City Life Will Be Fine

The current pandemic has resulted in a lot of speculation that city life will be forever altered. Journalists and academics have made claims that current practices will become normal, that people will be hesitant to go back to the old ways once the pandemic is over and that these new norms will increase the premium given to space. I disagree. While there will be some hidden changes that are likely to become embedded in the background of society, things will return to normal and city life will go on.

The reason that I am sure city life will go on is that the population distribution of city sizes within nations are still [1]. City-size distributions among most countries across the world approximately follow the Zipf distribution, even if not exactly [2]. The Zipf distribution works well as a good first approximation [3]. For as far back as we have data in the U.S., the city-size distribution has remained unaltered [4]. Even the destruction brought by an atom bomb doesn’t stop the return of city life, Hiroshima has over a million inhabitants today. Large cities are incomprehensibly resilient.

To suggest that cities, and the advantages of proximity, will be forever diminished as the result of a single pandemic is short-sighted. Moving forward, it is likely that western cities will likely set up task-forces to stockpile masks and keep an eye on world developments, having been let down by their national governments. Such changes will be relatively mild and are exactly what makes cities so resilient. Cities learn and adapt as circumstances arise. Cities adjust and move on. City life will return, just as it has always done.


[1] Duranton, Gilles. “Urban Evolutions: The Fast, The Slow, and The Still.” The American Economic Review (March 2007): 197-221.

[2] Soo, Kwok Tong. “Zipf’s Law for cities: a cross-country investigation.” Regional Science and Urban Economics 35 (2005): 239-263.

[3] Duranton, Gilles. “Some Foundations for Zipf’s Law: Product Proliferation and Local Spillovers.” Regional Science and Urban Economics 36 (2006): 542–563.

[4] Black, Duncan, and Vernon Henderson. “Urban Evolution in the USA,” Journal of Economic Geography 3 (2003): 343-372.

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