Mayors from across the United States gathered in Washington, D.C., last week to explore an urgent challenge they’re all navigating three years after Covid-19 disrupted the world: the need to revive their downtowns. American cities are exploring a range of initiatives to build post-pandemic futures, including the revitalization of commercial storefronts and the transformation of office buildings into private residences. They’re meanwhile continuing to face significant issues exacerbated by the pandemic, such as crime and public disorder, as well as structural changes it accelerated, such as the gradual and inevitable spread of remote work. How are these cities thinking about moving from short-term disruption to long-term reconstruction?

Richard Florida is a professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, the founder of the global advisory firm the Creative Class Group, and the author of numerous books on urban life—including 2002’s The Rise of the Creative Class. As Florida sees it, early-pandemic fears about Covid’s fatal effects on the world’s cities may have been understandable, but they were never historically realistic; cities have been assaulted by violent disruptions as long as we’ve had them. These fears were also blind, though, to trends that had been underway for decades, if not longer. Downtowns have never had a fixed role in modern urban life; they’ve always been in flux; and the promise of the moment, Florida says, is that they’re starting to adapt in ways that could realize their longstanding potential for human flourishing.

Graham Vyse: What would you say are the most substantial, lasting ways the pandemic changed American cities?

Richard Florida: If we look back to the spring and early summer of 2020, there were widespread predictions about the imminent death of great cities around the world. They were more than predictions, really—almost an axiom: New York was over, history; it would be abandoned. London, never coming back. Paris, taken for dead.

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