Three months ago, Aaron and Christine Lager traded their 1,100-square-foot home outside San Francisco house for a 3,500-square-foot property in Huntsville, Alabama.
The aerospace and defense company Lockheed Martin had offered Aaron a good, well-paying job, and Christine was enchanted by the city’s quaint downtown.
Huntsville is one of the winners of the pandemic migration boom. The metro area had a positive net domestic migration – the number of people moving into a metro area from elsewhere in the US minus people moving out to another part of the country – of 8,964 from July 1, 2019, to June 30, 2020, according to the most recently available US Census Bureau data. This was higher than the 6,815 in the same period a year earlier.
We anticipated its success: In summer last year, as moving became a popular conversation topic, and people debated the best places to ride out lockdowns and work remotely, Insider decided to use available data to create a list of the best cities to move to after the pandemic. The metropolitan-area data, which was mainly from before the pandemic, covered nine metrics. For example, low unemployment rates, low cost of living, and high ability to work from home would likely lead to a higher place in the ranking. Huntsville came out among the top 10, in part for its high educational attainment and high share of jobs that could be done remotely.
Now that it has been over a year since we came up with our list, we were interested in seeing if people moved to the cities that made up some of the top spots.
As seen in the chart below, people did move to Huntsville and Cheyenne, Wyoming, which we anticipated. But two other cities we thought would do well – Rochester, New York, and Champaign, Illinois – lost residents.
But gains and losses for these metro areas aren’t new.
Huntsville, which came in ninth in our ranking, is a prime example. It had positive net domestic migration every year, according to data from the past decade. Meanwhile, Rochester, which ranked 15th in our ranking, experienced the opposite. From 2010 to 2020, its metro area recorded negative net domestic migration every year. We thought that COVID-19 might result in some new areas experiencing an influx of residents given the flexibility for people to work remotely, but the destinations of choice actually didn’t change that much.
To be sure, the census estimates don’t cover the full year of 2020 and aren’t the official decennial count. Others, like The New York Times and Bloomberg, have used US Postal Service change-of-address data to figure out where people moved during the pandemic.
One thing’s for certain: We were right that the pandemic offered a huge opportunity for some people to rethink where to live. Just because one in five (according to one Pew estimate) people moved during the pandemic or knows someone who did doesn’t mean they dramatically changed where they moved. And we didn’t take into account previous moving patterns to and from metro areas when coming up with our own guesses for relocators’ destinations of choice.
Below are our deep dives into four locations from our best-city list: two with positive net domestic migration and two with negative net domestic migration during part of the pandemic.
Huntsville was perhaps our best call, ranking ninth on our best-city list. The census statistics show that, over time, more people have moved there from other parts of the US than moved out. Outside the government-data release, an annual study from United Van Lines National Movers found Huntsville was the fourth most popular city to move to in 2020.
Why? Thousands of tech workers are flocking to Huntsville — Alabama’s unsung “rocket city” — for good jobs and Southern hospitality. The longtime NASA hub is luring Facebook, Boeing, Blue Origin, and other major employers. Plus, new arrivals from Silicon Valley find their money goes much further.
Cheyenne ranked 12th on our list of cities to move to after the pandemic, in part because of its shorter weekly commute and lower population density. Indeed, Wyoming’s rugged capital saw an influx of residents during the pandemic that mirrored five years of steady arrivals.
Conservative politics and wide, open spaces have drawn herds of relocators. Take Microsoft employee Troy Nowak, a California native who wanted to move his family to a place with outdoor activities, low crime, and no traffic. He chose Cheyenne.
Unlike Huntsville and Cheyenne, more people left the upstate city of Rochester for elsewhere in the US — in line with years of population decline that preceded the pandemic. So while Rochester ranked 15th on our list of places to move after the pandemic — in part for its per-pupil spending on education and share of jobs that could be done from home — it didn’t actually gain residents last year.
Betty Battaglia, a local broker, was shocked to hear that “American’s first boomtown” — a five-hour drive northwest of Manhattan and sandwiched between Syracuse and Buffalo — lost residents. She described a red-hot housing market with dozens of prospective buyers placing competing offers on each listing and pushing prices up.
It turns out that while people did leave Rochester in 2020 — some to head south or to other low-tax, warm-weather states, in a continuation of migration trends of the past decade — many moved to upgrade their quality of life locally. There was enough demand for homeownership from locals, in fact, that the population loss barely registered.
As Americans flee urban hubs for larger homes and a lower cost of living during the coronavirus pandemic, the Champaign-Urbana metro area seems like the perfect landing pad. It’s in central Illinois amid corn fields, about 135 miles south of Chicago and 125 miles west of Indianapolis — within a two-hour drive of either city. It has a rural but lively college-town feel thanks to the state’s flagship public university, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Champaign-Urbana placed third in our ranking, in part because of its shorter weekly commute and higher educational attainment. But it also lost residents during the pandemic.
Even as people leave Champaign in droves, the local real-estate market remains emblematic of the national frenzied housing market marked by all-cash offers, sight-unseen purchases, and creative buyer tactics. There are still enough people who want to buy homes in the college town, and inventory is so limited in Champaign and nationwide that demand has driven prices up anyway.
