Two Studies Point to Opportunity Downtown

The post-pandemic performance of the nation’s city centers continues to be a mixed bag. On the downside, downtowns are facing some well-documented problems. Office space remains underused, and office-serving merchants are struggling. At the same time, city centers bear the brunt of homelessness.

But downtowns are also proving remarkably resilient. They have begun to recover dramatically from the pandemic, and their residential populations continue to grow.

Those are the conclusions of two studies unveiled at the International Downtown Association’s annual conference in early October. Progressive Urban Management Associates released a report identifying challenges and opportunities for downtown leaders.

Brad Segal, president of Progressive Urban Management Associates, says the pandemic intensified both the headwinds and tailwinds for downtowns. “The pandemic was the great accelerator of trends,” Segal says.

Flexibility in the workplace already had emerged before the pandemic. Housing costs were rising. The retail sector was in turmoil. All of those things hit fast-forward during the pandemic.

A second study, produced by Center City District of Philadelphia, looked at recovery trends in the nation’s 26 largest metro areas. While office occupancy and pedestrian traffic remain below pre-pandemic levels, other signs are pointing up.

“Every one of our cities has more people living downtown in 2023 than in 2020,” says Paul Levy, head of Center City Philadelphia. “This is a huge success story.”

More on the future of downtown appears in the November issue of Downtown Idea Exchange newsletter. Click to learn more about Downtown Idea Exchange and other resources for revitalizing downtowns and commercial corridors.

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