The Death of Density?

By Richard Schwartz : cityjournal – excerpt

Homeless living in tents in an alley that once held a food market in SOMA next to a once lively bar.
They are all under pressure by the state density bills that are still being pushed through Sacramento
the politicians who have not caught up with the “new normal” the rest of us are living in.

To survive and thrive, cities will have to overcome a number of formidable trends.

After vanquishing everything from newsprint to retail stores, the pulverizing, inescapable power of the Internet has its sights set on cities, or, more precisely, density—aided and abetted by its accomplice, Covid-19.

If this future—call it the death of density—comes to pass, it spells the unraveling of physical urbanity as we know it, placing cities, especially high-cost cities, in grave danger of descending into a vicious circle of depopulation, followed by de-commercialization, de-monetization, declining services, and so on.

The events of 2020 crippled the machinery that undergirds density. Taxpaying workers, revenue-generating shoppers, free-spending tourists—the people and activities that finance the infrastructure, mass transit, and municipal workers—are disappearing. And as they head for the exits, we’re left with an urbanism that’s coarser, less forgiving, more dangerous, more radical, and more expensive. If cities won’t dematerialize overnight, they risk, like General MacArthur, slowly fading away.

The fallout would be profound. If the demand for density declines—with consequent declines in population, commerce, and tax revenues—cities will operate in a perpetual state of fiscal crisis. Once the federal stimulus subsidies and stop-gap measures run out, how will cities fund mass transit, to say nothing of capital construction, schools, police, and the multitude of other services city dwellers rely upon? The service-laden system of governance that has long defined the American metropolis is in for a cataclysmic unraveling…

In January, the New York Times speculated that the “defining characteristic” of the creative workforce “may not be where it lives, but its ability to live anywhere it wants. . . . Buildings in many traditional employment districts will have to compete more fiercely, and a small but significant percentage of office space will most likely have to be repurposed into housing, e-commerce fulfillment centers, delivery-only kitchens, health care centers, meeting spaces, event spaces and other uses. . . . The main office will remain important for most companies, but fewer employees will be expected to be there all day, every day.”…(more)


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