The Return of Cities

Major cities like London continue their rebound from the pandemic, with some tweaks.

April 5, 2022, 8:00 AM PDT

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


London

IR Stone / Shutterstock

Despite the predicted emptying out of major cities during the pandemic, Richard Florida writes that "cities are back," with few showing more promise than London.

The Pret Index, a proxy London foot-traffic measurement based on transactions at the sandwich chain across the city, has even surpassed its pre-Covid baseline in the West End. Restaurant reservations on OpenTable are at 89 per cent of pre--pandemic levels. In January, house prices in the capital grew at their fastest rate since 2016, and rents are back to where they were before Covid. Estate agents report large numbers of clients who fled London now seeking to return.

In Florida's opinion, "true great cities" throughout history almost always rebound after disastrous wars, pandemics, or other disruptions, and London is no different. But "[w]ith remote-working expected to take up at least one in five working days even after the pandemic is over, the commercial heart of the city is going to feel very different."

Like other cities, London faces the question of what to do with its half-vacant office buildings. "But a city is not reducible to its offices. Great cities are adaptive: they remake and reuse their buildings and built environment as circumstances change."

Now, cities are returning to an older, more mixed-use form of urban design. "The city itself is transforming into an extended version of the office, as more work takes place in cafés, bars and hotel lobbies. London has been at the forefront of this shift, incubating an array of co-working spaces." Whether or not they're traveling to an office, Florida argues, workers will continue to spend time in vibrant city centers "to meet, share ideas and do business."

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