Life after the pandemic will look different to millions of Americans. Working from home seems to remain, and that allows them to choose a life outside the cities. The shift is already visible; companies are pushing off their office premises in the big cities, workers are moving away.
Major metropolises along Americas coasts, such as New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have been irresistible magnets for decades. Thats where the vast majority of job growth sits. But living in these cities is now very expensive. Now that the connection between the place where you work and the place where you live is lost for a growing group of Americans, it offers new opportunities.
Demographers already speak of a trend break: away from the big cities on the coast, to the smaller towns in the interior. For example, according to the municipality of Tucson in Arizona, housing prices there are now 25 percent higher than a year ago. Tucsons never been through that before. With 520,000 inhabitants, it is a medium-sized city, for American notions.
House with a swimming pool
As happy as a kid, Calder shows his new pool. Until last month, he lived with his family in a small apartment in Los Angeles. “The children dont know what theyre going through,” he says shimmering, “all of a sudden they have a garden to play in, and a swimming pool for themselves.” Calder moved with his wife Lisa and two children from the crowded LA to the space of Tucson, Arizona.
Inside, the moving boxes are still in the living room. “In Los Angeles, we paid $300 more a month for less than half the living space,” says Lisa from the kitchen. She, too, is very happy with the transition to Tucson. “I feel like we can breathe again.”
Correspondent Lucas Waagmeester visited Lisa and Calder in their new house with pool:
Calder works as a PR manager of sports clubs and Lisa promotes major events. Their employers have both decided to continue to encourage home work even after the pandemic. “This way companies can offer their employees something extra: the choice to live more freely,” says Calder. “But they also have an advantage, because the range of talent they can choose from is growing.”
Tucson has a small university, but for decades, most of the students have moved away immediately after the study. To cities in California, or to New York or Chicago, where the tracks are and theres more rebellious. For example, there are countless smaller cities in Americas interior that would do anything to hold more people.
The municipality of Tucson seized the homework trend and started a subsidy program to attract people to the city. They could get help with the removal costs, for example, or in finding a job for a partner. And what happened then nobody saw coming: “It was overwhelming, we had to take the application form offline,” says Liz Pocock of Remote Tucson, the organization running the program.
“ We are now busy with the question of how to prevent a housing crisis in Tucson,” she says shocked. However, according to Pocock, the residents of Tucson see above all advantages. The people who come bring a new impetus, also to local business. “New restaurants and coffee shops are already opening in the city centre.”
“ Research shows that this is about 14 to 23 million employees who are now given the opportunity to live elsewhere,” says demographer Richard Florida, who is researching urbanization. “This is a significant shift.”
And these people can really choose to live in the countryside while continuing to do the same work. “It means smaller cities like Tulsa in Oklahoma, or Bentonville in Arkansas, or Tucson in Arizona, now have a serious opportunity to develop economically,” says Florida.
The demographer calls it “a new frontier”, a reference to the great migration of Americans who went west centuries ago from the east coast in search of unexplored land. “This is very close to the essence of America,” he says, “after that great migration came the frontier of urbanization, and now we have another one: that of working remotely in Americas small towns.”
Space and Freedom
Calder and Lisa are also noticing that something is really moving. “Half of the colleagues and friends we tell about our move turn out to have plans of their own,” says Lisa. “We are really part of a trend, a lot of people are working on it right now.”
The couple enjoys the space, the mountains and nature around Tucson. Something far away in Los Angeles. “The feeling that you can finally breathe in and out completely, have your own space. Youre not standing here in traffic, or in line at a store, it just feelsas freedom,” says Calder. “And in the meantime, we just have our job, and our income.”