Don’t write off cities just yet: they will survive COVID

Jean-Louis Missika  Ricky Burdett   /  Source:  LSE

The media has been quick to predict the premature demise of New York, London or Paris. Yet it is difficult to learn lessons about the impact of the pandemic on major cities, because it is not over. Surveys and statistics are very popular, but often misused. A recent study noted that around 90% of executives plan to leave the Paris region, forgetting to mention that in the same annual survey, numbers were equally high in previous years: 82% in 2019, 84% in 2018 and 80% in 2016 – that is, long before the words “COVID-19” were ever uttered. Some wild projections suggest that the double whammy of COVID and Brexit has led to 700,000 mainly foreign-born people leaving London in 2020, while more realistic estimates put that figure at far less. In fact, London’s consistent annual growth over the last decades is set to continue, slowed down by COVID but not reversed.

In ordinary times, the desire to leave and go elsewhere affects us all in one way or another. Is it surprising that this desire is heightened in times of crisis, especially when lockdowns make us more aware of the benefits of the open countryside, the mountains, or the sea? At the same time, we become awkwardly conscious of the limited size of flats in dense cities and are seduced – at least, those who can afford to be – by the potential of remote working. The Parisian survey tells us that one in two French executives “had started thinking about where they want to live”, but to start to think about it does not mean reaching a decision to make the change...

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