Urban

Will New York Ever Recover From COVID-19?

Urbanist Joel Kotkin says the pandemic will accelerate America's urban decline. Richard Florida is "100 percent convinced" NYC will be just fine.

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Is COVID-19 the "end of New York" as we know it?

That's what urbanist Joel Kotkin argued in a recent piece for Tablet magazine.

"This is happening at a time when the demographics of cities like New York, L.A., Chicago, [and] San Francisco are all going in the wrong direction. Young people leaving, and population growth is very low," says Kotkin. "I think the pandemic is just one more factor that is going to influence migration in general. I think the idea of being in a dense urban place is probably not going to be that attractive."

With lockdowns and extreme social distancing bringing urban life to a halt, and New York City emerging as the epicenter of the national crisis, a debate among urban studies scholars is breaking out over what this will mean for the future of American cities.

On one side are density skeptics like Kotkin, a Chapman University professor who believes the pandemic will only accelerate an already present decline in urban living, while pro-density urbanists like University of Toronto Professor Richard Florida say that New York will do what New York has always done: bounce back.

"I am 100 percent convinced New York will be fine," says Florida. "The biggest mistake people ever make is counting New York out."

Thomas Campanella, a Cornell professor who co-edited a book after 9/11 called The Resilient City: How Modern Cities Recover from Disaster, agrees with Florida. Campanella and his co-editor found that disasters that damage critical infrastructure, such as the volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii, or make land literally uninhabitable, such as the nuclear meltdown in Chernobyl, are most likely to do irreparable harm. Cities have recovered from pandemics fairly quickly, including New York after the 1918 Spanish flu.

"To suggest that this is going to mark the end of the cities…it's ridiculous actually," says Campanella. "It traffics in a long tradition of anti-urbanist posturing and predicting that goes all the way back to the founding generation in this country." 

Campanella points to Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, in which he states that "The mobs of great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body." John Adams similarly wrote in his Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States that Americans living "in small numbers, sprinkled over large tracts of land … are not subject to those panics and transports, those contagions of madness and folly, which are seen in countries where large numbers live in small places."

"De-densifying the city is not going to happen," says Campanella. "We still have London and Florence and Venice and all these cities that they underwent terrible pandemic diseases.

Campanella recalls his own grandmother recounting the horrors of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic in New York City.

"She remembered seeing the hearses every day," he says. "So, we have gone through these things."

But Kotkin argues that what's changed is that ever-improving communications technology has made all kinds of remote work possible.

"If you take a look at where people are moving. They're moving to, generally speaking, less expensive, very often smaller cities," he says.

In terms of broad historical trends, urbanization has increased over the last 200 years, with the percentage of the world population living in urban areas rising from 2 percent to 50 percent. But more recently, megacities like New York have experienced significantly slower growth than small and mid-sized urban areas. The total world population of small urban areas with populations of fewer than 500,000 people is three times that of megacities, with the median urban resident living in an urban area with a population of 650,000.

And according to the U.S. Census Bureau, almost 92 percent of population growth within metropolitan areas has been in the suburbs and exurbs from 2010 to 2018. Only New York has bucked that trend, with rising density over that period.

But Kotkin says New York isn't immune.

"[The pandemic] may just accelerate some of this," says Kotkin. " People are going to have that memory of, 'God, I was living in the studio apartment in Manhattan when this happened. I was essentially in lockdown.'"

Between 2005 and 2017, remote working increased by about 159 percent according to one study, with about 5 percent of Americans working from home according to census data.  Kotkin predicts remote working trends will continue to push more and more Americans out of big city centers.

But Florida points out that venture capital is still concentrated in the Bay Area and New York. He predicts that the coronavirus pandemic will lead to more geographic concentration.

"At the same time that you're having people leave [dense urban centers], you're having… the Bay Area's share of the tech industry increasing, New York's share of finance increasing. L.A. is still a center of movie making and the creative industry broadly," says Florida. "With restrictions on air travel, the fact that it [has become] harder to drop in and out of those places will cause a further concentration." 

But Florida agrees with Kotkin that the growth of remote work will also continue to drive the growth of smaller cities in the American heartland. He points to a Kaiser Family Foundation project called Tulsa Remote, which pays tech workers a $10,000 stipend to move to Tulsa and work from home.

"So [small cities like Tulsa will] literally say we're going to be … a connected hub of remote workers to an incumbent economic center. And I think that can work," says Florida.

Despite his provocative headline, even Kotkin isn't predicting New York's total demise. Rather, he foresees a continued hollowing out of its middle class, with future population growth coming from young, single workers, immigrants, and the ultra-wealthy.

