Coronavirus is making some people rethink where they want to live

But she was not there to help pack boxes or supervise the crew.

In mid-March, the 39-year-old pastor flew to New Mexico with her husband and two children. They left so suddenly that they barely had time to prepare for the trip.


"We fled," she says. "Our apartment looked like the rapture had come. … And we definitely had the conversation, & # 39; What if we don't go back? & # 39;"

The streets of the city she loves – and many big cities across the United States – are hauntingly empty as the pandemic leaves most of the country at lockdown.

It's a cool sign of the times, and one that gets a big question in mind: will some people, after passing the pandemic, choose to leave the city life?


This trend was already emerging in some parts of the country, even before the coronavirus hit.

Now the pandemic is changing the way we talk about life in big cities. And some experts say it can change who chooses to live in them.


Stevens-Walter says her family plans to return to New York. But others who recently left town told CNN that they are not so sure.

"It's hard to think of living in New York when we don't have our existence and our career there," said Ashley Arcement, a dancer, singer and actress who went to a friend's house in Florida with her boyfriend, a pianist, after Broadway closed in March.

"Before this," says Arcement, "we weren't the kind of people who wanted to live outside the city and commute in. … Now it's like, will it ever be the same?"

A man wearing a mask walks on Brooklyn Bridge amid the coronavirus outbreak in New York City.

The New York governor says that density is to blame


With Broadway closed, the restaurants are only open for pickup, and many who work from home – if they still have a job – today look like the city that never sleeps, lying dormant.

But that was not the case a few months ago, when the coronavirus began to spread The largest and densest city in the United States.
While the number of new coronavirus cases is reported daily in New York has begun to declinedeath rates continue to rise. More than 12,000 coronavirus deaths has been confirmed in the city so far.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has not minced words in describing the reasons why he is looking for the rapid spread of the virus.

A slide from New York Prime Minister Andrew Cuomo & rsquo; s April 13 press conference shows a key factor he blamed for the rapid spread of coronavirus in New York.
"Why New York? Why do we see this infection level? Well, why cities across the country?" Sa Cuomo at a newsletter last month.

"It's very simple," the governor said. "It's about density. It's about the number of people in a small geographical location that allows the virus to spread. … Dense environments are its feeding place."

He looks upon dispersion as a saving grace

On the other side of the country, says Joel Kotkin The situation that unfolds is particularly different.
In a fresh opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times, Kotkin credited that city's sprawling development with slowing down the spread of coronavirus. The caption: "Angelenos likes the single family that spread. The coronavirus proves them right."

The executive director of the Houston-based Urban Reform Institute, Kotkin argues that cities were already in trouble. And in the age of social distance, he says, dense cities have a lot to go against them.

"How do you open an office with expensive properties if people have to be six meters apart? How are you going to have a city dependent on the subway if you have social distance at all?" he tells CNN. "People will continue to move more in the periphery and into smaller cities, where you can basically get around without getting on (public) transport."

Joel Kotkin argues that the more widespread development of Los Angeles put the city in a better position to face the coronavirus pandemic.

Epidemics have caused people to move before

Epidemics have historically played a major role in shaping where and how people live in New York and other cities, says David Rosner, associate director of the Center for the History and Ethics of Public Health at Columbia University.

After a cholera epidemic hit the city in the 19th century, for example, people began moving from lower Manhattan to other neighborhoods – if they could afford it.

"You start to see suburban communities sort of segregated according to class and movement of people," he says. "You start marketing countries based on experience with illness. … You start to see that countries are actually advertised as healthy or unhealthy."

Immigrants are being inspected on Ellis Island, New York, in the early 1900s for signs of illness when they arrive in the United States.

It is a pattern that Rosner sees reappearing.

"Traveling and moving away from disease centers is also a reflection of that kind of social prejudice. Somehow we still believe that being in the country must be safer," he says. "It's more a reflection of our attitudes to the urban environment and the fear of our neighbors. It's a sad reality of this epidemic."

This economist says that "density is not fate"

Joe Cortright says that people who think it's safer in a village subscribe "old" rumbling tenements "theory of public health" – and he says it's just not right.

As director of The City Observatory, a think tank focused on data-driven analytics, he has been crushing the numbers for weeks as the pandemic spread.

And Cortright says they reveal an important distinction: "Density," he argues, "is not fate." Translation: There are many urban cities around the world that haven't seen coronavirus cases climb as much as New York's. Cortright points to Tokyo, Taipei and Seoul, and to Vancouver, one of the densest large cities in North America.
The crowd of buyers fills the streets of Midtown Manhattan November 29, 2019 in New York City.
Also, he says, it is suburban and rural areas that have been particularly hard hit.

