During the COVID-19 pandemic, the demographics of cities shifted. As stay-at-home orders, remote work, and bubbling reduced social interaction, restaurants, venues, and arts destinations shut down temporarily; people moved from large urban centers to small cities.
And as public health restrictions were lifted, the cost of living increased. Smaller urban centers saw this moment as an opportunity to capitalize on the desire for a higher quality of life and a more “authentic” existence. Smaller and mid-sized cities in North America invested in strategies to attract new residents.
In this episode of The Conversation Weekly podcast, we spoke with two urban theorists about why people were leaving larger cities for smaller ones, how authenticity was marketed using social media influencers, and why smaller and mid-sized cities are underrated.
Avi Friedman is a professor of architecture at McGill University in Montréal, Canada, who has looked at demographic trends in small and mid-sized cities in Canada. He explains that smaller cities need to recruit new residents to collect taxes.
“It all has to boil down to economics,” Friedman explains. “They need taxpayers — a major issue in making the city work. When a negative migration and people is moving away, it usually puts the funds of these communities at risk, meaning that there are no sources of income.”
David A. Banks is a lecturer in the Department of Geography and Planning at the University at Albany, State University of New York, United States, and the author of The City Authentic, which will be published in April. He describes authenticity as essential to small cities’ survival, as they apply it to themselves to attract new residents looking to escape from larger cities.
Banks describes the city authentic, “encourages people to think of the city as a place to be authentically you and to get away from these pre-packaged, commodified notions of how to live your life.”
It’s meant to appeal to younger residents, who may want to relocate for a better quality of life, and maybe own property and start a family, further rooting in the community.
“People who live in small towns know their neighbors. They meet either in community clubs or in a church. It is a different type of relationship that creates another aspect of what it means to live in nice places,” says Friedman.
But there’s a downside to this. When smaller cities successfully recruit new residents, it can have a negative impact on the older ones. Banks says that “what it did do is make everything unaffordable, literally like triple or quadruple-digit percentage increases” in the cost of living.
But the trend of leaving large cities to move to smaller ones is reversing. For people to stay, smaller cities need to invest more in amenities and infrastructure to support population growth.
Listen to the full episode of The Conversation Weekly to find out more.
This episode of The Conversation Weekly was produced and written by Mend Mariwany, the show’s executive producer. The sound design is by Eloise Stevens, and our theme music is by Neeta Sarl.
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Nehal El-Hadi, Science + Technology Editor & Co-Host of The Conversation Weekly Podcast, The Conversation and Daniel Merino, Associate Science Editor & Co-Host of The Conversation Weekly Podcast, The Conversation
This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.