What Gensler's City Pulse Survey Reveals About the Changing Urban Experience

When New York City first entered lockdown earlier this year in March, Gensler’s Cities Research team conducted a series of brief pulse surveys to gauge how urban residents were responding to the global health crisis. The goal was not only to take a snapshot of how urbanites were navigating these extraordinary times, but also to provide clients with real-time research into how the pandemic was impacting the urban fabric and experience across global cities.

In order to reimagine cities and spaces to meet new needs and offer equitable experiences, we believe it’s critical that developers, urban designers, and clients shape planning strategies and key re-entry decisions based on valuable research data and analyzed trends. The Gensler Research Institute’s City Pulse Survey 2020 findings can guide clients to achieve smart design solutions that address new lifestyle and work behaviors, unfolding migration patterns, and evolving expectations of city dwellers. Below are key takeaways from the survey findings — these urban experience insights can inform new priorities for clients’ projects across diverse market sectors and geographies.

Survey Methodology


Gensler’s team of researchers selected four cities to study: New York City, San Francisco, London, and Singapore — all of which were under some form of lockdown at the time of the survey. New York City, at the time, was the global epicenter of the pandemic. San Francisco was one of the first cities in the U.S. to lockdown. London, as a contrast to New York, was another global city that imposed lockdown restrictions. Finally, Singapore had just entered a lockdown, informed by valuable lessons learned during the 2003 SARS outbreak.

Gensler’s team of researchers conducted a pulse survey first in early May, at a time before the murder of George Floyd, and then again in early August, after Floyd’s murder had led to subsequent civil uprisings and calls for social justice. During the release of the second survey, cities were past initial phases designed to slow the spread of COVID-19 and were struggling with plans to re-open as people adjusted to a “new normal.” Each City Pulse Survey documented answers from 2,000 respondents who were all demographically diverse by age, gender, income, and education.

The Varying Impacts of the Pandemic Across Geographies and Generations


We wanted to know how the pandemic impacted respondents, both across cities and across generations.

The pulse surveys, which were released in May and August, documented growing dissatisfaction among city dwellers.
The pulse surveys, which were released in May and August, documented growing dissatisfaction among city dwellers.
As the pandemic progressed, our survey found that satisfaction with living situations declined across all four cities. While Londoners were the least satisfied in both pulse surveys, Singapore and San Francisco had the sharpest declines in satisfaction between May and August. As of the August survey, New York respondents were the most satisfied with their living situations.

Data suggests that respondents believe the public health crisis needs to be addressed in order to lead to economic recovery.
Data suggests that respondents believe the public health crisis needs to be addressed in order to lead to economic recovery.

As the threat of the pandemic continued, fewer people said they want their governments to focus on the economic fallout over the public health crisis. Data suggests that respondents believe that for any economic recovery to happen, the public health crisis needs to first be addressed.

Gensler’s City Pulse Survey found that millennials were hit the hardest by the pandemic across global cities.
Gensler’s City Pulse Survey found that millennials were hit the hardest by the pandemic across global cities.

Gensler’s City Pulse Survey found that millennials were the most likely to have lost their jobs directly due to the pandemic. Nearly half of millennial respondents said they are living paycheck to paycheck – more than any generational cohort. And, millennials and Gen-Xers are most likely to be living with young children – one of the strongest indicators to lower levels of living satisfaction. To keep cities attractive for the vibrant younger generations who have traditionally flocked to urban centers, developers and urban planners will need to take these economic and lifestyle considerations into account when reconfiguring public spaces, urban transit, residential buildings, schools, and work, retail, and recreational environments.

Factors Driving Intentions to Relocate — And for How Long


We also explored driving factors that influenced people’s desires to move outside of cities, and probed where they wanted to move and whether their decisions were permanent or temporary.

Gensler's City Pulse Survey reveals people were already considering leaving their urban environments before the pandemic.
Gensler's City Pulse Survey reveals people were already considering leaving their urban environments before the pandemic.

The pandemic is acting as an accelerant for city dwellers who were already thinking about relocating.
The pandemic is acting as an accelerant for city dwellers who were already thinking about relocating.