"Some people think, 'Can I escape to avoid this problem? So when you look around, it's a pandemic. There's no place you can go where you're free of it,'" he.

"I think that's one of the lessons here: With information and smart politics, there's no reason why cities will inherently be hit harder."

& # 39; Gen Z & # 39; will play a key role in what happens next

But even before the coronavirus hit, there were already signs that more people in the US were moving to the suburbs.

Chicago and Los Angeles also saw their population dip in recent years as the economy picked up in the suburbs and elsewhere. Other major cities have seen growth almost stagnant.

"It's not just one thing in New York," said William Frey, a demographer and senior fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. "It's a kind of boosting growth among cities across the country."

But anyway, Frey says it's too early to press the panic button on the cities.

A lonely commuter is waiting for one
New York settled after 9/11 and after the flu pandemic in 1918 as well.

"People have always come back to cities during some of the biggest disasters we've had in our history. … Looking ahead over the next year or two, I'm not too keen on seeing a decline in long-term urban populations, "he says.

If the recent past is any indication, Frey says, in fact, more people may end up moving into cities post-pandemic.

Immediately after the Great Recession, millennials poured into the cities, spurring a period of growth and revitalization. And in the wake of this economic crisis, Frey says that Generation Z can take a similar approach.

Members of that generation, born from 1997 to 2012, has strong urban roots and is likely to be drawn to cities, says Frey.
"If they follow in millennia 's footsteps during a similarly weak period, they can help boost urban growth – especially if opportunities dry up elsewhere," Frey wrote in a recent analysis on the Brookings website.

How to work remotely could transform the market

Alison Bernstein says she is already seeing a shift in the other direction.

She fielded three times the conversations she had at this time last year from families in search of greener pastures – fewer crowds, more space and a better quality of life.

Bernstein's company, Suburban Jungle, helps city residents move to the suburbs. And the pandemic, she says, has pushed even more people to consider going.

"People are scared, and nothing is going to get swept under the rug," she says. "And I think people really want to evaluate the quality of life they're looking for. So I think we're going to see a big migration to lifestyle cities like Nashville, Austin, South Florida."

Kids playing in a street in Matawan, New Jersey on April 1, 2020.

In addition, she is intensifying another pre-pandemic trend: the increase in working externally.

It can play an even greater role in reshaping the housing market in the future, says Skyler Olsen, senior rector of Zillow.

Already, Millennials increasingly turned to the suburbs, smaller cities and peripheral cities because they had largely been priced out of big city purchases.

"If we can offer another alternative such as telework, people can make new, different decisions," she says. "Your job and your home used to be tied together in a way that we all learn that they may not need to be."

Mum's groups raise questions about moving

Lifelong New Yorker Chloé Jo Davis had never imagined leaving his beloved city – until now.

Davis and her husband were already used to working from home, but weeks cramped inside the rented two-bedroom apartment on Manshan's Upper East Side – home-schooling for their three young sons and caring for four rescue animals – have changed her calculation.

"I feel like I've been through a monsoon every day," she says.

"If we're here in New York, and the reasons we're here are the reasons we're willing to sacrifice all the basic life benefits that many people have … for art, culture, diversity, neighborhood camaraderie," says she. "And now, without it, what do we have? We're stacked in boxes."

After more than 48 days nestled inside a crowded New York apartment with her husband, three children and four rescue animals, Chloé Jo Davis says they are now looking for a suburban house - something she never expected she and # 39; d do.

Davis says her family is now looking to leave New York City's density for the suburban space. Already, she says, prices for rentals outside the city are rising as demand grows. But she knows they are lucky to have the means to even consider such a move.

A number of VAT groups she is a part of on Facebook make her believe that many New York mothers are in a similar position. The same three questions, she says, continue to emerge:

Who knows a good mower who makes social distance movements?

Which "burb" do you like better?

Does anyone want to take over the lease for my two bedroom?

So many friends and neighbors have left the city, at least temporarily.

"It seems to be just a mass exodus," she says.

An empty train sits at a PATH station in Hoboken, New Jersey, March 16, 2020.

But talking to CNN on the phone from her in-laws home in New Mexico, Stevens-Walter says she also knows many people who cannot leave the city, and many who are determined to continue living there – even included.

"I am deeply returning to New York. We live there for one reason, for many reasons," she says.

As artists and musicians, she and the man feel inspired there. And she says the city makes her multiracial, multi-ethnic family feel welcome.

"New York provides a security for us that we really can't get anywhere else," she says.

For these reasons and so many more, New York will always be home. But she has set out for a new reality.

She knows that the city she will return to will be very different from the city she left.

CNN's Carolyn Sung contributed to this report.

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