The End of Big Cities? The Hill Blames Coronavirus for the Exodus

New York City – beautiful sunset over manhattan with manhattan and brooklyn bridge

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

h/t Cautious Optimism; According to The Hill contributor Kristin Tate, Coronavirus has ended the decades long growth trend of large cities, and created a population boom in medium size cities. But some of the mid-size winners of the big exodus also have significant Coronavirus infection rates.

Is this the end of cities in America?


What developed this year is a cascade of residents leaving large cities in blue states. Among the biggest losers this year, in terms of total population loss, were New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and the District of Columbia. New York lost at least 300,000 residents this year. San Francisco saw 90,000 postal changes of address out of the city, while its median apartment rent took a nosedive of 20 percent in 2020. Los Angeles recorded more than 25,000 moves out of the city, while Chicago logged over 20,000. Even the District of Columbia lost 15,000 residents. Other cities that had sustained growth in the last decade also face severe drops in interest.

Residents who fled large cities in blue states overwhelmingly relocated to red-state cities, mostly in the Sun Belt or the West outside of California. Phoenix, already booming before the coronavirus, retained its spot as the fastest growing city in the country; its metro population now displaces Boston. The other overall winners in the demographic game this year are Nashville, where home prices continue to surge while real estate inventory is down 40 percent; Las Vegas, which tempted Bay Area techies to follow the Raiders to Sin City; Charlotte, which now has a larger population than San Francisco; and the greater Charleston area, which is likely the home of Boeing’s next expansion and has benefitted from manufacturing jobs moving south.

The pandemic brought nightlife and culture to a near halt, and for many there is little desire to stay in a city that lost 1,000 restaurants and counting. Combine these factors with a plethora of new taxes and regulatory schemes that soak middle- and high-income earners, and it’s obvious why the former titans of population growth seem to have feet of clay. The decline of liberal cities in blue states during a crisis is perhaps the clearest judgment on a raft of poor tax and regulatory policies. It will also accelerate the demographic shift changing the political calculus in traditionally red states, as seen in Georgia and Arizona in the presidential race.

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There does appear to be a Coronavirus driven exodus from big cities in Australia. In Australia there was a very stark difference in the risk of contracting Covid-19, between big cities and mid-size cities. While people in big Aussie cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane endured long lockdowns and soaring infection rates, sun drenched regional centres like the Fraser Coast where I live were barely touched by the epidemic.

The difference in Covid risk between big cities and mid-size cities does not appear to be as significant in the USA. Your risk of catching Coronavirus in Nashville, one of the big winners of the exodus, does not seem that different to the risk of catching Coronavirus anywhere else.

So I suspect factors other than the health risk of contracting Coronavirus are driving the exodus from iconic big US cities.

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December 16, 2020 6:10 pm

Big cities and the government structures used in them are just not capable of “handling cov19” or responding to their citizens needs.

Reply to  gowest
December 16, 2020 10:26 pm

— not just incapable of “handling cov19”, but terribly mishandling it — as Cuomo did in New York when he moved Covid-19 patients to nursing homes that should have stayed at hospitals.

Reply to  noaaprogrammer
December 17, 2020 2:21 pm

Or at least sent to segregated nursing homes and hospices. Sending them back to regular nursing homes was nothing short of murder as far as I’m concerned.

Reply to  noaaprogrammer
December 18, 2020 6:36 am

All these states have tyrants at the helm, and huge taxes. Do you think there might be a connection?

December 16, 2020 6:10 pm

The drift out of big cities has been going on for some time already, C-9 might have only given people more of a reason to leave … others have seen the subsidies dry up and taxes raised too high … Tesla, Oracle, many others relocating businesses and staff to more attractive locations.

Reply to  Streetcred
December 17, 2020 9:22 am

The West coast cities in particular essentially sanctioned illegal demonstrations and even riots- Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, and possibly a couple more.

This is probably the biggest mistake Progressives(oxymoron) have made. A city run according to progressive principals(total hogwash) cannot be run effectively since they can’t produce enough local jobs to justify their existence. Without state and federal subsidies they will just collapse.

I don’t think very many people in other cities and states are ready to fully subsidize these failures.

