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Covid-19 and the Effects on Urban Lifestyle

Covid-19 caused rapid changes to people’s lifestyles. Travel, trade, and social space are a few topics, among many, changed by lockdowns and pressures on the healthcare systems. With international lockdowns and social distancing to varying degrees, many people began to think about how they can best protect themselves in an urban world and the spread of Covid-19 (Biglieri, 2020). This article will follow a flow of events starting with 2020 through to the present day. With such a large scale to look at, it is best to represent movement through maps and geospatial data to help understand where and how people have moved. Looking at geospatial maps over time can also help with what factors could keep people in their new homes or eventually bring them back. We will start discussing these topics by looking at what happened in 2020 during the early stages of the Covid-19 response.

Early covid and the move from urban to rural – 2020

2020 was quite the year. With full lockdowns, how Covid-19 changed livelihoods, and healthcare systems pressured by high infection rates, it is no wonder that many people began to move to areas with more space. Looking at American cities over the first year of the pandemic, roughly 15% of people and businesses have moved out of the centres of large cities. (Ramani, Bloom 2021). This movement was primarily due to the price differences between urban and suburban regions. Similarly, Canada’s adjustments to the pandemic have shown that “lower levels of commuter traffic downtown have not resulted in population declines.” However, other data show that the populations of core cities across Canada increased roughly 10% from 2016 to 2021 (Statistics Canada, 2022).

To help reinforce the differences between Statistics Canada and the Ramani, Bloom article, Figure 1 below helps visualize why there are differences in the data with geospatial mapping.

Figure 1: Map shows the percentage change in inflow/outflow ratios during the pandemic compared to the year prior. Ratios are the number of people moving in divided by the number moving out. The map only shows metro areas with over 1,000 moves in and 1,000 moves out during both periods. Source: USPS, U.S. Census Bureau.

Figure 1, although clustered, has a meaningful message. There are far more gains in population by location, as there is an increase in people migrating into new areas. The most notable shift was the high numbers of people leaving New York/Manhattan for neighbouring regions such as Brooklyn and Hudson. With so much data to look at, applying a geospatial representation helps greatly with sorting data at a glance to the widespread scale covid has had. Similarly, figure 2 below helps by plotting confirmed cases.

Figure 2: Map of Confirmed Cases of COVID-19 (per 100,000 population) in the Conterminous 48 States. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7323165/

By mapping both movements and confirmed cases, it is clear where and why this movement happened. Geospatial data representation helps explore questions and narrows down answers we might be looking for. In particular, these two maps help reinforce our next topic for the rise of work-from-home conditions.

Changes due to work-from-home environments and continuing restrictions – 2021

Work-from-home environments were a must in 2020. Statistics Canada shows that at the start of the pandemic, over 40% of Canadians worked from home, as seen in figure 3 below. This percentage gradually started to drop off due to how covid was progressing and changes in restrictions. The combination of both social distancing and work-from-home environments becoming normal made it easier for some people to stay at home.

We still need to look at what particular people can continue to work from home. Working from home relies on education, industry, or region. People who work in an industry that can support work-from-home conditions and live in a particular neighbourhood within a city, these individuals can meet the demands. With this in mind, most households do not fall under the previously listed criteria. In 2022 restrictions have eased, allowing people to move more freely. However, the questions still stand as to if people are moving back to downtown cores and what will happen with vacant office spaces.

Figure 3. Percentage of employees working most of their hours from home, 2016 to August 2021. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/36-28-0001/2021010/article/00001-eng.htm

Present day actions. Are people moving back to downtown cores? – 2022

Now that restrictions are removed in many countries it is time to see if people are still moving to see if the push for suburban escape will stick. The best way to understand what may happen to the urban and suburban shift post-covid is to see how the new work-from-home model will hold up. It is projected “that American workers will supply about 20 percent of full workdays from home in the post-pandemic economy, four times the pre-COVID level” (Jose Maria Barrero, 2021). Statistics Canada also supports data that work-from-home conditions will stick for specific demographics.

Both American and Canadian data sets say that many households will continue to work from their homes, especially suburban, making the move back to downtown cores less of a reality. However, major cities are still growing across Canada and The United States. This may cause a shift in who will live in downtown cores in the future. Looking back at figure 1, this also helps reinforce that since there are still rapid changes happening, there can still be a lot of geospatial mapping projects that can continue the themes that have been discussed in this article.

Post-Covid Discussions

Overall, the events of Covid have provided many opportunities for geospatial analysis and research. As 2022 sees a return to pre-pandemic conditions, communities and cities should take advantage of how downtown areas have changed due to covid. Future discussions around what to do with high vacancy rates in office buildings, due to work-from-home conditions being the new normal, should look at how to occupy these buildings. One possible solution for office high rises is to use them as minimal space storage units. By already having large parking lots/docking bays, elevator systems, and simple navigation designs, storing smaller products within a certain space and weight limit within these buildings would be a major benefit to modern shipping. The opportunity to take advantage of utilizing vacant office buildings could benefit many people and welcome new opportunities and ideas for what cities may be able to evolve into. This may also give municipal governments opportunities to redesign and revitalize downtown zones to better accommodate modern standards of living.

Using this geospatial data may help cities predict future changes like Covid-19. By taking educated actions at the right time, cities and government bodies could offer more solutions that can still allow people to live regular lives. There can still be a lot to learn and improve on if research is done correctly given the data collected from the past 2 years.


Samantha Biglieri, Lorenzo De Vidovich & Roger Keil (2020) City as the core of contagion? Repositioning COVID-19 at the social and spatial periphery of urban society, Cities & Health, DOI: 10.1080/23748834.2020.1788320 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/epub/10.1080/23748834.2020.1788320?needAcces s=true

THE DONUT EFFECT OF COVID-19 ON CITIES (May 2021). Arjun Ramani Nicholas Bloom. NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH 1050 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02138. https://www.nber.org/system/files/working_papers/w28876/w28876.pdf

Tahsin Mehdi and René Morissette. Statistics Canada: Working from home in Canada: What have we learned so far? DOI: https://doi.org/10.25318/36280001202101000001-eng. Release date: October 27, 2021. Accessed on: April 13, 2022. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/36-28-0001/2021010/article/00001-eng.htm

Statistics Canada: Working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. April 2020 to June 2021. Released at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time in The Daily, Wednesday, August 4, 2021.

Click to access w28731.pdf

Statistics Canada: Canada tops G7 growth despite COVID. Released: 2022-02-09.


More Americans Are Leaving Cities, But Don’t Call It an Urban Exodus, Bloomberg. Marie Patino, Aaron Kessler and Sarah Holder, Graphics by Jackie Gu and Mira Rojanasakul. April 26, 2021.

Zhang CH, Schwartz GG. Spatial Disparities in Coronavirus Incidence and Mortality in the United States: An Ecological Analysis as of May 2020. J Rural Health. 2020;36(3):433-445. doi:10.1111/jrh.12476.