The pandemic is also likely to diminish the power and influence of our largest and densest cities. This is particularly true if we continue to demand more social distancing — in offices, subways, elevators and lobbies. This is not likely to make dense urban living more affordable or pleasant. Social distancing means that offices can only accommodate a shrinking number of employees. Long waits to get on the subway, and perhaps everywhere else, might become commonplace, making getting around even more difficult.
In contrast, largely suburban areas such as Raleigh, San Jose, Austin and Denver are well-positioned, with high rates of telecommuting for the post-COVID future. These areas are dispersed and dominated by single-family homes. With the exception of the two large tech centers — the Puget Sound and the San Francisco Bay Area — high-end job creation, paralleling migration, has been shifting to these smaller cities.
To these trends, cities are now increasingly adding unforced errors in social policy. Increasingly radicalized city governments — for example, in Seattle and New York — have pushed new businesses out, with new taxes and regulation. Streets filled with homeless people, drug addicts, petty thieves and even sex offenders threaten to bring back something of the bad old days before the most recent urban renaissance.