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Gensler Surveys City Dwellers on Why They Stay and Why They Want to Leave

Nine months after first surveying residents of four major cities—New York City, San Francisco, London and Singapore—in the early stages of the pandemic and lockdowns, Gensler followed up in 10 cities worldwide. This follow-up to a pair of four-city surveys conducted in May and August of last year was conducted to see how urban residents were doing as the world approached one year of living with COVID-19 and mass vaccinations began in many countries. 

The results were consistent with last year’s findings in one top-line respect: 28% of respondents said they wanted to move out of their current cities, or the same percentage who wanted to leave New York last year.

However, Gensler says this doesn’t necessarily mean a wholesale flight from cities; the most popular destination for relocation is a city with a smaller population. “Urban residents are, however, eyeing these moves as solutions to ‘big city’ problems of affordability, crowdedness, and the loss of cultural heritage,” the design firm says in a report on the latest survey. 

To retain residents and attract new ones in the wake of these migrations, cities will need to focus on what people still love about urban living — great neighborhoods, employment opportunities, and multimodal transportation options.

Gensler identified five factors — the positive and negative influences — that predict people’s propensity to stay in their current city or leave it. “These factors can provide a blueprint for what cities can do to retain residents and attract new ones,” according to Gensler.

The three factors that motivated people to stay are “great neighborhood design, employment opportunities and transportation options,” says Gensler. “People who feel that their neighborhoods are beautiful, authentic, safe, clean, and pedestrian-friendly are more likely to want to stay in their current cities.”

Looking at employment opportunities, Gensler’s survey found that people need both job options and opportunities for career advancement. Lastly, “cities should take a multimodal approach to foster a seamless mass transit experience — one that not only accommodates cars but also integrates micro-mobility options.”

The factors that drive people to leave revolve around “big city” problems and affordability. “People who feel that their cities are too big, too noisy, too crowded, have too much traffic, and are losing their cultural heritage are more likely to consider relocating,” Gensler says. 

“Additionally, people who are living paycheck to paycheck, who feel that their neighborhoods are becoming increasingly unaffordable, and who feel the anxiety from these stressors, are much more likely to consider leaving.”

Regardless of the size of their current city, well over two-thirds of survey respondents who were considering moving say they want to relocate to a smaller, less populated location. These new destinations ranged from smaller cities to the suburbs and rural areas. 


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About Paul Bubny

Paul Bubny serves as Senior Content Director for Connect Commercial Real Estate, a role to which he brings 13-plus years’ experience covering the commercial real estate industry and 30-plus years in business-to-business journalism. In this capacity, he oversees daily operations while also reporting on both local/regional markets and national trends, covering individual transactions across all property types, as well as delving into broader subject matter. He produces 15-20 daily news stories per day and works with the Connect team and clients to develop longer-form content, ranging from Q&As to thought-leadership pieces. Prior to joining Connect, Paul was Managing Editor for both Real Estate Forum and at American Lawyer Media, where he oversaw operations at both publications while also producing daily news and feature-length articles. His tenure in B2B publishing stretches back into the print era, and he has served as Editor in Chief on four national trade publications. Since 1999, Paul has volunteered as the newsletter editor of passenger rail advocacy groups (one national, one local).