COVID-19 and the future of big cities

Footfall in UK cities since lockdown. Source: Centre for Cities High Street Tracker, Locomizer.

Update, 11 December: Henry and I have rebuilt the piece to take account of the latest vaccine developments. Read that here.

23 September: I’ve done a long read for the Economics Observatory on what COVID-19 and other pandemics might mean for big cities in the future. It’s co-authored with Henry Overman at LSE.

It’s one of the hardest things either of us has had to write — there are so many unknowns, and many moving parts that all affect each other.

One key uncertainty involves how the UK and other countries might exit the pandemic [although see update]. We also lack evidence on how working from home might evolve, whether the density and proximity of big cities make them inherently vulnerable to globalised pandemics such as Covid-19, and then how big cities could adapt to those risks.

So in the piece we start small and work outwards. We kick off by reviewing what we know about working from home, and its impacts on productivity and innovation. We then identify three broad scenarios for whether and how we exit the pandemic. We use these building blocks to work through how the economic futures of big cities might evolve.

Read the full piece here.

(I’ve also written some background on why cities seem to be particularly vulnerable to coronavirus, compared to rural areas.)

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