Narrator: In 2016, Toronto spent $31 million to fend off a raccoon invasion. The masked critters were everywhere, pooping on porches, stopping traffic, and infesting attics, and they’re not just taking over Toronto. Reports of raccoon vandalism have plagued cities like Portland, Chicago, and New York City, and as raccoon-ridden cities know, we can’t seem to stop them.
Between the 1930s and 1980s, the US raccoon population increased twentyfold, and it’s still going strong. From 2014 to 2015, raccoon complaints in Brooklyn nearly doubled, so how are these masked bandits making it in big cities?
Well, for starters, they can digest just about anything from fish and acorns in the forest to dog food and pizza on the street, and just like humans, raccoons usually prefer the pizza, which is why they flock from woodland to city in the first place.
In Brooklyn, for example, captured raccoons sometimes get relocated to Prospect Park and nearby forests, but wildlife biologists report they often head right back to the dumpster-packed city streets.
It’s just about impossible to stop them, as Toronto discovered after it spend millions on raccoon-proof waste bins. Unlike traditional bins, the lids had special gravity locks, which open when a garbage truck arm turns the bin upside down. The idea was that if you cut off their major food source, they would skip town, but that didn’t happen. In fact, one year later, a wildlife-control business reported that raccoon-related work had doubled.
Finally, a clever raccoon was caught on camera jailbreaking the new bin. How did she outwit an entire city? Well, study after study has revealed that raccoons are considerably smarter than your average medium-sized critter. Turns out raccoon brains have more neurons packed into their brains than other animals of the same size.
In fact, they have the same neuron density as primates, who are notoriously smart, and their clever brains help explain why raccoons can open complex locks, solve puzzles with ease, and even come up with solutions to problems that scientists didn’t think of. Add to that their ultrasensitive hands, er, paws, which have four times as many sensory receptors as their feet. This helps them to feel subtle textures like special trashcan lids in Toronto and even open locks without looking.
And unfortunately for us, driving them away is a fool’s errand. Studies show that after mass removal, populations tend to rebound to their previous levels in a year. After all, females can start giving birth at just 1 year old and can have as many as eight kits in a single year. This quick breeding is also why experts say mass cullings aren’t a long-term solution.
And while they’re awfully cute, the damage they can cause is not. When raccoons nest in buildings, they can destroy insulation, chew up wires, and tear holes through walls, and it can cost you hundreds or even thousands of dollars to repair that kind of damage. One raccoon was even caught destroying over $3,000 worth of artwork, and just removing them can cost $300 to $500 a pop.
Plus, the poop they leave behind can contain roundworms and other parasites, which can enter your lungs when you breathe or get tracked into your home by your pets. Even worse, raccoons can transmit diseases like canine distemper and, in rare cases, rabies.
So it’s understandable that cities are trying to find some way, any way, to manage them.
Man on broadcast: Can’t do a thing about it, just chase them off. They come back.
Narrator: If nothing else, it’s a lesson learned. We may have built the cities, but we don’t necessarily rule them.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in May 2019.
A new metro area and state analysis from Brookings finds employment in all cities will be affected by the long-term outcomes of the pandemic, but places that rely on tourism could be hit especially hard.
Mark Muro, senior fellow and policy director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, and research assistant Yang You published a new report about how employment may change across the US based on recent 2019-2029 projections calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The new projections analyze how employment may in various industries and occupations could grow or shrink over the decade given long-term changes in behavior from the pandemic, such as people continuing to avoid large crowds and more telework.
“While we’re all expecting and hoping for a very robust, near-term recovery from the [COVID-19] crisis, we shouldn’t forget this longer-term potential aftereffect that in some places could really, be painful,” Muro told Insider.
The Brookings report shows that across US metro areas, employment is expected to be lower in 2029 than it would have been without the pandemic, but some metro areas have larger differences.
“Places that are heavily specialized in accommodations or food services, or arts and entertainment, or retail will themselves feel some slowing from the baseline,” Muro said based on BLS‘ expectations of what employment will look like by industry in the long term.
“Those economies are very cyclical anyway, and they may be subjected now to an additional, fairly substantial drag, according to the BLS numbers,” Muro told Insider.
The following chart highlights the five cities where difference in employment growth between the baseline and strong impact scenario are the largest:
Many of the places that may see the largest changes to employment are tourism and vacation destinations. This includes places like Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; Atlantic City, New Jersey; and Las Vegas. The chart shows Kahului, Hawaii, and Atlantic City, New Jersey, have the largest percent differences among the metro areas at -3.6%.
On the other hand, Brookings notes the places with the lowest percent differences are a mix of metro areas that are big in tech and manufacturing as well as “university towns strong in science and IT,” such as Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The following chart highlights the five cities where differences in employment growth between the baseline and strong impact scenario are the smallest:
The chart shows Trenton, New Jersey, has the smallest percent difference among the metro areas at -1.1%, where projected 2029 employment in the strong impact scenario is around 3,200 lower than the baseline scenario of around 291,000. Among the 384 metro areas, 298 of them have percent differences below 2.0%.
