Berkeley universities

Downtown Portland among worst cities in pandemic rebound, study finds

When it comes to recovering from the pandemic, downtown Portland brings up the rear.

That’s the conclusion of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, who are using GPS data from cellphones to see how many people are returning to businesses, bars, restaurants and other attractions in 62 city centers across the country. county as the COVID-19 pandemic wanes. .

During the last period, from March to May of this year, Portland came in 60th, with a recovery value of 41% from pre-pandemic activity. Only San Francisco (31%) and Cleveland, Ohio (36%) did worse.

Salt Lake City tops the list in terms of people returning downtown with 155%.

Berkeley researchers get data from a company called SafeGraph Inc., which tracks 18 million smartphones in North America and reports visits by people carrying these phones to businesses, offices, stores, restaurants, parks , community facilities and stadiums.

Cities like Portland and San Francisco are hurting because they are home to many tech workers who have been able to abandon the office and work from home, researchers say.

“At the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, the media began to report significant migration out of cities, particularly the flight of knowledge and technology workers to the suburbs or other cities,” the researchers said. in a June report. “Places with a higher share of jobs in knowledge-based industries and occupations, and/or higher-paying workers, are more likely to shift to remote work.”

The Berkeley team didn’t look at factors like homelessness, litter or crime, which are often cited by Portlanders as reasons why they don’t go downtown as often.

“It’s the constellation of crime and homelessness that Portlanders are concerned about,” says John Horvick, senior vice president of polling firm DHM Research.

Moving out of downtown could be permanent for up to half of the workforce in congested big cities like New York and high-tech cities like San Francisco, the researchers said.

To be sure, the rise of remote work may have more to do with rising house prices and a shortage of highly skilled labor, both of which predated the pandemic, the researchers said.

“Either way, a heated debate is brewing over whether the pandemic will lead to a full-fledged urban crisis, in the style of the 1970s, or more of the adaptive rebound that we have seen in many city centers after the Great Recession,” they said.