Cities are facing a series of real challenges, which I group under three headings: remote work, high housing costs, and bad governance (resulting in part from a toxic cultural-political climate). These could put a cloud over them for years, and in some cases could lead to what some have been calling the “urban doom loop.”
You’ve probably seen photos or videos of huge homeless encampments in America’s cities, like the ones in this Daily Mail article about Portland.
You’ve probably seen footage of brazen shoplifting in San Francisco, and heard about how retailers like Wal-Mart, REI, and Nordstrom are closing urban stores.
You’ve probably read about growing urban crime or seen disturbing videos such as when a group of teens and young adults were running amok in Chicago, for example.
You’ve probably heard about how remote work is threatening the future of downtowns, with half or more of workers not coming into the office anymore.
You’ve probably heard about the population exodus from urban centers during Covid, and about population drops in formerly booming places like San Francisco and Portland.
This drum beat of bad news seems to have created a sense among some that cities are doomed. There’s certainly a class of people who would welcome this, and so they are motivated to share all the bad news and emphasize the ways that big cities are in big trouble.
However, I’d like to encourage people to have a sense of perspective here. The very nature of the news cycle (e.g., “if it bleeds, it leads”) selects for bad news. It’s very easy for people without on the ground knowledge to draw conclusions that may not be warranted.
I have studied cities professionally. I also have visited a number of big cities recently. In the last two months I’ve been to NYC twice, Chicago, and Washington. In each case, the challenges are evident.
But if all you had to go on in judging these cities is what you saw when you visited them, you’d never think they were in danger of collapse.