Are Downtowns Doomed?

Depends what we do with them now.

The pandemic decimated America’s downtowns, but the underlying problem started much earlier. The Upshot says our city cores had come to rely on an “urban monoculture” of office tenants; without a diverse ecosystem of businesses, many were all but wiped out by remote work. San Francisco and Boston had the highest proportions of office tenants of any American city — close to 80% — and became complete ghost towns when they lost all the suits. Austin, which has a much more mixed-use downtown, fared better. The bottom line? To survive the next (insert catastrophe), downtowns will have to diversify — more retail, more nightlife and more reasons to be around outside of 9-to-5.

Downtowns are already coming back, but different. WSJ reports that commercial-property sales volume is back up above pre-pandemic levels, but investors are betting on apartment buildings and warehouse space instead of office buildings and convention hotels.

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