Heartland Intelligence Free Edition: Troubles in Downtown (Issue 2020.7F)

Welcome back to the free edition of Heartland Intelligence, your source for research and analysis on the American heartland. The premium edition will be out in a few days and will discuss the return of white flight and much more. You won’t want to miss it so be sure to subscribe if you haven’t already.

I had another busy month last month:

  • My new research report comparing the Kansas to the Missouri portions of the Kansas City metro area was released by the Show-Me Institute. KC is a very unusually structured metro area in that a high share of the population and the majority of the wealthy suburban areas are in Kansas while the central city of the region is in Missouri.

  • I had a feature article in the Spring issue of the Canadian magazine Comment. It’s on the culture and myths of cities.

  • My latest column in Governing is about the troubles facing American downtowns.

  • And I was quoted in Chicago Magazine pouring cold water on the idea that coronavirus will cause people to move to Downstate Illinois.

The thesis of my Governing piece deserves some attention here. While in the long term, the forces powering the urban core renaissance may remain strong, in the near to mid-term downtowns face a lot of challenges. The tourism and events business that are so important to their economies is essentially dead until 2021 at the earliest. And the white collar employers are being very cautious about bringing people back into their offices and may well not be back in force until 2021, with some number of additional people never returning to offices. This is most of the rest of downtown activity.

The increased residential base of downtowns will help. But when the downtown economy is shut down for many months it’s going to have a very negative effect on retail, restaurant, cultural, and entertainment related concerns that provide so much of what makes people want to be downtown in the first place. Many businesses are going under, and it will take a while to rebuild that commercial infrastructure.

This suggests there’s going to be a cloud over American downtowns for months and maybe years ahead in some places.