At the time of the ﬁrst survey's launch in May, these urban centers were grappling with the ﬁrst few weeks of lockdown. New York was an epicenter of viral spread. San Francisco was one of the first cities in the United States to shut down, while Greater London had imposed lockdown restrictions more slowly. Singapore had just entered lockdown, and — having navigated the 2003 SARS outbreak — had previous experience with a similar public health crisis. The second survey, conducted in August, returned to those same cities as lockdown restrictions eased and much of the world had taken cautious steps to reopen businesses, workplaces, and schools.
The pandemic is straining people’s relationships with their cities. Roughly two-thirds of urban residents who want to relocate say that the public health crisis has made them more likely to move.
As the pandemic continues, urban residents are navigating conflicts related to social unrest, racial justice, and climate change. Furthermore, stark disparities in experience for minority communities are becoming increasingly clear. This briefing takes a closer look at the impact the public health crisis has had on city dwellers. Our data reveals how people’s experiences are changing over time and what cities might do to become more resilient and responsive to evolving needs.
People don’t want to abandon urban life entirely — over one-third of respondents want to move to a diﬀerent city.
There likely won't be a sudden mass exodus out of cities. Most respondents looking to move project a relocation timeline of over a year. Nearly half of respondents in New York and San Francisco want to move to cities of some kind, while 60% of Singapore respondents plan to move to other urban areas. Londoners are the only exception — more than one-third will look to move to rural areas, and half have no intentions of returning to the city once the pandemic ends. When asked if urban residents contemplated moving before the pandemic hit, over half of respondents in all cities had already considered it.
Addressing peoples’ perceptions of safety, and what activities they are most comfortable resuming as a result, will make the diﬀerence in how fast cities are able to recover.
The behaviors that urban residents planned to avoid showed very little variation between May and August. In three out of the four cities we surveyed, avoiding large public gatherings, such as concerts, theater performances, and conventions, was the largest area of concern. Residents also report hesitation about traveling via airplane. Finally, in all cities except Singapore, people don't feel comfortable using mass transit as restrictions lift.
City Pulse Survey 2020 Methodology
This anonymous, panel-based survey of 2,000 urbanites was conducted online twice — from April 30 to May 15, 2020, and again from August 7 to August 20, 2020. Respondents were required to be residents of the metropolitan areas of New York City, San Francisco, Greater London, or Singapore and to have lived there prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants are demographically diverse by gender, age, income, and education level.
The City Pulse Survey 2020 takes a closer look at the impact the public health crisis has had on city dwellers. Our data reveals how people’s experiences are changing over time and what cities might do to become more resilient and responsive to evolving needs.