It is important to note the BLS projections are just estimates and could differ from what actually pans out between 2019 and 2029. Muro said government responses and changes by policy makers can help places that may see the largest percent differences.
“There may be particularly successful policy interventions that help these places with these sorts of industries and workers,” Muro said. “So all of those things could happen, and that could change the picture. What further government response there is might make a difference.”
A major factor underlying the great economic potential of reopening lies with how the pandemic ushered in an era of remote work, which is likely here to stay to some extent in a post-pandemic world.
More than two-thirds of professionals were working remotely during the peak of the pandemic, according to a new report by work marketplace Upwork, and over the next five years, 20% to 25% of professionals will likely be working remotely.
Remote working has caused employees to rethink and better accommodate their priorities in life and employers to rethink operations regarding how they can best work with professionals and create teams, the report stated. But it also hasn’t been without some downsides, such as blurring the lines between work-life balance and causing increased stress.
Overall, though, Upwork found the shift to remote work in the past year has ultimately benefited the economy in five key ways.
(1) Remote workers are more productive
Remote and and online collaboration technology are proving to be helpful with hidden benefits like making teams work better together, reported Douglas Quenqua for Insider. Higher meeting attendance rates, more attentive managers, simplified communication, and more breaks are just a few of the positive changes.
It’s made many more productive. Sixty-one percent of workers said their productivity increased from working remotely, according to an Upwork survey. And an Upwork survey of hiring managers found 32.2% of them said they saw overall productivity rise as of late April, compared to 22.5% that felt it decreased.
These productive effects will only further develop as people adapt more to remote work, new technology is invented, and people will start remote businesses, wrote the report’s author, Adam Ozimek.
(2) Remote work has freed up relocation opportunities
Remote work will redistribute opportunity across the US, Ozimek wrote. Upwork estimated that up to 23 million people plan to relocate.
Richard Florida, urban studies theorist and economics professor at the University of Toronto, has a similar mindset. He previously told Insider remote work will accelerate the movement of families out of superstar cities into suburbs and the 1% who are seeking lower taxes.
“I have long said that we will see the rise of the rest, given the incredible expensiveness and affordability of existing superstar cities,” he said. “But it’s not going to be the rise of everywhere. It’s going to be the rise of a dozen or two dozen places.” These places will consequently attract new talent, changing economic development.
Florida predicted that bigger cities will see a resurgence, though, as the US inches closer to widespread vaccination, reshaped by a newfound focus on interpersonal interaction that facilitates creativity and spontaneity.
(3) Employers are hiring more independent talent
Employers have become more inclined to build hybrid teams made up of both full-time employees and freelance workers, Ozimek wrote. A November Upwork survey that asked about plans for hiring freelancers in the next six months found that 36% of hiring managers plan to hire out more independent talent.
Fortune 1000 companies in particular have been tapping into more diverse talent regardless of matter location, found a recent report by Business Talent Group, a marketplace for independent consultants. Independent talent has especially increased in the C-Suite. There has been a 67% increase over the past year in executives seeking independent talent needs, per the report.
This increases the talent pool and opportunities for workers.
(4) Remote workers are saving time and money
Without daily commutes, workers have more hours and bigger bank accounts.
One year of working remotely has saved people on average nine days from commuting, per Upwork’s research. And car commuters saved around $4,350, including costs to public from their driving.
The time and money saved could boost economic growth and productivity, Robert Gordon, economics professor at Northwestern University, said in a recent UCLA Anderson Forecast interview. The labor force has restructured, with high-paid people working from home and making the same income, he said.
“This shift to remote working has got to improve productivity because we’re getting the same amount of output without commuting, without office buildings, and without all the goods and services associated with that,” Gordon said. “We can produce output at home and transmit it to the rest of the economy electronically.”
(5) Pandemic remote work is different from remote work
“Remote work and remote work during a global pandemic are not the same,” Ozimek wrote.
Many of the struggles with remote work were due to pandemic circumstances – like balancing remote work with child care while schools were closed. In a post-pandemic world, these things won’t be a hindrance and remote employees will be able to revel in fewer interruptions, which Upwork found to be one of the most cited benefits of remote work.
Remote work also won’t always be done from home. Florida thinks neighborhoods will reshape as offices.
“Even as offices decline, the community or the neighborhood or the city itself will take on more of the functions of an office,” he said. “People will gravitate to places where they can meet and interact with others outside of the home and outside of the office.”
It seems like e-scooters have been popping up everywhere in the last few years. Companies like Bird, Lime, and Ojo have placed their e-scooters in over 100 cities and towns around the world. And they’re even more popular in the US than bike-sharing programs, according to the National Association of City Transportation Officials. But, while those bike-sharing programs seem to have it all figured out, dock-less e-scooters have hit some speed bumps along the way.
The e-scooter premise is simple. You use an app to find and unlock a scooter near you, ride it where you need to go, and then leave it there for the next person. The company takes care of charging the battery and making sure the scooters are where they need to be. Pricing varies, but generally there is an initial unlocking fee along with a per-minute fee. Some other additional fees are possible, like if you venture outside the scooter’s “home zone.” The scooters are designed to tackle transportation and congestion issues in towns and cities.
