As Covid-19 cases rose in large cities, people started moving to the suburbs in larger numbers. Crain's reports that the combination of fear, downtown office closures, and low interest rates caused home sales nearly to double in 14 Chicago-area suburbs. Barrington, a wealthy village of horse barns and huge houses, saw the largest number of home sales last month, with Lake Forest (a similar place) close behind.
Amanda Mull, writing in The Atlantic, sees this as a big gamble:
When we talk about people leaving America’s biggest cities right now, people largely means the rich. In The New York Times’ analysis of cellphone location data, 420,000 people fled New York City for some period of time from March 1 to May 1. Those who left were heavily concentrated in the city’s wealthiest zip codes, especially those in Manhattan. A similar phenomenon was found in the city’s trash-collection patterns, in which the amount of garbage dropped most sharply where rich people had vanished.
[T]he work-from-home “revolution” is already off to an uneven start, with many people returning to offices at the behest of their employers in states that have more fully reopened. There’s reason to believe that will continue.
People whose employers are amenable to fully remote work might still see consequences if they stay out of the office. Some employers could use remote work as an opportunity to tighten budgets beyond just their office leases, especially if the economy stays in a recession for a while. Facebook, among the first big companies to make working from home a permanent option, has already made clear that it will cut workers’ pay if they relocate from the Bay Area to less expensive places—a cost-cutting tactic common among employers whose workers retain their jobs when they move to less expensive areas.
There’s not much evidence that the pandemic has changed the tastes of otherwise enthusiastic city dwellers. And even if moving seems like an effective strategy to stay safe, it’s not exactly clear that it will look that way in hindsight. No one really knows how the pandemic will progress over the next year, in big cities or elsewhere. New York City’s outbreak now seems to be under far better control than those in many popular migratory destinations in the Sun Belt, which could change the calculus for panic-movers.
Those of us who love cities still love them. Of course I understand the allure of suburbs; getting out of Chicago for a few hours was one of the motivations for the Brews & Choos project. But I just don't like the costs of living in the suburbs, like having to drive everywhere, and "everywhere" means a chain restaurant or box store. The only suburbs I could imagine wanting to live in are Evanston and Oak Park, not coincidentally two of the densest in the area and both with multiple rail lines to downtown Chicago. There are millions of people who agree.