"It's probably at this stage almost impossible to see a return of middle-class families to cities," he says, "Not necessarily because of housing stock or even prices [but rather] the kind of governments that are being elected."

He says the inability of these big cities' mayors to deal with homelessness, crime, schools, and other quality-of-life issues has and will continue to drive out middle-class families.

"And the problem is, as the middle class has declined in these cities, the politics have gotten crazier and crazier," says Kotkin.  

Florida, who places himself in the "99th percentile" of the political left says that he agrees with Kotkin that too many mayors have lost sight of these basic quality-of-life issues in their cities.

"I think there's going to be a premium now on no bullshit, no ideology, 'Can you make my city safe or suburb safe and secure?'" says Florida. "[New York] is going to have time to really think about how to become a more affordable city, a more holistic city, a better city."

Produced by Zach Weissmueller, graphics by Isaac Reese, opening animation by Lex Villena

Music: "Curtains are Always Drawn," by Kai Engel licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License

Photos: Gloved hand in subway, Marcus Santos/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Empty subway tunnel, William Volcov/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Empty subway, William Volcov/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Zoom call, Chloe Sharrock/ZUMA Press/Newscom; Empty New York street, Alcir N. de Silva/Polaris/Newscom; Masked airline attendant, Kike Calvo/Universal Image Group/Newscom; Empty airport terminal, Joe Burbank/TNS/Newscom; Empty Times Square, Alison Wright/ZUMA Press/Newscom

NEXT: Snorkel Respirators, 3D-Printed Masks, and Other Grassroots Efforts To Fight COVID-19

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  1. When did everyone turn into pussies?

    1. About September 11, 2001

      1. Indeed, the country is still feeling the effects of the Islamophobia unleashed that day. Even now I continue to see bigots sarcastically refer to Islam as “the religion of peace.”

        1. We need to integrate these peaceful Muslim settlers in Europe and the United States. Diversity is our Strength!

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          2. We need to integrate these peaceful Muslim settlers in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.

        2. I’m pretty sure that you could find “bigotry” in a cheese sandwich. The existence of bigotry as seen by the left is ubiquitous, even though it is the left that views every action and word through the lens of racism. It would be very frustrating to try for a thought that is independent from the talking points fed to you on a daily basis. But I bet you think of yourself as a free-thinker, right?

      2. I don’t remember people freaking out about swine flu, and that killed a few 100,000 people worldwide.

        1. Over 100,000 died in the US of flu in 1958 and in 1968. Somehow we got through those without freaking out and fucking up everyone’s lives.

          1. The population was a lot lower as well, so the percentage of those affected was considerably higher.

          2. The main thing was there was not a concerted effort and willingness to destroy the country in order to defeat a president running for a 2nd term.

      3. Too soon, AS. Too soon.

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    2. I learned it by reading ‘The Vagina Monologues’

  2. I’ve never understood why people would want to live like rats in stacks of cages in a lab. That’s what I think of when I see the endless streets of brownstones in New York City.

    But I grew up in Iowa and now live in Texas so there’s that.

    1. Naturally, an ignorant corn shucker couldn’t appreciate refined culture. Shouldn’t you be getting brain damage from playing football?

      1. I do not have to suffer from the smells of the homeless dumping in city streets. Big city politicians all act as if allowing people who do not want to take care of themselves should be the focus of all of their efforts. I lived in big cities the first thirty years of my life. I am quite happy to say that my life has greatly improved since then. If you want to live in an area where diseases are more easily passed around then do so. I choose to live in the rest of america.

    2. I’m with you. I grew up way outside of town in a rural area.

      I just don’t get how anyone can be content living in a big city. Even the suburbs were only merely tolerable for a country boy.

      1. It’s all trade-offs, of course. I currently live in the middle of a couple hundred acres of nothing. I don’t have neighbors. I can ride my quad without having to load it on a trailer and take it somewhere. Target practice without leaving the property and without anyone caring. People who visit me think it has to be the greatest thing in the world. It may be, but I’m used to it.

        I’ve been to NYC many times and enjoy it every time. I could easily live there if I decided to leave the sticks. The anonymity the city affords would be appealing, and the convenience of walking to the store. It’s the housing plans or quiet streets where you have next door neighbors you have to contend with, and the still having to drive everywhere, that I couldn’t take.

    3. But you get to see things like perverts exposing themselves and homeless shitting in garbage cans. The cities are an eclectic mix of wonderful.