Sure, the scooters are a form of shared mobility and are convenient and affordable, but that doesn’t mean they’re perfect. Pedestrians, cars, bikes, pretty much everyone is trying to adapt to sharing the roads and sidewalks, while riders are confused about where to use them and what regulations to follow. Sidewalk, bike lane, or road? With traffic or against it? And then there’s the question of parking. Without designated docking stations for e-scooters, they can end up in a pile, obstructing sidewalks and crosswalks. It’s not so much the scooters themselves that are to blame, but the people behind the handlebars who choose to ignore the rules.
These aren’t problems that can be easily ignored. And parking issues aren’t the biggest concern when it comes to e-scooters.
Tarak Trivedi: There are definite dangers, including death. I mean, we’ve seen a number of deaths already since they’ve been introduced.
That’s UCLA Health emergency physician Tarak Trivedi. After seeing so many patients with scooter-related injuries, he decided to study them and publish the results.
Trivedi: So, anecdotally, some of the stories that I’ve heard are: I fell off. I don’t know how. The break didn’t work appropriately. The accelerator got stuck. There was a pothole in the road that I missed. I was riding, and the sidewalk was a little bit uneven, and I sort of just tipped over. Hit by cars, of course, intoxication and not paying attention.
The Associated Press reported there were 11 deaths linked to e-scooters from the start of 2018 through June of 2019. But that’s a rough estimate, since there’s no official data available. And that’s not including the 1,500 injuries also reported in that same time period.
Trivedi: Overall, we found 249 emergency-department visits that were associated with an electric-scooter use of some sort. Some other results that we found interesting were that almost no one was wearing a helmet. Approximately 30% of our injured patients actually had some sort of fracture, and 40% of them had some sort of head injury. Those stats are kind of alarming. They should make helmets a requirement, right? There’s a lot of arguments inside of required, mandatory-helmet laws. On one hand, we know that helmets protect the skull and brain. However, some cyclists and cyclist-advocacy organizations argue against mandatory-helmet laws, saying that it makes people less likely to use bicycles in general.
And the same applies to e-scooters. Which means local governments have to do all they can to keep riders safe. And in some cities, that means no e-scooters at all. New York City, for example, has yet to install an e-scooter program because of safety and infrastructure concerns. But just across the Hudson River, in the 1-square-mile city of Hoboken, New Jersey, e-scooters are everywhere. Hoboken has pilot e-scooter programs with both Lime and Ojo in hopes of addressing their lack of street space and parking demands.
Ryan Sharp: The benefit of doing a pilot program for six months is that it gives the city an opportunity to test out the model of e-scooter sharing. To put out surveys to the public, to get their feedback, and to collect data to see how popular or how much ridership is happening through this program.
Pilot programs help these cities learn what works, what doesn’t, and where they can make improvements, like setting safety standards and better educating scooter riders.
Sharp: Some of the major rules that everybody has to follow includes no riding on sidewalks, you must ride in the direction of traffic. There’s an age requirement, you must be 18 years or older to ride. Only one rider per scooter, so no tandem riding.
Rules are posted on the scooters on signs around the city and reinforced in the app itself. It’s in the scooter company’s best interest to comply with all the local laws. As the vehicles become more widespread, cities like Washington, DC, and Atlanta are imposing strict restrictions on their usage or banning them completely. Some of these policies may be the result of rider misuse, like breaking local laws and leaving scooters in all the wrong places.
But at least they’re better for the environment, right? Not quite. In fact, compared to other transport options, e-scooters are not as green and eco-friendly as you might think. A study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters found that a lot of greenhouse gasses are created when manufacturing and transporting the scooters. In fact, scooters typically emit more greenhouse gasses than buses with high ridership and electric bikes. But it doesn’t look like they’re going to go away anytime soon. They’re convenient, easy, and, we have to admit, fun.
So how do you keep everyone safe and not infuriate local residents with sky-high piles of scooters? It’s a shared responsibility between the riders, pedestrians, companies, and local governments. Towns and cities need to make sure they designate where scooters should be ridden and keep them safe for everyone.
In Hoboken, local police are enforcing scooter rules through citations and suspending or even terminating accounts. Meanwhile, companies need to make sure that they are enforcing the rules and that the scooters are not disruptive to local residents. As for the riders, they need to understand and acknowledge they are operating a moving vehicle. Trivedi: A number of people also came in intoxicated. About 10% of our riders were actually under the legal age; they were under 18 years of age.
It’s clear changes need to be made to make e-scooters safer and less disruptive. We don’t really think about it now, but before 1915, stop signs for cars didn’t exist, and the US had no uniform approach to street safety until the mid-1920s. Hopefully, it won’t take that long to solve the issues e-scooters present. And if you’re riding one, consider wearing a helmet. Follow all the local rules, and maybe stick to areas without many pedestrians or cars. Don’t leave it in the middle of the sidewalk. And don’t forget to enjoy the ride. It, like, doesn’t, whoa!
EDITOR’S NOTE: This video was originally published in September 2019.
If city leaders across the country learned anything from the past year, it’s the value of resilience.
