So, lots won’t change in particularly striking ways. Cities and towns will fall back into recognisable and long-established patterns. World city dominance will continue. Central London, Lower Manhattan and Paris-Ville will hold on to, and continue to attract, businesses and markets where there is a high degree of customisation, where there are picky, quality-sensitive clients, and where cross-cutting collaboration — the lawyers, IT folks, and hedgies, or the actors, editors, and post-production people — informs complex outputs or advice to decision-makers.
Indeed, one of the paradoxes of the pandemic is that it will cement the importance of the very largest cities. Allowing workers to partially WFH doesn’t mean the job has been exported or out-sourced, it just means that the catchment area for the city has expanded. Our work points to relatively few of those ‘fleeing’ the big, purportedly Covid-infested cities relocating to the actual countryside. It is the towns and cities with good connections back to London (or other major cities such as Manchester, Liverpool or Leeds) that will be the main beneficiaries.
So, for the major regional cities there is a lot of promise: the task is to double-down on their role, often long-established, as the attractive market and social centre to their new larger catchment area, in a world where the alternatives are online shopping and offshored office jobs. Smaller places – despite the excitable prognoses of a flood of businesses relocating to pleasant market towns – will need to work at it. There is potential, because of their convenience and lower cost base; but also a menace, because sometimes those apparent advantages will be undercut by the fact that ever more businesses can locate anywhere.