COVID Reveals the Unsustainability of Monoculture Downtowns

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As we all know, following World War II, many individuals who had once lived in cities left urban centers to move into newly created suburbs. Retailers and servicers naturally followed their market. This left empty downtown cores with prominent buildings, the uses of which had to evolve over time if they were to survive and remain standing.

This transition bred the urban monoculture of downtown office districts, supported by highways and seas of parking lots. According to CoStar data, in some downtowns 70–80% of all real estate is now dedicated to office space.

This week on Upzoned, host Abby Kinney and regular cohost Chuck Marohn look at an article from The New York Times titled “The Downtown Office District Was Vulnerable. Even Before COVID.“ They “upzone” it—i.e., they look at it through the Strong Towns lens. They talk about how office-heavy, monoculture downtowns are inherently less sustainable, and how this was the case long before COVID. However, the pandemic has led to shifts in how we think about the future of office work, which in turn has created a heightened uncertainty about what a downtown should be.

Then, in the downzone, Chuck takes a fresh look at—or rather, a fresh listen to—a book he’s read and admittedly mischaracterized before. Meanwhile, Abby attended a wedding in a town close to where she grew up, but which she had never fully appreciated.

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