The COVID-19 pandemic exposed cracks in infrastructure, posed mobility challenges, and revealed a digital divide. The places that have fared the best are the ones that have been investing in the future, specifically in areas like digital transformation, manufacturing, sustainability, infrastructure, and innovation.
“I don’t think we talk about resilience enough,” Diana Bowman, co-director of the Center for Smart Cities and Regions at Arizona State University’s School for the Future of Innovation in Society, told Insider. “Resilience talks about our capacity to respond in a quick way to address whatever those external challenges are.”
While investing in technology and infrastructure is key for cities of the future, Bowman said that resilience also depends on strong partnerships across the public, private, and local university sectors.
“One of the things that we’ve seen in this last 12-month period is if you take your eye off the ball at any single one of these, then your ability to have a fully engaged school system, fully engaged workforce is really challenged, and everybody suffers as a consequence of that,” she said. For example, the influx of people working and learning from home revealed a lack of access to high-speed internet in some places.
Cities of all sizes should be thinking about building a better tomorrow through investment and policy, or risk getting left behind.
The need for cities to innovate and be more sustainable is coming, whether they’re prepared or not, Zachary Schafer, CEO and executive director of United for Infrastructure, a nonprofit working to modernize and repair the country’s infrastructure, told Insider. “It’s better to be developing frameworks early to understand how to deploy them, how to use them, how to benefit from them, and how to talk to residents about these technologies.”
Several US cities are already leading the way. Here’s a look at 10 places making big strides when it comes to innovation.
The cities are listed in no particular order.
The city of Chicago has several programs in the works aimed at updating infrastructure and advancing manufacturing.
One example is the Smart Lighting Program, which some have referred to as the largest streetlight modernization project in the nation. It involves installing wireless, LED lights across the city, which can be dimmed or controlled remotely. The goal is to cut energy costs and improve public safety.
To function as a kind of “fitness tracker” for the city, the Array of Things (AoT) project included placing sensors throughout the city to collect data on the environment, infrastructure, and activity. The purpose is to address traffic safety and flooding, reduce costs, and make the city more efficient and equitable.
Both the streetlight and AoT programs come with interactive elements, so residents can track their progress and view the data collected.
“Chicago has a good program for launching projects using digital technologies to transform the city landscape,” Schafer said. “You’re building the foundational infrastructure for a smart city or for a city to use to make smart decisions.”
On the manufacturing front, Chicago is home to MxD (Manufacturing times Digital), which opened in 2015 to focus on digital design, automation, and digital in manufacturing. MxD is part of the Manufacturing USA initiative, which established institutes across the country to focus on different areas of technology and digital transformation in manufacturing and supply chain.
MxD helps educate manufacturers about digital tools and processes. It has a mock production line, projects to help digitize equipment, and cybersecurity technology developed with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The entire state of Hawaii is leading the charge on sustainability, Bowman said. Two years ago, Gov. David Ige issued a declaration of commitment to sustainability — though the state’s focus on sustainability started long before.
In 2014, Hawaii kicked off the Aloha+ Challenge to address six metrics from the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030, including clean energy transformation, local food production, management of natural resources, solid waste reduction, creating smart and sustainable communities, and building and educating a green workforce. The initiative comes with an online dashboard that allows the public to track the progress the state is making in these areas.
Bowman said the program is a great example of the state legislature in Honolulu working with nonprofits and private companies to achieve sustainability metrics. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t act upon it, so it’s crucial in terms of sustainability and resilience,” she added.
The city of Honolulu has a resilience strategy and set up a Resilience Office to track how climate change is affecting the city. It’s examining “shocks” and “stresses,” such as hurricanes, tsunamis, infrastructure problems, cost of living, and vulnerable communities.
Smart streetlights are also being added, and the city is testing a gunshot detection system that would send alerts to 911, police patrol cars, and residents’ smartphones. Other systems would help drivers detect parking spots. Atlanta partnered with Georgia Power, AT&T, and Current by GE for the project.
“There’s a lot of activity going on just in general around transit and Atlanta, in and around the larger metro area,” Christopher Le Dantec, associate professor in the School of Interactive Computing and School of Literature, Media, and Communication at Georgia Tech, told Insider. That means thinking through the transportation of people and goods around the city and its suburbs.
“It’s a very difficult problem to solve because there are so many different agencies at play,” he added.
Other initiatives center on reducing the number of cars on the road. Atlanta is expanding its walking and biking plan, providing grants to help communities become more pedestrian-friendly and encouraging different types of commuting like carpooling, flexible work schedules, and working from home.
Incorporating more bike infrastructure has been several years in the making and involved collecting and analyzing data, Le Dantec said. “It was part of a transformation within the urban core of Atlanta, where there is now a lot more people moving around on bicycles, even prior to the past year’s events,” he added.
San Antonio, Texas
Through its Office of Innovation, San Antonio has several infrastructure and technology projects in the works.
Some are still in the development phase, but so far some city vehicles have been equipped with sensors to gather real-time data on infrastructure and identify problems like potholes and then report them to the appropriate agency for repair. The goal is to reduce calls to the city and provide upkeep to areas that tend to be neglected.
