I am surprised, although maybe I shouldn’t be, by how quickly many seem to be allegedly turning their back on cities. According to the New York Times, cities were “losing their allure” well before this pandemic, and this might just be the tipping point. The underlying argument: Density is bad. We should probably all move somewhere bucolic, where the cost of housing is less and work isn’t so stressful. Zoom only when necessary.
But as the chief economist for Indeed, Jed Kolko, rightly points out in the article, how people behave (and think) during a global pandemic is probably not a great indicator for how they will want to live their lives when this is all over. It’s also not clear that urban density is really the contributor of spread. Hyper-dense cities such as Seoul and Hong Kong have been performing relatively well. (Joe Cortright has some thoughts on this.)
Once we get to the other side, we will see the data and we will get a better understanding of this current situation. And then in hindsight, we will find ways to rationalize the outcomes to ourselves. In the interim, I’m not about to bet against cities. Here’s how Paul Romer, professor at New York University, put it in this recent interview in City Journal:
“I think the underlying economic reality is that there is tremendous economic value in interacting with people and sharing ideas. There’s still a lot to be gained from interaction in close physical proximity because such interaction is a large part of how we establish trust. So I think that, for the rest of my life, cities are going to continue to be where the action is.”