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America’s Downtowns Are Hurting

Questions exist over if they'll survive In an era of remote and hybrid work

Downtown areas have long been the beating heart of cities, bustling with activity and serving as economic hubs. However, the recent data from the 2023 INRIX "Return to Office" report reveals a concerning trend: 18 out of 20 downtowns in the U.S. are still experiencing fewer vehicular trips compared to pre-COVID levels. This decline has far-reaching consequences, impacting various facets of urban life.

The decline is not uniform across cities. New York, the most job-dense downtown in the U.S., has shown resilience, with vehicular trips just 5 percent below pre-COVID levels. In contrast, San Francisco, the second-most employment-dense downtown, remains a staggering 41 percent below 2019 levels of traffic.

A McKinsey report adds another layer: Office attendance has stabilized at 30 percent below pre-pandemic norms, thereby compounding the reduction in downtown traffic. Additionally, McKinsey's data reveals that from mid-2020 to mid-2022, New York City's urban core lost 5% of its population, while San Francisco's lost 6 percent. This urban exodus has led to decreased foot traffic near stores in these metropolitan areas, remaining 10 percent to 20 percent below pre-pandemic levels. These two cities illustrate the complex dynamics at play, with local factors contributing to the varying rates of recovery.

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