U.S. mayors 'bleak' about recovery from pandemic's effects

by Carey L. Biron | @clbtea | Reuters
Thursday, 3 December 2020 11:00 GMT

People walk wearing protective face masks by a closing store in the Queens borough of New York, U.S. as the global COVID-19 pandemic continues, November 16, 2020. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

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National survey finds particular concern over schools and downtown businesses

By Carey L. Biron

WASHINGTON, Dec 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The nation's mayors hold bleak outlooks about the future of U.S. cities after the coronavirus pandemic, a major survey showed on Thursday, worried that workers will avoid offices and public transit and neighborhoods will not recover for years to come.

City leaders fear small closed-down businesses will not quickly be replaced by new ones, and renters, immigrants and minority-owned businesses will suffer long-term distress, said the annual Menino Survey of Mayors, conducted through August by Boston University's Initiative on Cities.

Nearly half of the 130 mayors surveyed said they expect dramatic cuts to school budgets, and about a third foresee major cuts to transit and social services.

"We knew it would be bleak, but maybe it was even more so than I expected," said David Glick, associate professor of political science at Boston University and co-author of the study.

Past findings have indicated where to expect policy changes, and this year's results point to a focus on schools and on downtown commerce and business, Glick told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The findings also suggest changes that may become permanent post-pandemic, such as street design, planning and land use, he said.

Glick pointed to the potential need for more bicycle infrastructure or fewer downtown shops, offices and restaurants, given new transit and economic patterns.

The results also showed a need to improve public health and housing - areas exposed by the coronavirus as inadequate and inequitable, he said.

The importance of local leadership to spur action and innovation "cannot be overstated," said Clarence Anthony, head of the National League of Cities (NLC), an umbrella group.

"There are still dark days ahead in the absence of federal aid in response to this pandemic," Anthony said in an email.

The NLC has forecast a $360 billion gap in city revenues nationwide through 2022.

Nine out of 10 cities expect to be less able to meet the fiscal needs of their communities next year, compared with eight in 10 this year, the NLC said.

Among cities, the survey found a wide variation in recovery expectations, said Michael Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Worst off are major employment centers that draw a lot of commuters but have a small resident professional base, while medium-sized cities and "bedroom" suburbs with a large professional class rather than an industrial base are likely to fare better, he said.

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(Reporting by Carey L. Biron @clbtea, Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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