    4. I agree. Grew up in Rural Idaho, been stationed in San Antonio, Yorktown, VA, Seattle and have lived in Anchorage. I always felt hemmed in and restless. Yeah I enjoy visiting Seattle to catch a game or whatever, but much more than a couple days starts making me feel antsy. Even Bozeman starts to wear on me after awhile. Hell, even the town I live in now (765 people) feels to crowded some days and I can’t wait until I finish our place on the ranch.

      1. Were you stationed in Anchorage, working, spending time at Hiland Mountain? Not many people ever get up there.

    5. I’ve never understood why people would want to live like rats in stacks of cages in a lab.

      Booze and hookers/sex mostly.

    6. I live in a city 4th floor condo apartment just a stone’s throw from downtown Boston and Cambridge, and I do not feel like I’m living like a rat in a stack of cages in a lab.

  3. I ain’t gonna trust some guy named Florida to talk about New York.

    1. That’s Florida Man to you…

    2. Florida ain’t just a name on Good Times.

    3. The “Dick Florida” Twitter account is the best.

  4. Will New York Ever Recover From COVID-19?

    Nope. Never. Better sell off everything now while some people still have money.

    1. Just don’t sell to the Dutch, you’ll likely end up getting screwed over.

    2. Give them 10 years and short of this resurfacing, few will have anything more than an occasional thought about it. People are resilient but terribly forgetful people. Though a third of the world’s population got the Spanish Flu and 50 million died, you wouldn’t have 5% of Americans that would have said they even heard of it a year ago. Growth in NYC will probably stall, but it will have far more to do with their politics than this will.

  5. It’s New York City, who cares?

    1. They’re always a bunch of Whitney crybabies. And stupid too. Look at the procession of shitbags they elect. Cuomo, Hillary, Weiner, AOC, Schumer, Rangel, DeBlasio, etc..

      Considering the evil these morons inflict on the world, I have zero sympathy for them.

      1. Almost 4 years ago, the American people elected a total shitbag for a President.

  6. a debate among urban studies scholars

    Booooooring! If it’s not being settled with pistols at 10 paces in Central Park, I am out. These parasites got no skin in the game.

  7. Will New York Ever Recover From COVID-19?

    I don’t know. Will New York Ever Recover From Polio, HIV, or The Flu?

    1. Yeah, the real question is whether they will recover from the social and economic damage inflicted by government policy. The virus may kill thousands of people in NY, but that’s not a new thing that has never happened before and New York (and everywhere) has recovered from that many times.

      1. You’re misdiagnosing the problem. It isn’t government policy it’s the people who uncritically accepted it.

        1. Something consent of the governed something.

        2. I suppose you could say that about many shitty government policies.

          I agree with you. But I have no expectation that most people won’t just go along with what they are told to do. So I’m still laying blame on the government first. If they want to claim to be leaders, maybe try leading a little bit.

        3. Stop and Frisk vigorously taught them who was in charge.

    2. Will it ever recover from Bill DeBlasio?

      1. Well, it’s survived Walker, Lindsay, Beame and Dinkins.

        1. What’s Bloomberg, chopped asshole?

            1. Just don’t add any table salt, or try to wash it down with a large soda.

  8. New York will rapidly recover starting in January 2021. That’s because President Biden will implement the Koch / Reason policy of unlimited, unrestricted immigration. The free movement of highly skilled doctors and engineers across the US / Mexico border will strengthen the economy and provide overwhelmed hospitals with more employees.

    #OpenBordersWillFixEverything

    1. >unlimited, unrestricted immigration
      you had me at unlimited. Higher rents, lower wages! The key to a future #LibertarianMoment in US politics!

  9. University of Toronto Professor Richard Florida

    What is Florida Man doing in Toronto?

    1. Crack, probably.

      1. Fuck off Morty.

      2. Is he a friend of yours Pedo Jeffy? You live in Toronto.

    2. Time for the annual migration north, Florida is uninhabitable during summer. He’ll be back in ~October.

      1. Reverse snow bird? Is that a thing?

    3. He also works at NYU.

  10. I thought this was a very good article:

    1. Basically… would the media have freaked out and shut the whole country down if the majority of deaths weren’t in NYC? I tend to think not.

      1. Of course the media wouldn’t freak out about Montana the way they freak out about New York, they all live in New York and New York is the center of their universe. It’s why a blizzard across the upper Midwest that kills dozens, knocks out the power for millions, causes hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage, and disrupts society for a week-and-a-half gets just about the same amount of attention as an apartment fire in the Bronx that doesn’t kill anybody. <a href="https://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1592403662/reasonmagazinea-20/ Curtis wrote a book about it.

