to restrain law enforcement, even in the face of rising crime.

There appears to be a growing pushback against the progressive urban agenda, whose journalistic promoters often minimize social disorder. Defunding the police has not turned out to be a progressive success; the five cities that reduced their police budgets the most in 2020—Austin, Texas; New York; Minneapolis; Seattle; and Denver—have seen murders spike over the past year, well above the national average. Having partially gone down the path of defunding in 2020, New York, Baltimore, and Oakland, California, have now taken steps to restore some police funding. In ultraliberal San Francisco, the vast majority of city residents want more police; almost half are considering leaving the city, citing social disorder as a key reason. Residents of the fashionable Capitol Hill area in Seattle are erecting barriers to keep out the homeless.

But if the urban gentry are upset, the real shift is further down the social pecking order. The surprising victory of ex-cop Eric Adams as New York’s next mayor took place amid a surge in violent crime, garnering support for his centrist, pro-police platform from the city’s minority voters. My colleague Charles Blain, president of the Urban Reform and Urban Reform Institute in Houston, noted that opposition to “defunding” has come primarily from African American and Latino politicos in his city, while support seems to stem mostly from affluent white liberals.

Political divides within cities increasingly defy traditional definitions of right and left. There’s a growing conflict between those largely dependent on public schools, spaces, and transit, and those free of the need for public services due to their ability to live close to work, send their kids to private schools, or choose not to have kids at all. Much of the base of urban radicalism has shifted from minority communities to the ultrawoke, largely white, educated left.

Yet progressives, due in part to small voter turnouts, still dominate representative bodies like the New York City Council; the newly elected Manhattan district attorney follows the left’s program of low-intensity crime enforcement. In Buffalo and Pittsburgh, recent elections have favored far-left candidates. In Philadelphia, a recent attempt to remove the George Soros-backed District Attorney Larry Krassner failed miserably, despite rising crime.

The current urban trajectory is downwind of demographics. Despite the media hurrahs of a massive “back to the city” movement, Americans have been moving in the opposite direction for most of the past decade. Since 2012, suburbs and exurbs have accounted for about 90% of all metropolitan growth. The rate of growth in America’s biggest and most expensive cities began to decline as early as 2015, and the population shift to suburbs, exurbs, and smaller cities has accelerated, something evident well before the pandemic.

Read the rest of this piece at Tablet Magazine.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: JJ, via Flickr under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 License.

How America Abandoned the World—and Our Own Inner Cities

In America and across the globe, COVID-19 is diminishing people’s prospects, exacerbating inequality and creating ever-more feudal societies as the pandemic ravages the health and the pocketbooks of the poor and the poorly educated.

Globally developing countries are suffering from what The Nation describes as “a gargantuan north-south vaccination gap” between developing countries where fewer than 10 percent of people have been vaccinated compared to around 70 percent in Western Europe, Israel, Canada and US. And within affluent countries, there’s nearly as wide a gap between well-off and well-educated populations, and rural and urban backwaters still suffering from “a pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

In the long history of pestilence and plague, French historian Fernand Braudel noted, there was always a “separate demography for the rich”. As today, the affluent tended to eat better and could often escape the worst exposure to pestilence by retreating to country estates, while the poor have been left to fend for themselves as “victims of the urban graveyard effect” that’s persisted since the fall of Rome.

Despite attempts in the media to deny or downplay the links between density and disease, COVID death and infection rates remain worse in dense urban counties where poorer residents often have to navigate insufficiently ventilated enclosed spaces that their more affluent and mobile counterparts have been mostly able to avoid.

Generally speaking, educated and affluent city and suburban dwellers recovered their incomes within the first year of the pandemic, even as millions of Americans have fallen into poverty or are on the verge of destitution, and the federal moratorium on evictions is about to expire. Overall, upper-income workers recovered completely while lower-wage workers suffered major income declines.

As of May, employment for those making $60,000 a year or more is up by 7.4 percent since the pandemic began, while employment for those making $27,000 a year of less has plunged by 21 percent, according to tracktherecovery.org. The drop in low-wage employment has been even steeper in affluent areas, like Manhattan, as the high-wage workers who had clustered there are now dispersed while working remotely and buying services in their new locales.

This trend could accelerate if new pandemics emerge in the near future, as many fear they will. But for now, at least for developed countries, vaccinations offer a way out. Since January, COVID-19 has dropped from the leading cause of death in America to the seventh leading cause. But even here, the widely varied inoculation rates suggest future social problems, particularly as COVID-19 is becoming “hyper-regionalized” in communities with both low vaccination and low immunity rates, according to former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

These come primarily in two very different, but historically impoverished and poorly educated populations: rural America, where the national media has mocked the people getting sick as Trumpist rubes, and inner-city America.

