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How COVID-19 has reshaped city life

Sofia Song, Gensler Global Cities Lead, joined Yahoo Finance Live to discuss how the coronavirus has been reshaping life in America's major cities.

Video Transcript


SEANA SMITH: The pandemic has accelerated the trend of some people moving out of large cities. So here to talk a little bit more about that and what that means for the future of some of these big cities, we want to bring in Sofia Song. She's Gensler's global cities lead.

And Sofia, it's great to speak with you. We've been talking about this for a number of months. We're based in New York City. We all know, I think it's safe to say, someone that has decided to uproot either themselves, their entire family, and move outside of the city. So what does this mean just for the future of some of these big cities like New York? And will it ever be able-- I guess, will it ever be the same?

SOFIA SONG: Yeah, I mean, I don't think things will be the same. I think things will definitely improve, you know, as people get vaccinated and economies start to reopen. But I think some kinds of things will remain that we've seen throughout this pandemic. But cities will recover. I think what we've seen in this-- during this pandemic was that, you know, the impact on cities was not the same across cities across the board.

Clearly, there were some winners and losers. We found that people wanted to move away from these large global cities. They were looking for, you know-- looking to move to smaller, less dense, more affordable, safer cities that offered a quality of-- a better quality of life. And so, clearly, the winners that we were seeing were these smaller, mid-sized, mid-tier cities. And they were actually experiencing a boon, in fact.

ADAM SHAPIRO: Who was it who moved? Was it the wealthy? Was it-- I mean, I keep reading stories in the New York Post about a bunch of 60-year-olds who have all gone to West Palm Beach. Whoop dee do. I mean, they got a lot of money, but bring in the young in New York. Who moved?

SOFIA SONG: So what we're finding is that it's primarily the millennials. It's-- in the city post surveys that we have conducted, we found that it was the millennials that were really driving the move. And that's because they were-- during this pandemic, they were the most likely to have lost their jobs. They were the most likely to be living paycheck to paycheck. And they were also the most likely to be living with, you know-- living at home with young children.

SEANA SMITH: So Sofia, when we talk about what it's going to look like five or 10 years from now, when we talk about some of the demand and how consumer behavior has changed, what is that going to look like?

SOFIA SONG: So when we conducted our city post survey, we found that, you know, people were comfortable going grocery shopping. They were comfortable going back to work, going back to school. And similar to the previous guest on your show, they were, you know-- they're also comfortable going to hotels, right?

What they're not comfortable doing is, you know-- what they're not comfortable with is how to get there, right? So using mass transit, flying on airplanes, attending large public gatherings, you know, those were still huge sources of anxiety for people. And so, at Gensler, what we are seeing is that these are actually areas that are ripe for disruption, right? So it's rethinking things like mobility and transit.

You know, what we saw in this pandemic was that there was-- we saw this rise of micro mobility in cities. And so if you take micro mobility, you know, instead of thinking about transit oriented development, you could think about mobility oriented development, where you're connecting transit to bike stations, scooter stations, shower locker facilities, and even EV charging, charging stations, for example, charging infrastructure.

When we think about workplace, for example, we found that over half of US workers want to return to a hybrid model of working, right? So not going back to the office five days a week, but maybe some days at home, some days back in the office. And so, what does that mean for the physical building, the physical office building? And what does that mean to employees and to companies? And then, in turn, what does that mean for the future of central business districts, right? So we'll see these shifts in behavior and shifts in how we value things.

SEANA SMITH: All right, Sofia Song, Gensler's global cities lead, thanks so much for joining us today.