Reply to  Philo
December 17, 2020 2:23 pm

Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia”

Only the first 4 cities in that list are “west coast cities”.

Reply to  Streetcred
December 18, 2020 9:07 am

The switch of so many people to remote work for so long just made it easier, I think.

December 16, 2020 6:25 pm

So nothing to do with riots and violent crime?

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Drake
December 16, 2020 6:46 pm

They won’t need a police force because in few more years of Democrat run big cities in US there won’t be anything worth left defending or protecting. The flight IS happening. And the Uber rich wanting to remain will hire their own private security.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 17, 2020 2:24 pm

I was going to say that lives are worth defending, then I remembered that most of the people who are pushing this nonsense are rich enough to hire private security. Those who aren’t, don’t matter to them.

December 16, 2020 6:27 pm

And the people fleeing liberal areas, settle in conservative areas and vote for liberals.

Reply to  Alan
December 17, 2020 11:12 am

How do you know they vote for liberals? just because easily hacked machines and cheating vote counters say so?

Reply to  ex-KaliforniaKook
December 18, 2020 9:09 am

I can’t speak for Alan, but I’ve talked to many of those people and they’ve made their positions pretty clear. He’s right.

December 16, 2020 6:39 pm

They are showing up in Raleigh in droves. We have three world class universities, thriving technical, financial and healthcare business communities and a NHL hockey team poised to make a run for the cup. Warm water beaches and mountains are a couple hours away. A great place to live but you start to wonder how long the quality will last.

glen ferrier
Reply to  rbabcock
December 16, 2020 8:02 pm

rbabcock: Don’t let them have anything to do with the education system; that is where the downfall starts… see the USSR for reference.



Reply to  glen ferrier
December 17, 2020 6:28 am

They already run it. The triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) is the most progressive part of the state apart from maybe Asheville.

Joel O'Bryan
December 16, 2020 6:39 pm

The hubris of man is thinking we can control this respiratory virus with anything but immunity via our immune system. One thing and one thing only will eventually control and then stop this epidemic… herd immunity. You don’t get herd immunity with cloth masks or business destroying lockdowns. Hiding away your young healthy population from this virus that k1lls less than 1 in a million of that population is not the way to stop the epidemic.

Similarly, it’s all magical thinking and exploitation of naiveté by rent-seeking charlatans in claiming we can “battle climate change” by sending “climate” money to UN or putting a battery in a car, or wearing a face mask to the market to stop a 100 nm respiratory virus riding on 200-500 nm aerosols. Pure superstition and junk science… all of it. And a big dose of hubris.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
December 16, 2020 8:35 pm

Nice summary!

I heard on the radio today that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines may do very little in terms of herd immunity because imparted immunity may last for a short time and may not prevent vaccinated folks from transmitting the virus should they become infected.

Reply to  Scissor
December 17, 2020 10:22 am

Serology tests are still being compiled on the test subjects, and so far no lessening of the T-cell or B-cell response has been noted. Though it is still less than a year in, the researchers are pretty confident this will be a long-lasting immune response.

Keith Bates
December 16, 2020 6:46 pm

In Australia some small towns are also experiencing population growth due to a combination of good farm harvests after drought, people discovering that if you can work from home home can be anywhere, and some major developments taking place.
I don’t think large cities are necessarily doomed. Once we get over the pandemic people will be attracted to the wealth creation possibilities in well run cities.

Reply to  Keith Bates
December 16, 2020 11:18 pm

“wealth creation possibilities in well run cities”

Isn’t a well-run large city an oxymoron?

Reply to  Keith Bates
December 17, 2020 2:30 pm

Most of the “wealth creation possibilities” lost their oomph with the advent of the computer age.
It used to be that service industries such as advertising, design, legal, etc. had to be located within easy taxi cab distance from their clients, so that when meetings were needed you didn’t waste most of your day, or messages could be couriered back an forth in just a couple of hours.

Teleconferencing had already begun to cut into the number of face to face meetings that were needed, and e-mail was sufficient for most of the items that used to be couriered. Most of the rest could be handled by overnight services.

Cities will continue, because there will always be people who crave the excitement and the convenience of having 5 or 6 different styles of restaurant within walking distance.

