Analysis of Downtown Recoveries Reveals Post-Pandemic Winners and Losers

The recovery of U.S. downtowns is happening at widely different paces depending on which city you consider.

2 minute read

August 21, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


California Shelter-in-Place

Bjorn Bakstad / Shutterstock

A recent analysis by the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley compares the recovery of downtowns using new data provided by mobile phones to expand beyond the typical indicators of downtown vitality: office vacancy rates, public transit ridership, and retail spending.

The study finds wide variation in downtown recoveries, ranging from a low of 31 percent of pre-pandemic levels in San Francisco to a high of 155 percent in Salt Lake City. The key factors influencing these outcomes, according to the study, are “population and business densities, commuter mode shares particularly high car use, along with presence of industry sectors that are continuing to support remote work (such as tech and finance),” according to the policy brief that supplements an infographic-oriented website to share the information released with the study.

The release of the study has inspired some local media coverage, including an article by Mike Rogoway for the Oregonian examining Portland, Oregon’s “sluggish” recovery (only San Francisco and Cleveland fared worse, according to the study). An article by Snejana Farberov for the New York Post was quick to point out how many cities are doing worse than New York recovering from the pandemic. An article by Roland Li for the San Francisco Chronicle recently made a similar point without citing the Berkeley study.

For more research into the uneven recovery from the pandemic, see also research published by the Brookings Institution in June 2022, which also identifies winners and losers among metropolitan areas in the new, post-pandemic normal.

Thursday, July 28, 2022 in Institute of Governmental Studies

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