While roughly two-thirds of surveyed respondents were already thinking about leaving their cities before the pandemic hit (particularly for San Francisco-based respondents and Gen-Xers), many said that the pandemic influenced their decision to leave their cities. Approximately one in four New Yorkers and Londoners expressed a desire to relocate outside of their cities while Singapore respondents were half as likely to want to leave.

Overall, millennials are most likely to want to leave their cities.
Overall, millennials are most likely to want to leave their cities.

People living with children under the age of 12 are also the most inclined to migrate outside of cities, Gensler's City Pulse Survey found.
People living with children under the age of 12 are also the most inclined to migrate outside of cities, Gensler's City Pulse Survey found.

With the exception of New York survey respondents, millennials make up the largest demographic that wants to leave these urban environments. In fact, nearly half of the people who are considering leaving Singapore are millennials. Additionally, people living with children under the age of 12 are also most inclined to migrate outside of cities — as health and wellness remain top priorities, how can urban developers and building owners ensure safe distancing and new cleaning protocols to make cities safer for young families? New Yorkers with young children, the most extreme case, were five-and-a-half times more likely to want to leave their city than those who lived alone.

Nearly half of the survey respondents said they still want to live in some kind of urban environment.
Nearly half of the survey respondents said they still want to live in some kind of urban environment.

The survey asked respondents who were thinking about moving out of their city about where they wanted to relocate. Over two-thirds of respondents expressed a desire to move to smaller cities, the suburb, or even rural areas. Nearly half of London respondents who wanted to move said they were considering moving to a rural area. In contrast, 60% of Singapore respondents who wanted to move said they’d like to remain in an urban environment.

Affordability, convenience, and safety remain top priorities for residents across New York, San Francisco, London, and Singapore, according to the survey.
Affordability, convenience, and safety remain top priorities for residents across New York, San Francisco, London, and Singapore, according to the survey.
Affordability, Convenience, and Safety Remain Top Priorities

We asked respondents across all four cities what their most important priorities were for their next move. Affordability, convenience, and safety from crime remained the top three priorities for respondents. For cities to attract new residents and retain current residents, which will ultimately be the foundation for economic recovery, they will need to focus on providing housing options that are accessible, walkable, and safe for everyone.

The desire to move temporarily varies by city, according to findings from the Gensler Research Institute's City Pulse Survey.
The desire to move temporarily varies by city, according to findings from the Gensler Research Institute's City Pulse Survey.

Up until now, our survey captured a climate of people who are growing increasingly dissatisfied with their living situations. In the face of the challenges presented by the pandemic, these urban residents — from diverse corners of the world — are simultaneously rethinking the tradeoffs they made to live in these big global cities, including an elevated cost of living and smaller living spaces, and they are contemplating moving out their cities. However, we also asked respondents if they would return to their cities once the pandemic was over. Our data indicates that many New York and Singapore respondents do in fact want to return to their respective cities, while more London and San Francisco residents indicated that their relocation plans may be more permanent.

Our City Pulse Survey data reveals how the urban experience is uniquely evolving over time and across global cities. As we continue to unpack findings, as designers and strategists, we are thinking about how urban spaces, including the central business district, must evolve as cities work to become more resilient and responsive to city dwellers’ changing needs.

To learn more about the impact the public health crisis has had on city dwellers, click here to download Gensler's City Pulse Survey 2020.

For any media inquiries, please contact Kimberly Beals at .

Sofia Song
Sofia is the global leader of cities research at Gensler’s Research Institute, where she leads a cross-disciplinary team to generate new insights and data that position Gensler as a thought leader, working to influence change at the city scale. Sofia also represents Gensler as a Strategy Officer at the World Economic Forum, focusing on how industries can catalyze change. Sofia’s background includes leading research at proptech and real estate companies as well as roles in transit, community, and public space planning in various U.S. cities. She is based in New York. Contact her at .
Want more of Gensler’s design insights?
Sign up for our newsletters to get regular
updates sent directly to your inbox.
Follow us on Social Media