Mike McHenry
December 16, 2020 7:16 pm

I live in rural New Jersey USA Warren County. That’s part of New York metro. We have a mass exodus from NYC settle here in wake of COVID. It’s amusing see them try to adapt to a rural environment. It’s also very republican with lots of Trump signs still up.

Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 17, 2020 2:30 pm

As long as they don’t walk around with antlers on their heads, they should be alright.

December 16, 2020 7:35 pm

American cities are crime ridden slums and ghettos, surrounding a veneer of Democratic civilization that is corrupt in every respect. They are bizarre and scary focal points of mafia style government that celebrates the destruction of their own civilization and celebrates racial and criminal privilege. Everything from elections to every single agency is embedded in corruption and are proud of it.

Reply to  jack
December 16, 2020 7:55 pm

But how do you really feel?

Reply to  jack
December 17, 2020 11:10 am

Good summary, but many agencies are either union vote machinery or facades that multiply and suck more money.

John F Hultquist
December 16, 2020 7:54 pm

The only sure thing about losing many well off people is that those remaining are in for a heap of trouble.
Search “decline of Detroit”
and search images of “photos of detroit a failed city”

Reply to  John F Hultquist
December 16, 2020 8:09 pm

I fully expect to see pictures of NY with plenty of urban blight within the next year. The pandemic could have been the only new problem for the city this year but with authoritarian Cuomo the clinched fist around NY just keeps getting tighter. Unfortunately, a clinching fist squeezes out the leftists and liberals who then seep into and poison other cities in America.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  leowaj
December 16, 2020 9:48 pm

The rich in NYC are going to be calling Snake Plisskin and offering to pay for their escape.

When you need to get the Hell outta NYC, call Snake!!

Reply to  John F Hultquist
December 17, 2020 2:47 pm

I remember an article I read a month or so ago. Gov. Cuomo was warning DeBlasio against increasing city taxes even more. Cuomo pointed out that the top 1% of income earners in the city paid over half of all city taxes.

It doesn’t take too many of them leaving to create a huge hole in the middle of a cities budget. DeBlasio won’t have to worry about defunding the police. He’s going to be defunding city hall in general.

December 16, 2020 8:13 pm

Leftists are so funny….

The reason intelligent Americans are leaving large Leftist cities are:

1) increased state, local, land and consumption taxes (the highest in the country).
2) defund the police initiatives.
3) complete failure to relocate homeless to shelters and allowing them overtake large sections of cities and business districts.
4) rapid increase in business rules, regulations and mandates making it impossible for business to be profitable and competitive.
5) Insane wind/solar policies causing blackouts and brownouts.
6) pitiful and expensive housing caused by Leftists’ insane rent control laws.
7) dangerous increase in crime rates due to Leftists “criminal reform” laws, defunding of police, BLM riots, early release programs, anti-cop sentiment, etc.
8) Sanctuary City programs that have overwhelmed schools and hospitals with illegal aliens and caused many hospitals to go bankrupt from non-payment of services.
9) dismal maintenance of roads, infrastructure and sanitation.
10) rising utility rates from Global Warming Hoax initiatives.
11) wildfires cause by crazy environmental laws prohibiting clearing deadfall and effective forest management.
12) awful education results caused by Leftist teacher unions more concerned with job security and brainwashing kids than providing an excellent education. (Cost per student the highest in the world)
13) excessive and repressive COVID19 economic shutdowns that have bankrupted companies, especially small businesses.
14) zoning law changes putting public housing projects in residential housing areas.
15) anti-business sentiment (like AOC causing Amazon to abandon building a new distribution center and costing Queens 25,000 new jobs)
15) Etc., etc., etc.,….

Why the massive exodus from Leftist- run cities took so long is amazing.

The unchecked BLM riots and repressive COVID19 restrictions were simply the straws that broke the camels back…

Leftists are insane…

Reply to  SAMURAI
December 17, 2020 4:34 am

Your point #11 – wildfires caused by prohibiting clearing, etc. – Happy to tell you that clearing non-native plants with controlled burns and physically removing them is routine in my area, and also in my state. In my county, a farm that raises goats for their milk loans them to the DNR to clear out invasive species. Goats eat the weeds and benefit native plants, and the goat owner gets the byproduct, goat’s milk.
Very glad that I do NOT live in a place that forbids those benefits.

