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Kenan Institute 2024 Grand Challenge: Business Resilience
Market-Based Solutions to Vital Economic Issues
Aug 18, 2020

Coronavirus Pandemic Refugees and the Future of American Cities

History informs us that some people, especially the wealthy, typically flee cities in response to pandemics and other major catastrophes.  Media accounts and preliminary empirical research suggest that the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. Nearly a half million people reportedly fled hard-hit New York City within two months of the World Health Organization declaring the coronavirus disease a global pandemic.

Some coronavirus pandemic refugees headed to nearby suburbs, others headed to second homes and vacation spots in other states, and still others moved back home to live with parents. Many of those leaving the state were residents of some of New York City’s most wealthy neighborhoods. Others were renters in the city who lost their jobs in the economic shutdown
and either could no longer afford to pay their rent or tolerate the lockdown in what otherwise was a bustling city with almost limitless opportunities for social interaction. Is the pandemic-induced flight from New York City and other U.S urban centers temporary and destined to reverse itself once the pandemic is contained? Or, alternatively, will the pandemic accelerate an out-migration trend already underway—given mandates on social distancing in daily interactions, shifting preferences for less dense living, and the growing trend toward remote work in both the private and public sectors of the economy?

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