How COVID is Helping City Dwellers Discover the Appeal of CT’s Downtowns

The COVID-19 public health crisis hit New York City particularly hard, with more than 220,000 cases and 22,000 deaths as of late July. These numbers spurred an early exodus from New York City for folks who have since made Connecticut their permanent home. According to the United States Postal Service, more than 10,000 New York residents have requested a permanent address change from New York to Connecticut since March.  In some counties, this represents a ten-fold increase over prior year’s data.

In recent years, millennials and boomers have flocked to live in urban centers in major cities seeking better career opportunities, a vibrant walkable community, reliable public transit, and access to arts and industry. In the wake of COVID-19, the personal decision for many New Yorkers was that the population density creates a high risk of infection, does not provide adequate access to open space and safe, socially distant outdoor activities. Individuals and families were quite literally stuck in their homes with much of the workforce moving to remote work for the past six months. Connecticut became desirable place to permanently settle rather than just a destination to temporarily escape city-life.

Connecticut has historically been viewed as suburban to city dwellers, but what we’ve known all along, and New York City residents have since realized, is that we have the same amenities of a metropolitan area, but at a smaller scale, with lower cost of living, more open space recreational opportunities, and robust downtown districts. We provide what humans crave – authentic social experiences, inspirational places, and affordable lifestyle.  In short, Connecticut offers quality of life.

With offices beginning to open back up in in New York City, the lure of shorter (or no) commute time, paying less in rent, and greater access to outdoor activities (and a yard), many employees have remained working remotely…from Connecticut. While no major companies have yet to relocate from New York City to Connecticut, it may be only a matter of time before they choose to follow the workforce, opening satellite offices near employees or relocating their companies completely.

So, what does this influx of residents mean for Connecticut? Nothing has changed about what we have to offer, rather what we have to offer suddenly became more desirable. How can we make the most of this opportunity and foster momentum to create positive and healthy communities?  I believe these changes and the resultant growth in population can mean great things for our communities, for industry, and an opportunity to cultivate what we’ve always had: fantastic downtowns, an innovative work force, and a commitment to positive quality of life.

With the increase in residential populations we will see an increase in income tax and personal property tax and we hope that economic development will follow, lowering taxes for all of us. A rise in industry and companies investing in the State will provide budget relief to our state government. Municipalities will have a robust opportunity to come into their own and spur smart growth for our downtown districts.

Connecticut has weathered the COVID-storm well, our numbers have been low, and throughout the State we’ve seen the resilience and innovation of citizens, small business owners, municipalities, and public/private partnerships to bring together the community in a safe and healthy way. From virtual happy hours, parking space and streets converted into outdoor dining, the opening up of farmer’s markets with safety measures in place, and pocket parks developed to host outdoor art and culture events, these out-of-the-box venues and events have confirmed that our downtowns are safe and enjoyable. Recently, our downtowns have served as a setting for citizens of all walks of life, driven by a passion for equitable communities, to congregate in peaceful and safe demonstrations that strive for racial justice. This confirms what we know, that together we can create vibrant and thriving communities.  Connecticut has just proven to the world that we can thrive in the next era, when commitment to public health and a balanced approach to sustaining community and quality of life will dictate the success or failure of a region.  I’m looking forward to some great years ahead in Connecticut!

 

 

About Ted DeSantos, PE, PTOE

Ted is a Senior Vice President and Community Development Business Line Leader at Fuss & O’Neill. A recipient of the President’s Award from the Connecticut Chapter of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, Ted currently works with state, municipal, and private development clients to organize and manage projects from concept to construction. He has a passion for smart growth and is optimistic about the quality of life and the future of downtown developments in Connecticut. He has served as the Board Chair for the Connecticut Main Street Center Board of Directors, a statewide non-profit catalyzing downtown growth and prosperity. Ted’s experience with complex urban sites and their environmental, transportation, and site development challenges is a natural fit for the mission of Connecticut Main Street Center. He also currently serves as a member of the Board of Directors for Leadership Greater Hartford, and the New England Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.