Aug 31, 2022 - News

Salt Lake's downtown is No. 1 for pandemic recovery

Illustration of a city with confetti coming down over it.  
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Downtown Salt Lake City is seeing way more activity now than before the pandemic, according to a new analysis of phone location data.

Driving the news: Salt Lake has North America's most recovered major downtown — by far, according to data from UC Berkeley.

  • Researchers used phone location data to see how many visitors were at places of interest — such as shops, restaurants, offices, parks, sports venues — in the downtowns of 62 cities in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Salt Lake City saw 55% more visitors in May 2022 than in May 2019.
  • Only three other downtowns saw more activity this year than before the pandemic: Bakersfield and Fresno, California, and Columbus, Ohio.

The big picture: The shift toward remote work during the pandemic gave people the freedom to leave expensive or crowded cities — and those downtowns tended to have a harder time recovering.

  • San Francisco had the lowest recovery, with just 31% of the activity it had in 2019.
  • Cities with fewer professional, management and science jobs lost fewer people.
  • Cities with more service workers also recovered more easily.

Of note: COVID-prevention policies — like mask mandates and crowd size limits — didn't correlate with faster or slower downtown recovery.

Between the lines: In spring 2020, downtown Salt Lake had about half of the phone traffic it did in 2019.

  • The biggest gains were this spring, when activity rose more than 25% over the previous few months. In fall 2021, activity rose more than 20% from summer.
  • Downtown activity here rose relatively consistently in the two years after the pandemic began, compared to other cities, which saw sharper declines at various points.
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