Skip to content Skip to footer

Loading Results

The city never sleeps: urbanization and real estate after COVID-19


The world’s major cities have not lost their sheen or magnetizing power for human capital, nor their position as marketplaces of ideas, innovation, and growth.


In the weeks and months that coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the global population, urban residents have confronted the painful reality that human density and proximity - the very things that make cities great - have perilously facilitated the communication of a highly infectious virus. Indeed, cities have been particularly deadly throughout the pandemic. America’s most densely populated metropolitan area - New York City -- has tallied nearly 220,000 cases at the time of writing: by contrast, hard-hit places such as France and Germany have witnessed 160,300 and 190,000 cases, respectively, within their entire countries. As the virus rages on, many urbanites have fled cramped apartments for refuge in pastoral idylls, or in seemingly safer suburban areas, facilitated in part by the ability to work from home (WFH) and telecommute (at least, such is the case for some white collar workers).

The coronavirus outbreak struck many advanced economies in late cycle territory: over a decade after the Great Financial Crisis (GFC), real estate prices in major gateway cities - such as New York, San Francisco, Boston, London and Paris - had reached frothy heights - prompting many young professionals, millennials, and families to flock to secondary cities in a flight for more space and greater affordability. For those who had not hitherto made the leap, the scourge of coronavirus was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. As the pandemic continues to ricochet between countries and across the globe with successive waves of infections, desirable urban goods -- including high quality amenities and rich cultural life -- which had made higher prices more palatable for some were either shut down or suspended. As employers have been swift in accommodating the WFH phenomenon, the rationale for living in mega-priced megacities was no longer tenable for some households.

Consequently, some commentators forecast a coronavirus-induced but semi-permanent exodus from New York, “tech-xodus” from San Francisco, and a flight from London and Paris to the countryside. If long lasting, such a shift of reverse urbanization would have major ramifications for the future of our economic growth. More than 80% of global GDP is generated in cities, and the relationship between urban density and job creation is positively correlated in major cities across the globe, from Miami to Mumbai, and from Los Angeles to Milan.

And yet, even despite the plague of the worst pandemic in a century - and the scourge of high prices - a eulogy for the city is highly premature. Once a vaccine is successfully deployed, and today’s trauma becomes the last crisis, the world’s cities will regain their vibrant foothold and intrinsic relationship with global economic growth. In fact, the wake of coronavirus has opened up a path to address the crises of affordability and inequality within our cities, and in turn, our societies as a whole. It has also precipitated a way for real estate investors and urban developers to capitalize upon a dislocation, as well as to inculcate a sense of stewardship by fostering urban “goods,” shared by all. Read the full article here.

The city never sleeps: urbanization and real estate after COVID-19

About PwC’s Cornering the globe publication series

Cornering the globe is a publication of PwC’s Geopolitical Investing practice, and is intended to highlight key issues our clients should be considering as they think about expanding into global markets. At the macro level, long-term economic and demographic trends indicate an abundance of opportunities to profit and expand in emerging markets. However, the risks of doing business in these regions—such as exchange rate volatility, political uncertainty, meeting the skills gap and shifts in tax and regulation—often hamper decision-making, forcing companies to react to events, rather than prepare for change and capitalize on potential dislocations.

By critically assessing key geopolitical issues that impact our clients, we provide insight into the ways in which companies can build capabilities to weather political and economic change in their foreign operations. Our Geopolitical Investing team combines rigorous insight into the key macroeconomic and geopolitical issues facing business leaders today with deep industry and sector expertise, helping companies to strategically allocate capital to grow specific business units or assets in markets around the world.

Contact us

Dr. Alexis Crow

Dr. Alexis Crow

Lead, Geopolitical Investing practice, PwC US

Follow us