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The skyline of Austin, Texas, one of the midsize cities attracting remote workers. (Carlos Alfonso photo)

After the coronavirus outbreak hit early last year, many inhabitants of big cities such as Singapore and Paris took advantage of the shift to remote work to move out and move on.

Workers, no longer required to commute to the office, were lured by what smaller cities offered that large metropolises couldn’t: affordable housing, less crime, cleaner neighborhoods and decent infrastructure.

That allure continues a year later.

Twenty-eight percent of residents surveyed across 10 cities worldwide are considering a move from large metropolitan areas, with a small city or a suburb their likely destination, according to a survey by architecture firm Gensler. That number rises to one in three for those who can work remotely.

In addition, more than two-thirds of survey respondents who are considering moving seek to relocate to a smaller, less-populated location regardless of the size of their current city, the Gensler City Pulse Survey 2021 found.

“People who feel that their cities are too big, too noisy, too crowded, have too much traffic and are losing their cultural heritage are more likely to consider relocating,” Gensler Research Institute, which carried out the poll, said in the study. ”Additionally, people who are living paycheck to paycheck, who feel that their neighborhoods are becoming increasingly unaffordable and who feel the anxiety from these stressors, are much more likely to consider leaving.”

A focus on neighborhood design, transportation

In contrast,  only one in six urban residents are considering moving to a larger city, the poll found.

Does all of this mean the flight from big cities to smaller cities is permanent? Not necessarily, the survey says.

Large metropolises still can keep current residents from leaving as well as lure workers back, but they have a lot of work to do in addressing such “big city” problems as affordability and crumbling infrastructure, Gensler Research Institute said in the report.

“To retain residents and attract new ones in the wake of these migrations, cities will need to focus on what people still love about urban living — great neighborhoods, employment opportunities and multimodal transportation options,” the study said.

The survey also found generational preferences when it comes to relocation preferences.

Of those people who desire to move to a smaller city, millennials (those born between 1981 and 1996) are the age group most likely to relocate, with a preference for the suburbs, according to the study.

At the same time, of those who would consider relocating to a larger or similar-size city even given current affordability and infrastructure issues, remote workers are most likely to do so, the survey found.

The City Pulse Survey anonymously polled 5,000 urban residents in 10 international cities in January and February 2021.

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