As the pandemic stretches into a third calendar year, its effects on how people live and work can still feel confusing, especially in large cities. The coronavirus’s Omicron variant has made the return to office work uncertain, with urban centers sometimes looking almost like ghost towns. The resumption of in-person schooling has been stressful for many parents and children; more and more people, particularly those with families, are thinking about moving, often in search of greater safety from the virus; and housing prices in many cities have spiraled upward. Where is all of this going?

The urbanist Richard Florida is a professor of business and creativity at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, the founder of the global advisory firm the Creative Class Group, and the author of a number of books, including 2002’s The Rise of the Creative Class. As Florida sees it, one of the pandemic’s more pronounced effects has been to speed the development of trends long underway. Young people are increasingly moving to cities, driving up rents and home prices. And working from home allows many professionals—the creative class, in Florida’s terms—to move virtually anywhere. Above all, Florida says, Covid-19 has worsened standing inequalities among high-income and low-income people. The political divide across geographies is meanwhile deepening, nowhere more than in the United States, as left-leaning professionals cluster in big cities and other affluent places, leaving Democrats and Republicans often living in worlds that have little in common.

Michael Bluhm: Whose lives have been changed most by the pandemic?

Richard Florida: It’s not members of the professional, knowledge, and creative class, who can work from home, have their kids in private schools, test regularly for Covid, and have access to great medical care.

The people whose lives have changed the most in the pandemic are essential workers—people who labor in manufacturing, logistics, distribution, service, and retail. Those people haven’t been able to work remotely. Often they’ve had to take mass transit or work in crowded conditions. They’re the people who have been most at risk.

But beyond affecting people directly, the pandemic has accentuated divides of race and class that have long been at play in American society. You could say the Spanish Flu didn’t just precipitate a Roaring ‘20s in the United States; it came at a time when there was a rapid rise in inequity—that wasn’t followed by any deep reckoning or coming to grips with the inequities of American society.

The same thing is happening today: The pandemic is exacerbating divides, and the less-fortunate are bearing the brunt.

Bluhm: If the pandemic hasn’t so much created new trends as accelerated existing trends, how likely are these existing trends to last?

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