Recently, San Antonio launched a Smart Streetlight Project that will have remote controls and sensors to monitor parking, air quality, temperature, noise, and flooding. The city also installed interactive digital kiosks at its transit hub and other locations to give residents and visitors real-time access to information about traffic, transit systems, and attractions, like local restaurants. The kiosks also provide free WiFi and access to city services.
Cities should view digital infrastructure as a way to rethink how people interact with their government and policymakers, and give residents easy access to details about what’s going on in their city, Le Dantec said.
“Being able to actually show what those outcomes look like becomes a really powerful way to mobilize people toward addressing these issues,” he said.
Technology in manufacturing is another key area for San Antonio. CyManII (Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute), a Manufacturing USA institute located there, is focusing on cybersecurity and secure automation in manufacturing. These issues are critical today, as the manufacturing sector saw an uptick in ransomware attacks in 2020.
Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina
The tri-city area of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill has long been known as a hub for innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship.
Being a tech hub and supportive of entrepreneurs and startups has attracted new residents, making Raleigh one of the fastest-growing cities in the country.
The three cities also form the Research Triangle, along with North Carolina State University, Duke University, the University of North Carolina, and Wake Forest University. The Research Triangle Park is home to several major tech companies and known as a center for innovation and technology.
The presence and partnerships with universities is a central part of a smart, resilient city, Bowman said.
“You have world-class universities that have been fundamental to driving the innovation agenda,” Bowman said. “It has attracted leading tech companies and other multinationals to that space. Not only is there the benefit of having universities in terms of being able to engage with them and co-create and co-test, it becomes a supplier of high-quality talent to those companies.”
Several nonprofits exist across Raleigh-Durham, including Innovate Raleigh and RIoT, that are devoted to supporting innovation and entrepreneurship. The tech focus also extends to the manufacturing sector. The area houses a Manufacturing USA institute, PowerAmerica, focusing on semiconductor technology and electronics.
The Wisconsin state capital has an ambitious sustainability plan to reach zero-net carbon emissions and use 100% renewable energy for city operations by 2030. The plan sets specific goals for slashing overall energy and fuel consumption and making half of city buses electric by 2035.
Other city initiatives include increasing solar power by training unemployed and under-employed people in solar panel installation.
The city also has goals to improve air and water quality and transportation systems, support sustainable construction, affordable housing, and local food systems, economic and workforce development, and more.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has a number of sustainability initiatives, too, like housing and grants for students who have ideas for enhancing sustainability on campus. The university is also working to align its sustainability goals with academics and research.
A part of its efforts are engaging key stakeholders, including universities, nonprofits, local business, and members of the public. Interviews, public meetings, and a new website in development will keep citizens informed of the progress and promote transparency.
Local governments too often overlook the need for communication, especially in innovation and digital transformation projects, Brian Chidester, head of worldwide industry strategy for the public sector at information management firm OpenText, told Insider.
“[Madison] has really embraced that piece of it,” he said.
Phoenix, and the entire state of Arizona, has been working to become a leader in autonomous vehicles since 2015, when the governor signed an executive order to support the testing of driverless cars.
Phoenix has partnered with companies like GM and Lyft to allow hundreds of driverless cars to be tested on their roadways. Recently, the city began working with Waymo to launch a self-driving taxi fleet in nearby Tempe and Chandler.
“You just see the vehicles everywhere, the Waymo vehicles in particular, and we now have a long history, and it’s just part of the landscape,” Bowman said.
The state also created the Institute of Automated Mobility with Intel, Arizona State University, and other universities and organizations to research autonomous vehicles. Part of the goal is to create a regulatory framework that other places can model.
One setback to the self-driving initiative was a 2018 incident when a driverless Uber struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe. Bowman said city leaders handled the investigation in a transparent way that regained community trust and investment in the program.
By investing in autonomous vehicle infrastructure and innovation, the hope is to cut down on traffic fatalities, help older people age in place, reduce traffic and the need for parking, and protect the environment, she explained.
“Integrating autonomous vehicles into your fleet has the potential to reduce congestion within cities, and that brings an environmental benefit with it,” Bowman said.
Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles has emphasized its commitment to sustainability while addressing some of the city’s biggest infrastructure concerns, like traffic and road safety.
A digital dashboard, called the pLAn, debuted to track and measure its Green New Deal sustainability plan. It keeps tabs on metrics like water and electricity usage, greenhouse gas emissions, and other sustainability efforts. And the data is open to the public.
“One of the things I really like about what we see in LA is not only do they make this public — and they have a fantastic dashboard that any citizen or any individual anywhere in the world can go to and see how they’re doing based on hundreds of metrics — but they also have held themselves accountable,” Bowman said. “They’ve done a voluntary review of how well they’re doing, and the results of that review has then gone on to inform the next step.”
Governments holding themselves accountable in this way is something other metros can learn from, she added.
Mayor Eric Garcetti has also set a goal of reducing carbon emissions to zero by 2045, and has a number of other goals to make the city more sustainable and reduce traffic.
For example, they’re working on a network of bus-only lanes, adjusting traffic lights to put trains first over cars, launching an electric bus fleet, creating better traffic light synchronization, and debuting bike- and pedestrian-friendly projects.
