Democratic cities San Francisco, Cleveland and Portland, Oregon, have the most deserted downtown areas in the US in the wake of the pandemic, which has driven away workers and tourists, according to a new study.

Researchers at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley found that San Francisco’s downtown was only 31% active between March and May, compared to pre-pandemic levels.

That was followed by Cleveland, Ohio, with 36% of downtown recovery and Portland, Oregon, with 41%. Notably, all three cities are majority Democratic.

Researchers used GPS location data from 18 million smartphones to track how often their users visited various cities throughout the US and Canada, and they then compared that activity to 2019 levels.

Detroit and Chicago’s downtown areas did not fare much better in terms of activity, with just 42% and 43%, respectively, followed by Indianapolis and Minneapolis with 44% each. Raleigh, North Carolina with 45%, and New Orleans and Oakland, California scored 46%.

A new study found that San Francisco's downtown area was the most deserted in the nation in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
A new study found that San Francisco’s downtown area was the most deserted in the nation in the wake of the COVID pandemic.
Bloomberg via Getty Images
This chart from researchers at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley shows the rankings of downtown areas based on recovery rates.
This chart from researchers at the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California at Berkeley shows the rankings of downtown areas based on recovery rates.
Institute of Governmental Studie

On the other end of the spectrum, the study found that downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, enjoyed the most robust post-COVID recovery, with activity level soaring 155% compared to 2019.

Downtown areas in Bakersfield, California, and Columbus, Ohio, also have been humming with activity, measured at 117% and 112%, respectively.

The list of the top 10 busiest downtowns also includes Fresno, California; Omaha, Nebraska; Baltimore; El Paso, Texas; San Diego; Tampa, Florida; and Honolulu, Hawaii.

New York City’s downtown recovery ranked 14 in the study at 78% compared to 2019. The pandemic sent many residents fleeing the Big Apple, scared away by soaring COVID rates, skyrocketing crime and rampant homelessness.

Downtown Cleveland was just 36% active in the spring of 2022, compared to 2019.
Downtown Cleveland was just 36% active in the spring of 2022, compared to 2019.
USA TODAY Sports
The downtown area of Portland, Oregon, was third most deserted in the US, based on GPS data from smartphones.
The downtown area of Portland, Oregon, was third most deserted in the US, based on GPS data from smartphones.
REUTERS

The study attributed the slow recovery rates in cities like San Francisco — the capital of the US tech industry — to remote work, business closures, loss of business travel and consumers’ growing preference for online shopping.

At the same time, San Francisco has been experiencing a crime epidemic, with assaults, thefts and rapes being on the rise.

Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the tech hub at the heart of the Bay Area has become synonymous with homeless encampments and harrowing images of unhoused people shooting up drugs in the street.

Other progressive cities on the list, including Portland and Chicago, likewise have seen rising crime rates, according to the latest data from their respective police departments.

Downtown Salt Lake City was the nation's busiest, boasting 155% activity recovery rate.
Downtown Salt Lake City was the nation’s busiest, boasting 155% activity recovery rate.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

But the academics at Berkley suggested that the lack of activity in the worst-performing downtown areas was most closely tied to economic factors, such as the lessening demand for downtown real estate due to remote work.

The authors of the study warned that “to survive in the new era of remote work, downtowns will need to diversify their economic activity and land uses.”



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