Demography | Large cities have faced COVID-19

The future of the great cities of the planet was uncertain at the beginning of the pandemic: would we see an irreversible exodus of populations towards the suburbs or rural areas? The latest data seem to indicate that city dwellers are quite happy with their lot, even if some have turned their backs on the city.

Nicolas Berube

Nicolas Berube

A recent study by King’s College London and the University of Paris shows that 63% of Londoners and 59% of Parisians are satisfied with their neighborhood as a living environment. In 2019, before the pandemic, they were respectively 64% and 53% to be of this opinion.

7 out of 10


Full moon over the San Gabriel Mountains near Los Angeles

Seven out of 10 people surveyed in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix and Philadelphia say they prefer to live in a large city, according to a Bloomberg / Harris poll of 1,200 people earlier this year. Of those surveyed, only 8% said they would rather live in the suburbs.

Broadway sold out


Spectators leave the Richard Rodgers Theater after a Broadway performance of Hamilton in Manhattan, New York on September 14.

A symbol of New York’s renewed vitality, the reopening of Broadway’s major theaters on September 14 sold out – for the first time since the onset of the pandemic, theaters were full. Spectators were required to show proof of vaccination upon arrival, as well as wear the mask at all times, with the exception of designated places to eat or drink.

87 444


View of downtown Toronto

This is the number of people who left Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver between July 2019 and July 2020, according to the most recent data from Statistics Canada. In the three years prior to this period, the average number of departures was 72,686. Therefore, the pandemic appears to have had a negative effect on some cities anyway.

4 of 5

This is the proportion of people under 45 among those who have left Canada’s major cities, according to Statistics Canada.

Less proud city dwellers


Passersby stroll down Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal.

The majority of Montréal residents (67%) say they are proud of their city. However, this is less than people who live in the suburbs, who are 83% of this opinion, according to a survey conducted by Radio-Canada in 2020.

Every year people come to the city and people go, usually to the suburbs. With COVID-19, we closed the border, so fewer people arrived and the movement of those leaving may have accelerated a bit. It doesn’t take big movements to make it look like an exodus. But in an exodus, we leave the empty house behind. In Montreal, there are no empty houses: only in terms of prices, we see that it is practically impossible to get a deal.

Jean-Philippe Meloche, Professor at the School of Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Montreal



London’s famous Tower Bridge

This is the proportion of Londoners who say they are satisfied with the municipal services they receive, especially when it comes to schools, transport and the police. This is a sharp increase: in 2019, before the pandemic, just 37% agreed, according to a survey by King’s College London and the University of Paris. In Paris, the level of satisfaction with municipal services increased from 41% to 51% during the same period.

Newcomers and students come to settle in the city, and there is no indication that this movement will stop. People do not change countries for pleasure: generally, it is to improve their living conditions. I do not believe that the place of Montreal, Quebec or Canada in the world has deteriorated to reverse migratory flows. The same with the city center: we no longer go because they ask us not to go. Eventually there will be returns, not like before, but wanting to be in high-density places, to socialize, I don’t think all of that is gone.

Jean-Philippe Meloche, Professor at the School of Urban Planning and Landscape Architecture at the University of Montreal

Changes appreciated


Avenue du Mont-Royal has become more pedestrian-friendly.

Deserted streets, closed shops … cities had to innovate to regain their dynamism after the Great Confinement. Montreal, for example, has closed some shopping streets to cars to encourage customer returns and make more room for pedestrians. However, although controversial, this pedestrianization seems to have been appreciated by the population. About 80% of respondents said they were satisfied with the pedestrianization of part of Avenue du Mont-Royal, and 83% said they appreciated the pedestrianization of Wellington Street in Verdun, according to a 2020 survey published by the City of Montreal .

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