  11. If New Yorkers can stop irrationally shitting their pants for five minutes, there’s no reason they can’t bounce back. But, alas, that is the entire point of instigating a panic, so that even when the exigency has passed a mindset of fear and compliance remains, ready to spring into action when beckoned.

    1. Excuse me! But AOC has an award for science from MIT. What do you have to show for an education?

      1. ‘You love to see it.’

  12. What a useless question! Only central planning statists would even think of it. The real answer is, who gives a fuck, people will do what they do, and unless you are investing, or thinking of investing, in New York City property, or property near New York City, it is an absolutely meaningless question.

    1. Haha, I was more or less thinking the same, this is useless speculation. But I guess it’s at least interesting to ponder.

    2. Fuck off SQRSLY

      1. Fuck off and die, Tulpa/Hihn.

  13. I think New York will recover just fine. All this will end and people will go back to doing what they do and the people who find New York appealing will continue to find it so. I suppose if we had a pandemic every year, that might change things. But we don’t. And even if we did, I think people would just adjust to the risk and move on.

    What this will do is likely keep other places from becoming more like New York. After this is over, people in places like Dallas will no longer see much appeal to mass transit and magic choo choos, and condensed living that urban planners and leftists are forever trying to shove down their throats. So, New York will be just fine. And it will remain very unique. What will not be fine is the leftist dream of turning every city into New York and every Neighborhood into Slope Park.

  14. It shouldn’t recover, but probably will.

    All of recorded history teaches two things:

    1) Cities are population sinks: People go there to die, not raise up a next generation.

    2) (Some) people go there anyway.

    Cities are, essentially, a very bad habit humans have trouble breaking.

  15. The real question is: will the millions of people who lost their jobs/businesses and had their lives destroyed recover from New York?

    1. At least they are not living in New Jersey.

      1. You mean…The People’s Republic of NJ. 🙂

  16. The worst part of the reaction to this particular pandemic is the extent to which talking heads are proclaiming that it will change how we live. No, it won’t. It might accelerate change that was already occurring, like remote work. Or it might cause a temporary increase in certain activities, like hand washing. But by itself it won’t change human behavior. It’s as if they are completely ignoring that humanity has gone through countless rounds of viral epidemics. Life will go back to what it was when the crisis recedes, just as it always has done.

      1. See the 2nd amendment…

    1. Life will go back to what it was when the crisis recedes, just as it always has done.

      Do you swear that on the grave of Andrew Cuomo’s mother?

  17. Sure- people will take a very, very rare pandemic and then just up and leave to go settle in nowhere Arkansas. Sure….

  18. Proper answer: Who gives a shit?

  19. Despite his provocative headline, even Kotkin isn’t predicting New York’s total demise. Rather, he foresees a continued hollowing out of its middle class, with future population growth coming from young, single workers, immigrants, and the ultra-wealthy.

    “It’s probably at this stage almost impossible to see a return of middle-class families to cities,” he says, “Not necessarily because of housing stock or even prices [but rather] the kind of governments that are being elected.”

    This nailed it. NYC will survive, but it is increasingly becoming more polarized economically and politically. In the not so distant future, there will be a large number of wealthy, no middle class, and some marginally attached low income residents.

    Woke Progressives (e.g. Communists) have taken over NYC. They will vote themselves whatever they like, and then float debt instruments to pay for it. That only works for so long. It won’t be pretty when it ends.

    1. When it ends, they’ll come to Uncle Sam for a bailout. And they’ll unfortunately probably get it.

      1. All the while whining about how no city in the history of civilization has ever suffered as much as NYC. And how strong NYC is for bearing up under this catastrophe the likes of which mortal man has never seen without a word of complaint. Just like 9/11. Have we mentioned 9/11?

      2. I doubt it. I still remember the NY Post headline: Ford to NYC, drop dead. 🙂

        1. Too bad they didn’t take him up on it. I’m tired of listening to NY’ers simultaneously whine and cry, yet brag about how tough they are.

  20. If New Yorkers keep showing disinterest in themselves by voting for socialists and opportunists like De Blasio and AOC, then they have chosen their destiny.

    But the question is not framed right. We’re all gonna survive the virus because the virus is clearly not eradicating us. What we may not survive is the precedent we just set with regards to our REACTION.

    Dudes.

    WE SHUT DOWN THE ECONOMY AND PUT 34 MILLION NORTH AMERICANS OUT OF WORK FOR IT.

    A clearer example of a disproportionate response you can’t get.

