Doughnut cities
It’s happening in the US but will it happen in the UK?
by regeo
19 Aug 2020 3 min read

Many Cities in the US are seeing migration out of the centers into the suburbs and beyond. Will the UK follow?

Cities are always changing. During the industrial revolution, only the poor lived by the rivers. Sewage and toxic waste contributed to health problems so the fortunate lived anywhere but near the river. Today, condos built next to rivers, so called riverside developments can command premium prices. Take a look at Seoul, Madrid, Chicago, Lyon, Moscow, Manchester and London. Manchester Leftbank condos sell for £2m and London Lots Road has a riverview penthouse selling for £9m.

War, economic decline, climate and political factors can have serious impacts on a City and the covid-19 pandemic could be a huge catalyst to force how a City operates in the future.

Cities offer many lifestyle advantages - bright lights, education, culture and work. This comes at a real estate price though and usually rents and living costs escalate the closer to the action you are. The most expensive residential properties are often in the middle (or the west) of a City. Take London’s SW1 or 10007 in New York or 6/7/8 Arrondissement in Paris or Aoyama in Tokyo. It is not as simple as this of course, but usually the center of town has culture, clubs, restaurants, theatre, private clubs and other attractions like parks and upmarket retail and those who live nearby have to pay for the privilege. But what if these attractions move elsewhere? Or the attractions are no longer physically available?

During the pandemic, many have questioned why they should be in or near the center of town. In the old days people went into town to party - in many cities, the parties are now in the suburbs or other smaller towns. The inner centers are being hollowed out like a doughnut, often due to retail being replaced by online shopping, and the once sleepy suburbs replacing the inner city. High rise office blocks make it near impossible to follow covid-19 distancing rules and cramped public transport is a big turn off so working at home is attractive. 5G and home working apps allow for work anywhere that is now encouraged by employers (as opposed to being tolerated). Even education can be run remotely and with the acceptance of zero hour contracts and multiple employers, working from a beautiful inexpensive farmhouse in Wales with a young family compares favourably against a converted 2 up 2 down in Wandsworth.

A demographic migration phenomena that is occurring in the US is a potential prelude to how the UK may look in years to come.

Here a few news stories from this year:

San Francisco - Twice as many homes are for sale compared to last year as people look to leave the city (source: business insider)

Chicago - Moving to the burbs (source: chicagomag)

New York - Is dead forever? This time it is different (source: nypost )

California - Inside California’s Black Exodus (source: calmatters)

There are a number of commentators who believe London could follow its US counterparts

Escape to the country: Will people leave cities behind post-pandemic? (source: independent)

There are many other factors that are exaggerating this migration but it is difficult to gauge whether this is a temporary phenomena. Graduate programmes, courting, kindergarten, theatre, social clubs all require human interaction and it is unlikely places as attractive as London will succumb to the doughnut. Big train projects like HS2 seem to be a white elephant and once out of fashion out of town retail parks now look attractive. However despite plagues, wars, disease the UK seems to hold up and always bounces back. London was an unfavourable place in the 1950s. Many of the houses around Regents Park were demolished after the war because they were too big for anyone to live in and nobody could afford to repair the bomb damage. One block that was saved is now on the market for a staggering £185million.

(source: Guardian)

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