Reply to  Sara
December 18, 2020 8:20 am

That sounds like excellent policy, what’s your country?

Reply to  SAMURAI
December 17, 2020 2:48 pm

I’m pretty sure that they don’t have a lot of trouble with wildfires in NYC. Though when the number of abandoned buildings reach critical mass, that might change.

The Dark Lord
December 16, 2020 8:54 pm

its the BLM virus

Peta of Newark
December 16, 2020 10:14 pm

Thanks Samuarai
A nice example from your Point 10
“”Will we have these fire wardens for the rest of our lives?” Ritu asks. The patrols have already cost her, on average, more than £300 a month for the last three years, totalling £11,700.””

From here:

Are our ‘elders & betters’ suicidally/murderously’ stupid while blinded & paralysed by self-importance and Good Intentions?
….Yet they know all how Green House Gases work and what Trapped Heat is???
….While ever more compact and thus efficient cities are supposed to be a remedy to Global Warming
Has it not dawned on them the damage that might be done by ‘Disaffected Persons’ armed with a few Molotov Cocktails?
What colour is the sky where they live?

December 17, 2020 2:46 am

Cashless bail, defund the police and left wing violence will accelerate the exodus. Why would anyone but criminals and government check takers stay? Just look at what happened in Detroit.

Last edited 2 years ago by James
Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  James
December 17, 2020 5:47 am

Detroit’s decline started with Henry Ford and the number of automobiles and then roads into/out of the city. Instead of living in the city, a large proportion of the movers and shakers lived in suburban Detroit. Kwame Kilpatrick’s criminal enterprise as mayor finally bankrupted the city. There is a lot of new business and building in Detroit. The city did not have the major riots and does not have a “defund” or huge homeless problem. Detroit is probably in better shape to recover than most older big cities.

Reply to  Trying to Play Nice
December 17, 2020 12:13 pm

Yeah, Detroit would never had seen decline if only businesses (like that started by Henry Ford) had avoided the area. Adding insult to injury was transportation improvements. Anyone could have seen what a disaster those two things alone would be on any city.

Lesson learned: force all businesses out of the city (state? country?) and destroy all forms of transportation including airplanes, bicycles and horses and related forms of transportation. What a paradise that would be!

Reply to  Trying to Play Nice
December 17, 2020 2:08 pm

Detroit’s population decline was, since 1950, was due largely to White Flight to the suburbs. The population decline since 1967 was largely due to the riots. The city was clearly unsafe, even with the more strict policing of that era. Look at the crime statistics NOW. Note that Detroit natives DID NOT partake of rioting this go round. They know the results of that, some having lived through the results of 1967.

Minneapolis, Seattle, Portland, Kenosha, New York City, Frisco, Chicago, etc. have all set themselves up for the population collapse curve of Detroit.

Blaming it on Henry Ford and good roads shows either little knowledge of history, an ideological bias against industrial advancements bringing an improved standard of living, or both.

As for a Detroit recovery: I doubt it will happen as long as much of the population is on the government dole, 35% of the population is “in poverty”, and Democrats run the government.

Reply to  Drake
December 17, 2020 2:52 pm

I have a background in Transportation Engineering and have worked at the local, state and federal levels. In the US, many of the downtown’s of the major cities were destroyed by the local politicians demanding excessive access off the new interstates. They cut up and divided historical neighborhoods which accelerated their decay. The suburban malls sprung up as part of the process, dooming the central business district with a lack of proper mass transportation.

December 17, 2020 4:14 am

People aren’t fleeing Covid.

They’re fleeing government response to Covid.

They are moving to the places where governors/mayors aren’t forcing them to shutter their businesses, or preventing them from seeing their friends and family, or barring them from their places of worship, or even allowing them outside to enjoy the beauty of nature and vitamin D absorption. That is why places like Nashville are seeing an influx despite fairly high presence of Covid.

Most people are over their fear of a bug with a 99.8% survival rate.

What they’re really afraid of is Big Brother running roughshod over their lives.

