The Future of Cities

Looking around the country, it might seem like Edward Glaeser was wrong to declare the “Triumph of the City” in his 2011 bestseller of the same name.

COVID-19 revealed the fragility of urban areas like New York City, as millions of inhabitants who could afford to flee have done so – leaving behind struggling unemployed workers and cash-strapped governments.

Brent Orrell of the American Enterprise Institute notes that we are seeing the acceleration of many existing trends – like remote working – which threaten to eviscerate the downtown commercial real estate market, taking city budgets down with them. Brent’s recent Law & Liberty article, Pandemics, Elites, and the Future of the Cities, mirrors many of my thoughts on the future of cities. He will join me this Sunday to explore the themes of his article in more depth.

Back in April, I was one of the first to speculate on the fate of skyscraper office buildings in my webinar on "the Future of Lending: Post-COVID." My verdict is that office space – like the financial services sector that has occupied it in places like NYC – has failed its final exam. To borrow Warren Buffett’s analogy, it took the low tide of Coronavirus to reveal who was swimming naked.

Yet in spite of the inevitable shift towards working-from-home, there are other reasons to be optimistic about cities in general. Glaeser’s main point in The Triumph of Cities was that density enables the in-person meeting-of-minds that drives innovation and creativity. Urban sprawl is a direct result of people’s growing desire to be close to the action while still having enough space to move around. Density is even more environmentally-friendly, since it eliminates the need to drive.

But the same density that drives innovation can also lead to pandemics, rioting, and other forms of social unrest. While the upwardly-mobile have been able to escape to the exurbs or the suburbs, the same low-income people being infected with COVID have no options outside the crowded urban areas in which they reside. I will ask Brent, host of the Hardly Working podcast, how the hit to commercial real estate will affect service workers. We will also discuss the need for visionary leadership by urban elites, who can implement timely zoning reforms and lighten the regulatory load on struggling small businesses.

Don’t miss the conversation as we dissect the latest turmoil in cities across the country and how 2020 will be the year that makes or breaks cities.

Perhaps now is the perfect moment for the New Urbanists, school choice advocates, and civil societarians to bring a free-market revolution to America’s battered cities.

Follow Brent on Twitter – @Orrell_b.

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