Los Angeles is also home to one of the Manufacturing USA institutes, CESMII (Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute), that focuses on smart sensor and digital process technology to make manufacturing more efficient.
One of Boston’s many innovation, infrastructure, and sustainability projects is the Vision Zero initiative, a smart-street project with the goal of reducing traffic accidents and fatalities through data gathering and analysis.
Through the program, Boston is investing in new infrastructure on the streets, including LED lights, surveillance cameras, sensors, and a public dashboard. The data collected will inform future decision-making on roadway improvements, like safer sidewalks and streets and advanced signage.
Other traffic-centric innovative infrastructure programs include giving drivers real-time information about where to find parking spaces or suggestions for taking another form of transportation. The point is to reduce traffic congestion and carbon emissions. The city is also working on driverless car testing, smart parking sensors, and IoT.
Additionally, Boston is working to modernize information systems and technology in utility infrastructure to make utilities more affordable, equitable, and sustainable through the Smart Utilities Vision project.
“[Boston] has been trying to position itself as a technology hub, so that’s part of what’s driving a lot of their digital transformation infrastructure,” Chidester said.
Investing in innovation and infrastructure tends to attract larger companies and a highly skilled workforce, which boosts the economy, he added. Specifically, Boston has developed an environment to draw and support fintech companies.
The Boston area has the advantage of having several universities, including Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which the city partners with to test new technology and other projects.
“One of the things you see is cities with large, very advanced universities with good engineering programs are some of the furthest along, simply because they’ve got the partnership between academia and city government,” Schafer said. “You’ve got engineering programs going to the city to say, ‘Hey, we’re working on this technology to be tested in our city.'”
Denver’s population has increased 20% over the last 10 years, so the city has seen more construction and traffic, which has worsened its air quality.
To address the issue, they launched Love My Air, a program to measure air quality in real time using pollution sensors.
The city is tackling its transportation issues by participating in Vision Zero, like Boston. This includes launching an intelligent transportation system to address traffic and road safety. The program will deploy connected vehicle technology to allow trucks to communicate with traffic signals and connect city vehicles.
And to address and manage data around its infrastructure, Denver is creating an IoT platform to gather data about transportation, environmental health, weather, and freight. The data is pulled from road and weather sensors, street lights, universities, and other city infrastructure, which the city will use to drive future projects.
Denver also has a partnership with Panasonic on a project called CityNow. It’s creating smart city infrastructure in a remote area that includes high-tech highways and driverless vehicles. They’ve installed WiFi, LED street lights, pollution sensors, security cameras, and a solar-powered microgrid.
One challenge cities face in their digital transformation and innovation initiatives is that they start small, maybe with specific neighborhoods. While this makes sense, Chidester said it often creates disparate technologies, giving cities an additional challenge of making everything work together for the benefit of residents.
“You’re not going to drop a whole bunch of technology to encompass the entire city,” he said. “Ultimately, as you crawl, walk, run, there’s the need to ensure interoperability, and the ability to take information and analytics and drive value on behalf of their citizens.”
Data and analytics are necessary for sustainability and infrastructure efforts. But another issue cities will need to address revolves around the data they’re collecting through sensors and other means, Schafer said — specifically, who owns the data and what it’s all used for. And do citizens have the right to take their data back?
“That’s a thorny issue that a lot of them are going to have to deal with,” he said. “Whether they like it or not, it’s coming.”
Remote work is probably the biggest single effect of the pandemic. It has been building for some time, but it has really been accelerated.
According to the best statistics, we had about 5% of the workforce working full-time remotely before the pandemic and about 20% more likely to work full-time remotely after the pandemic, with about another 20% or 30% likely to work remotely some of the time.
So, it’s a big shift.
But I don’t think remote work by itself is affecting our geography in an extreme way. It is simply accelerating shifts that have been going on for a while. And, of course, the preponderance of jobs amenable to remote work are highly knowledge-intensive. Professional jobs are massively concentrated in big cities in metropolitan areas. So that is why the effect is felt most there.
I think what remote work does is to enable people who might’ve moved to outlying suburbs before to consider moving to entirely new metropolitan areas. So instead of moving to the suburbs of New York, San Francisco, or Los Angeles, remote workers have the possibility of moving to more affordable places like parts of Texas or parts of Florida.
There are several kinds of remote workers.
The ones that are going to leave big, expensive cities are mainly families. But families have always left big, expensive cities. It just cost a lot of money to have a house in a big, expensive city.
Also, urban schools in the United States are troubled and have been for a while and so people with kids move to the suburbs. My own parents moved from Newark, New Jersey, to an outlying suburb in northern New Jersey way back in the ’60s. This has been going on for more than a half-century.
Young, single people are the ones who move to cities. They’re very important because they’re ambitious and have newly minted skills. This is especially important for engineering talent to have the latest and greatest skills.
They are not going to live in isolated suburbs, they’re not even going to live in small cities. And they’re certainly not going to live in mom and dad’s basement for a while. These people have and will continue to gravitate to big superstar cities.
