New York City is emerging as one of the world’s most resilient big cities in the wake of the pandemic. The secret to its success is more than just its size — it’s the Big Apple’s model of urbanism that offers something no other American metropolis can match.
New York was the first big city in the country to be hit hard by Covid-19. Immediately, people began predicting that the pandemic would trigger a backlash against dense urban living. A wave of murder and violence that followed the mid-2020 Black Lives Matter protests added weight to this glum forecast — the end of America’s urban revival was at hand.
For some cities like San Francisco, the exodus does seem real — at least for now. But Gotham defied the doomsayers in spectacular fashion. An analysisof cell phone data showed that more people moved to the New York City metropolitan area during the pandemic than moved out. Young people are especially eager to move in.
In fact, recent data shows that the appeal of New York has been vastly understated over the past few years. Mid-decade U.S. Census estimates during the 2010s had shown the city’s population peaking and beginning to fall, but when the official 2020 Census numbers came in, it turned out that New York had actually been gaining population. So much for that mass exodus.
How did New York City remain such a popular destination despite all its formidable challenges, and despite the fact that it isn’t in the booming Sun Belt? Economists’ go-to explanations are called agglomeration and industrial clustering effects: basically, big cities tend to stay big, and rich cities tend to stay rich. New York is the home of many high-value industries, among them finance and publishing. Those industries keep a large, well-educated population of knowledge workers in the area, which draws in other companies — most recently, tech firms.