US downtowns recover unevenly from the pandemic

Foot traffic returns to downtown

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The Future. Years after the pandemic, some US downtowns have restored or surpassed their pre-pandemic levels of foot traffic — and, by extension, their economic health. But others haven’t, and while the path to recovery is different everywhere, data suggests cities better make specific changes if they don’t want to become ghost towns.

Best foot forward
Axios gauged the health of US cities based on mobile device activity in their downtown areas.

  • Some, like Salt Lake City and Fresno, have more than recovered, clocking 139% and 115% of pre-pandemic foot traffic, respectively.
  • Others, like San Francisco and St. Louis, need major help, with foot traffic at only 32% and 38% of previous levels.
  • In general, cities that prioritize office space are doing worse, while places with a diverse array of amenities (housing, office space, and parks) fare better.

Next steps
Office-to-apartment conversions are a good idea everywhere. However, cities should also prioritize green spaces, walkability, and public transit, as hybrid work arrangements make suburbs more attractive and shift workers’ priorities away from offices and typical commutes. 

Otherwise, the tumbleweeds might roll in.

Luke Perrotta


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