Cities Will Be More Fragile, More Competitive, Than Ever Before

The same holds true of decisions based on quality. Most car buyers know little about which makes are more reliable, but a small number of savvy shoppers tend to drive out of the market the worst cars.

In cities, poor local decisions can deter some would-be migrants from coming, while driving out some who are fed up with conditions. The number of people making decisions based on governance won’t be huge, but they can tip the balance between net gain or a net loss.

A decision about where to live is seldom determined by one factor. People are weighing all the issues listed above: family and friends, housing cost, taxes, climate, scenery and others, as well as the quality of local governance. Only for those people on the fence, for whom other factors mostly balance out, are local governance issues very important. But if the governance problem is bad enough, it will outweigh some of the city’s positives.

It may seem preposterous that bad decisions by a large city’s elected officials about crime, housing costs and homelessness would send it tumbling. But take a look at the population data. A number of cities have been declining, while a number of others are growing at rates well above the national average. There are big changes, and the individual decisions that added up to big changes all had a reason.

In 2021, civic leaders across the country are looking forward to the end of the pandemic, of people going back to office buildings, patronizing stores, and restaurants. The reduction of Covid-19 will certainly improve every city, even those poorly run.

But the differences between the growing cities and the declining cities will accelerate with the end of the pandemic. Many people now realize that they can work someplace other than where they currently live. Although people have different preferences, the trend will be for growth in cities with pleasant climates, low taxes, inexpensive housing, and high safety. Cities on the low end of the spectrum will see declining populations.

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