I opened my June 2 column “Pandemic the Final Push to Telework,” noting that many big cities just can’t seem to catch a break.
First, as I discuss in my 2019 book “Reinventing Ourselves: How Technology is Rapidly and Radically Transforming Humanity,” many metropolitan centers were already losing large tax-paying headquarter companies and employees through a digital wave of workplace and workforce transitions away from traditional big office — big city — operating structures made possible by internet connectivity. Survival necessities, in combination with newly realized remote-working employer and employee benefits, continue to cause more and more corporations to dramatically downsize central city offices, or relocate them altogether.
This telework trend then became turbocharged by coronavirus-forced business and buyer shutdowns. Resulting social distancing requirements coupled with ever-increasing city real estate costs during a severe economic downturn has forced large and small companies to either cut operating costs or perish. Many corporations over the past decade have already been challenged to squeeze the maximum number of employees possible into their facilities. Social distancing safety concerns are making this increasingly difficult, necessitating that the spaces they provide be either expanded, dramatically restructured, or abandoned.
And it just got worse. A new pandemic of protests, riots, and lootings is certain to propel an accelerated flight of fright exodus of small businesses and affluent residents from turbulent social disorder that is tragically being allowed to rage out of control in many of our nation’s major urban centers.
Daniel Henninger has written a highly insightful article about this alarming political and moral crisis in his June 18 Wall Street Journal piece, “The Coming Urban Exodus.”
Henninger observes that many of the same city centers that have experienced nonstop street marches and significant lootings following outrage over the Minneapolis murder of George Floyd, were the ones already losing population: New York (as always), Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, St Louis, Minneapolis, Seattle, Los Angeles, Portland, Ore., on and on. This trend, he argues, reflects an ambivalence — at best — on the part of modern urban progressive governance toward maintaining civil order as well as political incompetence and intellectual incoherence.
At a time of growing crime and chaos, politically progressive and impotent state and municipal leaders are acquiescing to radically incompressible demands to defund the police.
In New York, with blocks of stores boarded up and cherry bombs exploding nightly everywhere, the city council has agreed to cut the city’s police budget by $1 billion, or one-sixth. Nevertheless, even that may not be appeasement enough. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo issued a plaintive request to the daily street protests: “You don’t need to protest. You won. You won.”
Cuomo then even more lamely capitulated, pleading “What reform do you want? What do you want?”
The net result in many cities over the last three months since the coronavirus pandemic has led to a sense on the part of residents of irresolvable chaos, stress and threat. This helplessly futile perception is buttressed by urban-based media that as Henninger notes have “become bizarrely invested in apocalyptic story lines, picking at scab after scab and problem after problem.”
He adds, “People with all sorts of political beliefs are going to get out because they are watching city after city reach a tipping point of social disorder and political disorganization.”
Meanwhile, previously undervalued suburbs and exurbs, distant from city centers, are gaining residents.
Henninger warns of a great reordering of America’s population as more and more distrustful people determine that it is time to separate themselves and their families from dangers and moral decline of high-density urban life. He believes that many are deciding that the cost-benefits that they once valued just aren’t working for them anymore, “with incentives mounting to move out.”
Henninger characterized a familiar storyline of recent years that gave rise to great economic and political power of urban centers such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington as young, politically progressive workers in the knowledge and service industries poured in. This insurgence of influence increased tension and division between urban sophisticates on the forward edge of everything and the stodgy suburbs and conservative rural communities.
An unhappy consequence, Henninger predicts, is that now as young families and well-off retirees leave, these cities will increasingly become more divided between upscale progressive singles who are able to afford the political incompetence and residents of inner-city neighborhoods that will fall further behind.
As I have previously written on numerous accounts, there is no clear way to reverse transformative demographic trends that are dramatically and irreversibly changing the economic, social and political landscapes of great American cities. While not total solutions, protections from crime and disorder are fundamental prerequisites for all good outcomes.
This article originally appeared at NewsMax