Many are gravitating toward downtowns again, this time for after-work activities

Almost all major downtowns have less activity than before the pandemic during work hours, but they are starting to make up for it outside the work day.
Outdoor Dining NYC
Posted at 11:51 AM, Apr 26, 2024

New data suggests downtowns have picked up activity in the last year.

According to data from the University of Toronto's School of Cities,cellphone activity in large downtowns in the U.S. and Canada increased 9.3% from March 2023 through February 2024, compared to the same 12-month period a year prior.

Out of 64 cities monitored, 50 had increased cellphone usage, while 14 saw a decline.

The researchers say cellphone usage can be a proxy to give researchers insight into whether downtowns are recovering post-pandemic.

Minneapolis, Chicago and Louisville had the most significant recoveries in the last year among U.S. cities. Fort Worth, San Antonio and San Francisco had the most significant losses.

The researchers noted that these downtowns had slow initial recoveries.

"With a couple exceptions, the downtowns that are seeing the highest rates of activity increase, consistently higher relative to 2023, are the ones that were below 80% in our 2023 rankings," they wrote. "These cities seem to be trending towards recovery: Minneapolis, Montreal, Ottawa, Chicago, Louisville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Boston, Washington DC, and Toronto. In other words, their recovery may now be converging with the downtowns that largely recovered in 2023."

Researchers said that the most congested cities have had the slowest recoveries.

Their data also suggests that after-work activity is surging in many cities. They found that downtown activity is higher in one out of three U.S. cities than before the pandemic. Most of the cities with busy after-work downtowns are in warmer regions.

Although post-work activity in downtowns has recovered in some cities, nearly all U.S. cities still have less cellphone usage during work hours than prior to the pandemic.