The Suburban Dream

Has the pandemic forever changed how people view CBDs?

Jessica Fiur, Managing Editor
Jessica Fiur, Managing Editor

The suburbs were never meant to be “cool.”

There are malls. There is pretty much no nightlife scene. And there are chain restaurants as far as the eye can see.

It’s more exciting to live in a city. That’s where all the offices are, and after work you and all your coworkers walk to that nearby dive bar with the cheap happy hour specials and cute bartenders. Uber or subway back to your apartment. Repeat.

Then the pandemic hit. Working from home became the norm. And the suburbs started looking a lot more appealing. (And, by the way, show me a person who says they don’t like the biscuits at Red Lobster, and I’ll show you a liar.)

According to Greg Isaacson’s article “Stressed CBDs’ Uncertain Comeback,” unsurprisingly, there was an urban exodus last year, with 91 percent of suburban areas recording more people moving in than out.

So what is the fate of the central business district?

The amount of people moving out of city centers is already starting to slow. Last August 39 percent of New Yorkers were thinking about moving. In February, that number had already dropped to 26 percent. Data from the National Association of Realtors also allows for some optimism, especially for smaller cities such as Fort Myers and Boise.

Workers are also starting to return to offices, which many feel will help breathe life back into the CBDs. Major companies such as Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase and Google are requiring employees to return to their offices by mid-to-late summer. But office life might not return to the “before times” anytime soon—or at all. Many businesses are setting up hybrid models, where people only come into the office for a couple of days a week. Coworking spaces are popping up to help fill the void, and many of these are being built in suburban areas.  

And a return to office won’t solve all the problems. Gensler Co-CEO Diane Hoskins told Isaacson that CBDs will still face issues such as traffic and congestion.

It’s yet to be seen if urban centers will come back as strongly as before, or if suburban centers will continue to grow in importance. But, even if CBDs change (and they’ll probably have to), we’ll have to grapple with one thing: are the suburbs actually cool now?

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