Whether from pandemic or riots, our lifestyle is changing fast

Bloomberg and an associated company teamed up to analyze how Americans are using, or visiting, or interacting with, a number of institutions in our society, and compared it to pre-COVID-19 figures.  The results are eye-opening.

By counting phone signals in 15 designated areas each day for the past three months, the data offer a way to see how many people are returning to where they eat, play and spend money — at mega malls, upscale retail streets and nightlife hotspots. Golf courses are humming again, but so are the nation’s non-profit food banks, underscoring the gap between the haves and the have-nots.

The picture that emerges is not of a V-shaped recovery, but of an economy that’s being reshaped, taking its time to heal and threatening to leave permanent scars.

Like a Hurricane

Months of home confinement have left many Americans itching for a night out at the bars, or maybe a getaway to one of those cities where whatever happens there stays there.

Such is the allure of Las Vegas, Nashville and New Orleans. But pedestrian traffic in the main nightlife districts in the three cities ranges from just 15% to 44% of year-earlier levels, according to Orbital’s phone tracking data.

. . .

At the other end of America’s economic strata are those who find themselves without enough money to eat. In March, nearly 200 U.S. food banks suddenly became lifelines to the thousands who never needed such assistance.

Mauled at the Malls

As many as 25,000 stores are expected to close in the U.S. in this year, mostly in shopping malls, according to Coresight Research. Bankruptcies are piling up, leaving landlords and their retail tenants to worry about the future.

At South Coast Plaza in Southern California, the Mall of America near Minneapolis and King of Prussia mall northwest of Philadelphia, activity is returning slowly but still looks down 44% to 76% from a year ago, Orbital’s phone data show. That matches up with what mall tenants are seeing.

. . .

In upscale urban shopping districts from Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills to Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, the summer flocks of tourists aren’t materializing like usual and activity looks to be 25% to 36% of last year’s level.

There’s much more at the link.  Interesting and worrying reading.

What concerns me is that such economic effects aren’t being correlated with the influences that may affect them.  For example, if shopping districts are less patronized now than they were before, how much of that is due to lack of spending money (thanks to the economic consequences of COVID-19), and how much due to a lack of security in big-city environments?  If rioting mobs can strip Chicago’s Magnificent Mile bare, what hope do the stores there have of persuading regular shoppers to return?  I’d say it’s likely that the lack of security is a dominant factor, but I can’t be sure about that, because we simply don’t know the facts.

Wolf Street provides correlation of the Bloomberg report from other data sources.

… foot traffic in Kansas City is 74% of where it was in the week ended January 15; and … in San Francisco, foot traffic is 43% of where it was in the week ended January 15.

. . .

Foot traffic into the security zones of airports – the TSA’s daily checkpoint screenings, a real-time indication of how many people are flying – shows similar stall in the recovery, but a much lower levels, still down about 70% from a year ago.

. . .

Office occupancy collapsed in March and April as people stopped going to the office, and the 10-metro average hit a low of around 15% – meaning that office occupancy, as measured by employees entering the office, was down 85% from pre-Pandemic levels. Then there was a mild recovery. But the recovery stalled in mid-June. The average of the top 10 metros (red line in the chart) is at 22.6%, just below where it had been in the week of June 17.

Again, more at the link.

I think security – physical security – is going to be a dominant factor, reshaping the way many of us live, particularly in larger cities.  ASM286, blogging at Borepatch’s place, quotes Detroit mayor Coleman Young on the impact of the 1967 riots there:

The heaviest casualty, however, was the city. Detroit’s losses went a hell of a lot deeper than the immediate toll of lives and buildings. The riot put Detroit on the fast track to economic desolation, mugging the city and making off with incalculable value in jobs, earnings taxes, corporate taxes, retail dollars, sales taxes, mortgages, interest, property taxes, development dollars, investment dollars, tourism dollars, and plain damn money. The money was carried out in the pockets of the businesses and the white people who fled as fast as they could. The white exodus from Detroit had been prodigiously steady prior to the riot, totaling twenty-two thousand in 1966, but afterwards it was frantic. In 1967, with less than half the year remaining after the summer explosion—the outward population migration reached sixty-seven thousand. In 1968 the figure hit eighty-thousand, followed by forty-six thousand in 1969.

It’s no longer just “white flight”, of course – it’s the flight of economically self-sufficient people of all races from the rioting mobs who expect the authorities to support their lifestyle and put up with their nonsense.  People with sense won’t shop in riot-torn areas, won’t travel to cities where that sort of danger is more likely, and won’t spend their money there either.  More and more, average Americans are voting with their feet, as we’ve discussed in these pages on several occasions.  I think the exodus is growing by the day.

Cities who, by their tolerance of riots and unrest, have caused that exodus, will probably (and real soon now) rue the loss of ratepayers and consumers that it represents – because there’s nothing and no-one to replace them.



  1. No, "they" don't rue the loss of ratepayers or consumers. Those are just ways of treating people as things. "They", as in city governments and all the parasitic classes don't care about what it takes to continue in existence as a civilized city. It's not their fault, it's the fault of those who left.

    I don't much care for Rand anymore as Objectivism never felt the need to support the nation, people, or culture that allowed individualism to exist at all. Yet she certainly got the descriptions of the decline into the mud right. Watching the descent of tsarist Russia into communism will do that.

  2. I sometimes wonder if we are descending into the city described in Heinlein's "I Will Fear No Evil" and certain parts of city will simply be designated as "Abandoned Areas."

  3. Some cities do care. South Coast Plaza is an upscale mall and a cash cow for Costa Mesa as it does over $1 Billion in sales each year. When BLM rioters threatened to demonstrate at the mall the City declared a hard curfew 1 hour before showtime and the City PD and County Sheriff's Dept were out in force. No demonstrations and no damage to the mall property.

