The pandemic will make suburban, exurban and rural life more tempting for some, but cities will survive.
Harvard economist Edward Glaeser opens his 2011 book, “Triumph of the City,” with this observation: “Two hundred forty-three million Americans crowd together in the 3 percent of the country that is urban.” Reading that nine years ago, I found it fascinating. Rereading it earlier this week, as I sheltered in place with my family, I found it a little frightening.
There is general agreement that the coronavirus pandemic will change how we live—fewer handshakes and large indoor gatherings, more teleconferencing and masked faces—at least in the short run and perhaps permanently. But it may also affect where we live.
What’s certain is that social distancing in America is not a problem for anyone who wants to practice it. In fact, “all of humanity could fit in Texas—each of us with a personal townhouse,” writes Mr. Glaeser, and China’s population alone is more than four times the size of ours in a slightly smaller land area. Even when you include rural residential areas, less than 10% of the U.S. is developed, and forests alone cover more than five times as much land as all the cities and towns in the country put together. Environmentalists and population-control advocates gripe that the country is already “full,” but the reality is that the U.S. is closer to being empty. If we want to spread out more, we’ve got the space.
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