According to recent research, about half of the urban revival and migration of people into or close to urban neighborhoods has been the result of young people ages 24 to 35.
The silver lining for places like New York and San Francisco is that the pandemic is making real estate more affordable to this group of people.
I’ve written a bunch of college recommendations this year, and every one of them was for universities in New York City.
These people may work remotely and still live in a big city. I think that’s likely. I think what we’ll see are lots of young people working remotely and living in big cities. Mainly because this is where most of the remote work jobs or jobs that are doable as remote work are located.
So, I think remote work will lead to acceleration of families out of cities to places outside of superstar metro areas, and an acceleration of young people into cities.
The third category of remote workers is the 1%. Those are the folks moving to take advantage of taxes. They can move to Texas or Florida, they can move to Austin or Miami, reduce their own tax burden, and leave their companies and investments still centered in the cities.
That’s one that causes a lot of financial pain for superstar cities.
The other big impact of remote work will be on the central business district.
If the numbers above are correct by definition, we will see reduced demand for offices and office space. I think the central business districts will take a hit.
I think remaking the central business district of major cities is going to be one of the biggest and most interesting urban opportunities of our time.
Folks will know longer want to go into a cubicle farm. I’ve been talking to office designers and architects. The office is going to have to be re-designed, or something that’s an experience. Going to the office will be akin to a business trip. We will schedule some meetings and lunch and drink coffee with colleagues. But it won’t be just plugging into a cubicle farm.
If you look at the migration of remote workers, they are not panning out through the entire economy, are they? They are concentrating in a handful or a couple of handfuls of places.
I have long said that we will see the rise of the rest given the incredible expensiveness and affordability of existing superstar cities. But it’s not going to be the rise of everywhere.
It’s going to be the rise of a dozen or two dozen places. Oftentimes, I like to say if you want to look at a short list take a look at the final list for Amazon HQ2 and that’s a pretty good approximation.
It’s Miami, and Denver, and of course Austin, and Nashville and Pittsburgh and Columbus and Indianapolis. And maybe Detroit. And maybe Phoenix. And then you start running out of places pretty quickly.
There are some lovely rural places mainly outside of superstar cities – parts of California or Colorado outside of Denver, or the Hudson Valley outside of New York City – that are clearly attracting people. But it’s a very finite group of places.
I’ve been working with two communities very closely that are at the cutting edge of talent attraction and remote work. Tulsa, Oklahoma, has made a really big push in this area with Tulsa Remote. They have real first-mover advantage, and it’s been incredibly successful. They are attracting lots of people, and getting thousands upon thousands of applications, and people really appear to love it there.
Bentonville, Arkansas, has made an attempt to attract talent more broadly and to build up a real cluster of talent in innovation and that seems to be working as well. But, again, these are two examples.
Being really strategic and intentional and focusing on remote work and attracting talent will be essential. More communities need to be strategic. This will not just happen.
One of the great ironies of the pandemic is that it fundamentally changes the game of economic development from chasing companies to attracting talent.
Companies are shrinking their footprint, they are reducing their office space, there’s not much to attract there. So the pandemic changes the name of the game to attracting talent. And remote work opens up the possibility to attracting talent to more places.
But not everywhere.
Unfortunately, as remote work opens up the possibility for more places – small cities, mid-sized cities, suburbs, and rural areas – to participate in the talent economy, there will still be more losers than winners at every scale. That is because talent concentrates and clusters, and needs to be around other talent.
I think we’ll see a resurgence of even bigger cities as we get to the vaccine because of this. Remote workers cannot sit inside in a back office or converted bedroom all day. Human beings are social animals. We require connection, we require human interaction. Remote workers who are by definition working outside of the office will require more of this.
So even as offices decline, the community or the neighborhood or the city itself will take on more of the functions of an office.
People will gravitate to places where they can meet and interact with others outside of the home and outside of the office.
The big question of our time, which we are just beginning to engage, is what is the ecosystem that is required for remote work?
That ecosystem is a community, not just a technology equipped home-office. The places that can build that ecosystem or where that ecosystem arises organically will be the big winners in the age of remote work.
From 2010 to 2019, the population of Texas swelled by around 3.8 million inhabitants. That leads to a total of about 29 million residents – more than the entire population of Australia.
Texas has had a growing population over the past decade as more people are moving in than out in some metro areas.
To get a read on where people are moving to, Business Insider used US Census Bureau data to rank the metropolitan statistical areas in Texas by total net domestic migration between 2010 and 2019 – the number of people who moved into the metro area during that period from another part of the US or another country, minus people who moved out of the metro area – adjusted by the metro area’s 2010 population.
Other research, covered by the real estate news service Inman, underscored our findings. It found that Texas is home to a outsized amount of new home owners compared to the rest of the country, with seven of the top 25 cities nationwide for new home ownership in the state.
Frisco was at the top of that analysis, where a stunning 43.6% of homeowners have lived in the city for less than 10 years. The metro area of Dallas, where Frisco is located, is ranked No. 5 on the Business Insider list. Metro Dallas experienced a net migration of 686,884 between 2010 and 2019 – roughly equivalent to adding a Baltimore or Milwaukee to the Dallas-Fort Worth area.