    And course, leave it to the ‘comfort class’ led by celebrities to mock people for wanting to go back to work because they see their lives falling apart AND raise money for organizations like the WHO that lied about it in the first place along with their pals China.

    Degenerates having the backs of other degenerates.

  21. Voting should be limited to men who own single family homes or farms. Apartment dwellers should never have been allowed to vote, as living in a crammed quarters means that you likely don’t have enough at stake to have a say as to the future direction of society.

    1. Should they also be required to own a woman?

  22. Maybe it will make NYC cost of living just a little more reasonable, buuuuuuuuuuut I doubt it.

    1. >Maybe it will make NYC cost of living just a little more reasonable
      you only need 6 sq ft when you’re dead

      1. The standard size of a grave plot in the US is 20 square feet, but of course they can be stacked…

  23. The greatest impediment to NYS and NYC’s recovery from Covid are their own burdensome laws and regulations. They were already the problem before the governor instituted a command economy, but they were also designed with the assumption of there being an economy. Starting over from zero? We’ll see how bad things really are.

    1. The media certainly likes Gov. Cuomo as the Commander in Chief. Can’t wait to see Election2024.

  24. Most of the small business start ups in cities during the past decade have been social-restaurants, bars, yoga studios…Covid-19 has steamrolled them. And big tech and finance have probably realised it makes sense and cuts costs to let as many as possible work remotely, maybe keeping their HQ in a large city. So what benefit does that leave for cities? Not much.

    1. I’ve never understood why IT people want to work in San Francisco / Silicon Valley. I assume they are good with tech so why not work remotely and save on rent / mortgage? Is there some unspoken synergy created by working in a physical office space?

      1. They get to play beer pong all day long and call it networking and at least theoretically have a better chance of meeting someone of the opposite sex, esp in SF where most men are gay.

        1. Promoting women in STEM is one progressive idea I can support. Doesn’t mean they should be paid the same but I wouldn’t mind getting some consentual poon-tang at work.

  25. recover to like mid-80s cleanliness and friendliness?

  26. No no no..please stay in NYC…the as Howard Stern would say..the woke/yentas move to free states to escape high taxes and regulation and what do they do? Start to scream for more “education” spending, more social spending, attacking the 2nd amendment, destroying the free market…seen it in central NY..we have been devastated by the yenta socialists from NYC…please stay in NYC do not move…don’t screw up the rest of the country like you did in NY State.

    1. I take it you’re in Florida?

  27. Tokyo and Hamburg were firebombed into dust and survived. And here we have an urban planner, predicting the demise of NYC based on COVID, which is a pinprick compared to real historical disasters, suffered by still surviving cities.

  28. Cities are gonna survive just fine. So are smaller towns that offer more than just bedrooms. The latter could even be the biggest winners. So are truly rural areas. It is the suburb that loses here.

    Whether the smaller towns actually choose to take advantage of this. By gearing themselves around the Mittelstand of Germany or the ‘niche’ start-ups that characterized the early Midwest. But as long as everything is geared around offering tax breaks to multinationals or other mass production type models and turn themselves into a ‘company town’ – well small towns will keep losing.

  29. Well tar and feathering their mayor and running him out of town on a rail would be a good start.

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  31. I believe that NYC will recover with one HUGE CAVEAT. That life returns 100% to normal. If and when restaurants, bars and other social nightlife gets back to “normal” NYC has always been a place that attracts the young because there is so much to do and it is a major hub for employment across multiple professions. The young want to be part of the action. They love the social aspect of hanging out with friends and co-workers for happy hours or brunch or going to gym classes together. If that returns the young will stay because being social is their number 1 priority.

    If however gyms reduce class sizes, bars reduce the numbers that can come in so that people aren’t packed into small spaces, tables at restaurants are cut in half the young will start to say why am I paying thousands for a small apartment when I can live in the burbs or go to a smaller city that is less dense.

    Married couples living in the city that want children usually leave the city anyway due to cost and the desire for better schools and more space.

    Finally let us not forget that NYC and NYS were in major debt prior to this outbreak. I anticipate the Federal Government being pressured to send some relief but they can’t bail out the entire country without totally bankrupting the nation. NYC and NYS will have to severely raise taxes AND cut services. That very well maybe the thing that drives New Yorkers to pack their bags at a faster rate than they already are and head to greener pastures.

  32. Recover? Ghawd, let’s hope not!

  33. Hmm as someone not from the states, why do many people not like New York? I guess it’s really popular in Europe because i still see many flights on the radar to New York –> Vliegtuig Volgen. It’s European language but I guess you understand the radar. Anyway, I liked it over there.

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