  4. The old normal is gone, never to return.

    The new normal is unknown, and will not resemble the current situation in any predictable way.

    All we can do is persist until then and manage as best as we can.

  5. Rents (from those still able to pay them) are reported down 2-6% over last year, and this is just the beginning. And those numbers are probably the rosiest shade of lipstick economists could put on the pig, to date.

    Malls, high-end rentals, and commercial real estate are about to surf this tsunami right into the ground when it really breaks.

    Mind the crashing real estate economy.

  6. I hope the people staying (by choice) in the cities learn to "appreciate" paying more taxes for less services. After all, they will need the money to support the local government – wouldn't do to reduce the size of any entity other than the police.

  7. Since you quote Coleman Young… when he became Detroit's mayor in 1975, instead of cracking down on the violent mobs that the taxpayers were fleeing, he mulcted Detroit's suburbs, the auto companies, the state of Michigan and the federal government of whatever money he could, to pay for a number of boondoggle projects that he thought would revive the city's economy. Which means he saw the problem as "all the rich people are running away", and not as what it was, criminals being allowed to riot and loot at will, so that anyone with the means left just to preserve their lives.

    Detroit could have recovered from the 1967 riot and its sequels. No city could have survived twenty years of rule by Coleman Young.

  8. Defund law enforcement, release suspected felons without bail, soak the taxpayers for everything you can squeeze out of them, allow "peaceful" protests that destroy millions of dollars in product and infrastructure, encourage the homeless and undocumented to move in and take advantage of very generous subsidies to all comers.
    Of course such a plan is sustainable. Just spend until the city is broke, take out loans until no one will buy your bonds any more, then expect a bailout from the Feds.
    Our major Democratically controlled US cities are dying, bled to death from self inflicted wounds.
    And who are we to stop them from choices the powers that be have freely and openly decided to operate by?

  9. Peter, are you familiar with Niven's 'Oath of Fealty'? Think we might start seeing a rise in 'secured' areas where you have little or no reason to leave them?

  10. @Dave: That was a very unrealistic series. Effectively, what it described was an utopian outpost, an island surrounded by a sea of poverty, deprivation and desperation. No such island can survive for long under those conditions. (I've seen them try, in more than one country. Demographics count, and the mob outside is always bigger and more desperate than those inside. Sooner or later, they grind them down.)

    The only worthwhile secure area for the medium to long term is where you keep your enemies at more than arm's length. You need space and time to defend your homes before they reach them. If you don't have that buffer zone, you'll be overrun in short order. That's why it's not a good idea to "shelter in place" in a collapsing urban environment unless there's absolutely no alternative. An individual or a family simply doesn't have the numbers or resources to survive when they're surrounded by those who are desperate or predatory. Rather get out of the danger zone, abandoning any and all non-essentials, and look for a place where you can fort up and see them coming.

    Once you find an area/tribe/group that accepts you and/or meshes with what you hold dear, by all means, stay with them; but remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. How many weak links are there in that chain? They need to be either reinforced, or removed and replaced by stronger ones. There's literally no alternative when it comes to surviving the bad times. Again, I've seen that in action before. Trust a weak link, and that weak link will take you down with it.

    Food for thought, no?

  11. @Peter: Hm. I dunno. Being willing to nail saboteurs with -nerve gases- strikes me as a hell of a deterrent. You're not wrong about proximity to mobs though.

    I still suspect we're going to see an uptick in 'high-sec' areas, but probably only after a precedent is set regarding the, ah, 'management' of rioting mobs. In other words, after a mob or two gets thinned out by citizens or private security with firearms.

    I wonder how eager some of these rioters would be to tear places up if they knew they might get shot at?

  12. @Dave: Please, please believe me. I speak from hard-earned, bitter experience.


    It's as simple as that. Distance is your friend. At a distance, skill counts. Up close and personal, skill is largely negated by numbers and collective mass. All an unskilled thug has to do is to get lucky, once. You have to stay lucky all the time to survive – and that's not going to happen.

    BTDT, got several T-shirts and not a few scars to prove it.

  13. @Peter, I'm the last guy who's going to argue with your experiences, but I also think I'm not being clear.

    I'm not talking about a mall cop and a motorized arm.

    Think retracting bridges and moats. Think guys armed to the teeth. Think defenses designed to military grade (and concealed tastefully when not in use).

    I just think the mob will look elsewhere for targets before breaking their teeth on something like that. If the Rooftop Koreans could fend off looters, imagine what a serious security cordon could accomplish.*

    * Gonna beat you to the punch here: this does not take into account political bullshit. I am well aware the current Leftist paradigm is to throw citizens and cops under the bus and suck up to the mob. I think the only way we're going to beat THAT is to make it clear such actions are considered treasonous — and punish them accordingly.

    But this is just my opinion, I could be wrong.

  14. There are many pictures of ghost towns from the days of the Gold Rush…why can't large cities, Detroit for example, which are foolish enough to alienate its tax-paying citizens and businesses be allowed to become ghost towns? Why does the State government and to some extent the Federal government keep putting money into these failed cities? When a business fails, it goes bankrupt, it gets de-listed from the stock exchange, and its directors are dismissed–why can't the same be done to failed cities–we have precedent in those ghost towns that dot the landscape.

  15. Personal observation. I had occasion to go to Lens Crafters in our local mall. Our city is a small (40-50,000 pop) city in Eastern Idaho. In the past, during the summer, the mall was usually crawling with Jr. High and High School kids, hanging out, eating in the food court and shopping. Last July, with both Penny's and Sears closed there was hardly anyone walking the halls, and maybe four tables occupied in the food court. Rather depressing overall.

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