December 17, 2020 4:20 am

Chicago? REALLY? Where did this reporter get her statistics? Chicago’s suburbs have been around for decades. The more people went there to find work, including people from Indiana, the bigger the suburbs became.
So where is her backup for this statement? Or did she just throw that in to pad the content of her article?
I live in a far northeastern suburb of Chi-town and I have not seen any new residents or construction in this area in at least 7 years. I can get Chi-town news stations online quite easily, which means that this alleged “flight from the city” should have been on the news at some point. The REAL news that has turned up during this pandemic is that crime on the South Side has risen substantially, food pantries are providing more and more families with food because they are literally at the end of their financial ropes, and most people are working online from home.
I call HOGWASH on the article, period.

December 17, 2020 4:27 am

Couldn’t possibly be due to those blue cities giving free reign to looting burning mobs, could it?

December 17, 2020 4:44 am

This year many employers have discovered the advantages of letting people work from home.

This trend might continue and I think the logical next question is: “Why do I want to continue living somewhere where I’m not happy?”

I doubt many people really want to live in a crowded city, or alternatively in the suburbs with an hour-long commute each day.

We all have our favorite vacation spots. If we had a choice, wouldn’t we want to live someplace like that all the time? Well, now it seems many people have been given a choice.

Case in point: Oracle moving to Texas. Larry does not seem to mind if people stay behind and work from home instead. Heck, he himself is moving to Hawaii. Would he refuse any of his staff to make the same choice? (he might, but I would contend it would reflect poorly on him as a person)

Shoki Kaneda
December 17, 2020 6:07 am

It must be COVID. Why else would anyone abandon these socialist shitholes paradises?

December 17, 2020 8:19 am

Having just left the Silicon Valley for, literally, greener pastures, my motivators were the near complete lack of services (law enforcement, road repair, etc.) combined with a rampant homeless junkie/alcoholic population and sky high taxes to pay for it. Add the ridiculous cost of living and overbearing weight of government to that pile, as well. I’m ‘mobile’, as the media likes to say, so I mobiled right outta there.

Coach Springer
December 17, 2020 9:17 am

Someone should watch for signal in UHIE reduction.

December 17, 2020 11:05 am

Judging by all the people I recently met in AZ from California and Seattle, I would say COVID19 just highlighted what was already happening for more people to perceive it. The recent claim that certain counties in AZ would be uninhabitable in 30 years years from climate change, excluding the county that recently passed the climate manifesto of course, highlights borderless stupidity.

Robert of Texas
December 17, 2020 11:16 am

Face it, it’s the insane politics of Big Cities that are driving moderates away. No one wants to live under a tyranny of failing socialistic policies.

Reply to  Robert of Texas
December 18, 2020 9:34 am

They have to come up with excuses, so they can avoid facing that reality.

December 17, 2020 4:04 pm

I do not care if they blame Frankenstein’s monster! As long as they drive a stake through the heart of those bastions of racism and oppression! Death to big cities! Long live liberty!

paul marchand
December 18, 2020 5:59 am

Could it be “diversity” ?

December 18, 2020 9:06 am

Of course they have to blame covid, otherwise they would have to face the reality of the policy failures in those cities.

December 19, 2020 7:57 am

1) The main point of the city is that within the radius of r you have r squared people (as well as tools), whom you can interact with.

1a) This r square opportuninty includes people you reproduce with, allowing generations of more and more intelligent people to exist, as intelligent people could find other intelligent people to mate, within a reasonable radius, that allows to do in-person stuff together.
Before cities intelligent people were a minority dispersed over large distances, that practically prevented them from reproducing within their group, and forced to reproduce with normals, just because only the normals were close enough. Lack of cities may mean lack of “smart fraction”.

1b) From the utility perspective – having r squared people within r radius means bigger choice of doctors, mechanics, electricians etc. – all those things that still require personal presence.

2) Cities provide a certain minimum to run a sea port, an airport, a rail hub, a road hub. Both in a sense of having enough qualified service people there to run these, as well as adding a chunk of local demand for services, that makes such venues more profitable than building in an empty field.

3) You don’t need a giant city with like 10 millions of people to achieve the above. More compact ones with 1-3 million inhabitants might be enough.

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