Read the rest of this piece at Daily Beast.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo: MCJ1800, via Wikimedia under CC 4.0 License. Composite, R. Howard.

The Geography of COVID-19

The ongoing pandemic is reshaping the geography of our planet, helping some areas and hurting others. In the West, the clear winners have been the sprawling suburbs and exurbs, while dense cores have been dealt a powerful blow. The pandemic also has accelerated class differences and inequality, with poor and working class people around the world paying the dearest price. These conclusions are based on data we have repeatedly updated. Despite some variations, our earlier conclusions hold up: the virus wreaked the most havoc in areas of high urban density. This first became evident in the alarming pre-lockdown fatalities that occurred in New York City and the suburban commuting shed from which many of the employees in the huge Manhattan business district are drawn. Similar patterns have been seen in Europe and Asia as well.

The problem is not density per se but rather the severe overcrowding associated with poverty in high density areas. Overcrowded physical proximity often includes insufficiently ventilated spaces such as crowded public transit, elevators, and employment locations, especially high-rise buildings, which often have windows that cannot be opened. Overcrowded bars, restaurants, and other retail establishments are also a part of the problem. Professor Shlomo Angel head of the New York University Urban Expansion Project at the Marron Institute and the NYU Stern Urbanization Project and principal author of A Planet of Cities and the Atlas of Urban Expansion explains:

It is important to increase density literacy among politicians, professionals, and activists to make it clear that the density that contributed to the pandemic, overcrowded multigenerational housing, mass events, crowded transit cars, or crowded bars and restaurants, is not the kind of density we need to increase to make cities more affordable and to combat climate change. The densification we need involves making room in cities, adding floor space so that more people can occupy the same area without overcrowding.

Mixed evidence on lockdowns

Overcrowding intensifies exposure density. Recognizing this, governments imposed lockdowns and social distancing measures intended to reduce crowding and viral transmission. But lockdowns can be effective in some situations and not in others. Social distancing and remote work can readily reduce the exposure density of overcrowded trains, workplaces, elevators, and retail establishments, especially in the densest urban cores. Restaurants and bars were forced to close, and as many employers switched to remote working, fatality rates dropped substantially.

But this approach has exacted a steep cost. In New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and Toronto, suburban rail ridership declined by between 75 and 90 percent compared to the previous year. There has been a precipitous decline in the economies of the central business districts (CBDs) of these metropolitan areas, which have suffered economically more than most of their smaller counterparts. City Journal has reported that, in 2020, “New York City lost 500,000 private-sector jobs. Its office buildings are only 15 percent occupied. Ninety percent of the city’s restaurants failed to pay their December 2020 rent, and 5,000 have shut down altogether. Employment in the city’s arts and entertainment sector has plummeted 66 percent. And, perhaps most alarming: 300,000 New Yorkers from high-income neighborhoods have filed change-of-address forms with the Postal Service.” Rents are now the lowest in a decade.

Much of the employment activity central to modern cities—finance, marketing, technology, media, consulting—has been transferred to the “cloud model” of employment. Even in places like Hong Kong and Tokyo that have avoided the worst of the pandemic, there has been a significant reduction in CBD on-site work as remote work has increased. An ominous sign for the future: considerable evidence that productivity has improved or at least remained the same.

Nevertheless, social distancing and dispersion have proven successful in containing the spread of the virus. Our analysis of county fatality rate data shows that, in April 2020, the fatality rate in the New York combined statistical area (31 economically connected counties) was seven times the national rate. By July 2020, the CSA rate had fallen below the national rate. But the price was empty streets, sidewalks, office buildings, as well as bars and restaurants all essential to maintaining a dynamic city.

The future of cities

How many workers will return to the CBDs remains an open question, but it seems likely to be many fewer than before the pandemic. Even as we write, new lockdown measures are being implemented in Ontario, and it seems fair to ask when lockdowns will be sufficiently relaxed for urban cores to begin operating at their new normal. Downtowns have recovered far less quickly than suburban, exurban, and small towns. City centers in London, Paris, Berlin, Melbourne, Sydney, Milan, and elsewhere have suffered huge physical employment losses and increases in remote work.

Read the rest of this piece at Quillette.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston, a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Homepage photo: Prayitnophotography via Flickr, under CC 2.0 License.

Trust the Science: The Blue State Surge is Real

For months the conventional wisdom among Democrats, amplified by their obliging claque in the media, was that lockdowns played an essential role in containing COVID-19. The great heroes, in addition to Anthony Fauci, were hardline governors like Michigan’s Gretchen Whitmer, California’s Gavin Newsom and, most of all, New York’s Andrew Cuomo.

Yet now, more than a year later, the lockdown states—starting with New York and New Jersey—are again leading the nation in coronavirus infections and deaths per capita.

By contrast, some of the states with Republican governors who were routinely castigated for unlocking things and supposedly killing their residents, most notably Florida, Georgia and Texas, did indeed suffer an increase in fatalities last summer. But since then, even after opening their economies, these states continue to suffer fatality rates per capita well below those of the locked-down Northeastern states and about equal to California, which has maintained one of the nation’s strictest lockdowns.

What emerge from these trends are some clear issues with transmission that transcend lockdowns, mask mandates and other punitive measures. However justified, such actions have not addressed the fundamental reasons why some geographies and populations have suffered so much more than others. That’s to say that while the blue state governors aren’t necessarily to blame for the surges their states are experiencing, it’s clear that the economically and personally disruptive measures did not have the expected impact.

What did make a big difference, it turns out, is not so much the severity of lockdowns but pre-existing conditions. The likely cause here can be best identified as “exposure density” brought on by crowded housing, transit, and office environments.

That helps explain why, after New York City’s suburbs were hit hard in the first wave, the current surge has hit the outer boroughs, where a much higher share of workers have had little choice but to continue taking the subway or other transit.

Nationwide, urban exposure to the pandemic also reflects their greater inequality. Higher rates of poverty and overcrowded housing accentuate the worst effects of the pandemic, which tore through impoverished parts of New York, Houston, Los Angeles County, Chicago’s poor south side, and similar areas. The Bronx, for example, has suffered an 80 percent worse death rate than denser yet wealthier Manhattan, while Brooklyn’s rate is 50 percent worse than Manhattan’s.

This can be seen also in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, whose sunshine-blessed and auto-dominated society suffered a fatality rate 60 percent below that of transit-oriented metro New York. Yet while fatality rates have been very low in affluent areas with fewer crowded households, such as west Los Angeles and Irvine, they have been much higher in areas like east and south Los Angeles. In Orange County, the fatality rate in affluent, single family dominated Irvine is 22 per 100,000 compared with 195 in neighboring Santa Ana, which is heavily Hispanic, poor and suffers crowded housing conditions.

This is an international phenomenon seen across the world’s great urban areas. During the first lockdown, almost 20 percent of the Parisian population fled to the countryside, accelerating an escapist trend that had been underway for years: the core city of Paris has lost 700,000 residents (nearly 25 percent of its population) since 1954, while millions of new inhabitants have swelled the suburban population. Meanwhile, the densely packed Department of Seine-Saint-Denis, a place synonymous there with inner ring suburban poverty, had a staggering 130 percent excess mortality rate when the virus first hit last year.

Read the rest of this piece at The Daily Beast.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston, a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Photo credit: Matryx via Pixabay under CC0 1.0 License.

Can We Save the Planet, Live Comfortably, and Have Children Too?

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about what Zillow calls “the great re-shuffling,” as more people head out of major metropolitan areas to work, often remotely, in less dense, even rural areas. The recent surges in urban crime and disorder, in once-placid London and Paris, and once-triumphant New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, are likely to make things even tougher for the urban core.

As technology shifts, particularly for white-collar workers, the economic logic behind urban densification and expanded mass transit weakens. Today, nearly 45 percent of the 155 million-strong U.S. labor force is working from home full-time during the pandemic, up from below 6 percent in 2019. When the pandemic ends, this portion will no doubt drop, but experts like Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom suggest that it will remain at least 20 percent of the workforce.

Some 60 percent of U.S. teleworkers, according to Gallup, wish to keep doing so, at least for now. Globally, some 80 percent of workers expressed a desire to work from home at least some of the time. Equally important, many executives believe that this shift will continue, disproportionately affecting our largest, most celebrated business hubs. Both executives and employees have been impressed by surprising gains, and now many companies, banks, and leading tech firms – including Facebook, Salesforce, and Twitter – expect a large proportion of their workforce to continue to do their jobs remotely after the pandemic.

The coming conflict between reality and the green urban agenda

These preferences counter the narrative, so popular with planners and pundits, of the need for greater density and smaller living units in metropolitan areas, amid the expansion of mass transit.

If the densification agenda was weak before, it is almost delusional now. Even before Covid, the largest core-city populations have been stagnant or declining, including fabled American cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Nationwide since 2010, 90 percent of major metropolitan-area growth took place in the suburbs and exurbs. Jobs followed this pattern as well before Covid started undermining the economic rationale for high-rise office towers and massive new transit investment.

To be sure, some industries may choose to concentrate in the core by preference or tradition, and certain groups, largely the childless and the super-affluent, may remain in the urban playground for reasons of culture, social contacts, or easy access to international airports. But with the rise of remote work, most are likely to labor at home or nearby. They will travel less; upward of 33 percent of all business travel, critical to the health of many inner-city economies, could be permanently lost, as people opt for remote meetings and training sessions.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Photo credit: Frantik via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

Coronavirus and the Office Apocalypse

“We shall never deal with the complex problems of large units and differentiated groups unless at the same time we rebuild and revitalize the small unit. We must begin at the beginning; it is here where all life, even in big communities and organizations, starts.”
— Lewis Mumford

What if they reopened the office and nobody came? This scenario is not as far-fetched as many believe. The office may not be dead, but its post-COVID future, particularly in big cities, may look more like a medieval-style arrangement than the buzzing, super dense science fiction vision from The Jetsons.

Read more

Politics, Polarization & The Plight Of The Middle & Working Classes With John Russo

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, hosts Joel Kotkin and Marshall Toplansky interview John Russo, co-author of Steel Town USA and a visiting scholar at Georgetown University. John has spent most of his academic career at Youngstown State University in Ohio, and he has spent much time cataloguing the plight of the middle class and working class in the US.

Americans Won’t Live in the Pod

“No Bourgeois, No Democracy”
Barrington Moore

Protecting and fighting for the middle class regularly dominates rhetoric on the Right and Left. Yet activists on both sides now often seek to undermine single-family home ownership, the linchpin of middle-class aspiration.

The current drive to outlaw single-family zoning—the one protection homeowners possess against unwanted development—has notched bans in the City of Minneapolis and the state of Oregon, with California not far behind. Advocates have tapped an odd alliance of progressives and libertarians. Essentially, it marries two inflexible ideologies, in principle diametrically opposed, but neither of which see housing as a critical element of family and community. In its stead, the Left seeks to place the state in charge, while libertarians bow instinctively to any de-regulatory step they see as increasing “freedom and choice.”

Although couched in noble sentiments, both approaches are fundamentally hostile to both middle- and working-class aspirations. Without a home, the new generation—including minorities—will face a “formidable challenge” in boosting their worth. Property remains key to financial security: Homes today account for roughly two-thirds of the wealth of middle-income Americans while home owners have a median net worth more than 40 times that of renters, according to the Census Bureau. Equally important, a shift from home ownership would also weaken the basis of democracy. Since ancient times, republican institutions have rested on the firmament of dispersed property ownership.

An Odd Time for More Density

The push for ever-greater density and against suburban home ownership could not come at a less propitious time. Even before the pandemic, big cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago were losing population. Since 2010, despite all the talk of a massive “return to the city,” suburbs and exurbs account for about 90% of all metropolitan-area growth. Millennials, often seen as an urban generation, have fueled population growth in the suburbs since 2010.

Millennials have had a hard time buying homes—among post-college millennials (25-34), ownership has dropped from 45.4% in 2000 to 37.0% in 2016, a drop of 18% according to Census Bureau data—but three-quarters want single-family detached houses, according a 2019 report on home buyer preferences by the National Association of Homebuilders. A 2018 Apartment List survey found that 80% of millennials dream of home ownership. Among those under 35 who do buy homes, four-fifths choose single-family detached houses.

This shift has been greatly accelerated by the pandemic, and could gain even more momentum from the rising crime and disorder in many of our core cities. Pew reports roughly one in four Americans either moved on account of COVID-19 or knew someone who did so, with the largest percentages for young people under 30. Since 2018, according to Gallup, the percentage of Americans saying they want to live in cities dropped 55%, down to barely 13%. Rather than the much-ballyhooed “back to the city” movement, we are entering what Zillow describes as “a great reshuffling” to suburbs, smaller cities, and less expensive states. Even non-metro areas, for the first time in over a decade, are beginning to gain population.

The rise of online work is likely to accelerate the trend. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom projects we will see telecommuting increase from 5% of the workforce before the pandemic to something closer to 20%. More important still, most people now working from home express a preference—some 60% according to Gallup—to do so for the foreseeable future. Even when offices opened early this summer in New York, real estate brokers report, most workers refused to return. And now developers, like KB Homes, are adding home offices to their newest offerings.

These trends will be reinforced by shifts in job markets. A new survey by the Site Selectors guild suggests that only 10% of companies are looking to expand in large cities, one sixth as many as choose suburbs, and a third of those who favor rural areas. Meanwhile major office and residential complexes are being downsized, cancelled, or hit with major price reductions in cities from Chicago and New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Read the rest of this essay on the American Mind.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo credit: Taxiarchos228 via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

Podcast Episode 8: Making Sense of Urban Density, Death Rates & Dispersion with Wendell Cox

In this episode of the Feudal Future podcast, urban policy expert and noted demographer Wendell Cox joins hosts Joel and Marshall for a conversation on the COVID-19 pandemic, death rates, and public policy.