Graphic by K8 Strassman

Don’t Count Cities Out… Yet.

How Cities are starting to gain momentum and the suburbs are dropping.

Today, we’re discussing the momentum of Cities and Suburbs in the US.

With city dwellers moving out and landlords struggling to fill empty apartments, businesses and schools closing, protests, looting, increases in homelessness… among the privileged, many are trading in their city apartments for the more spacious suburban alternatives.

But the truth of the matter is, many young millennial and Gen Z city dwellers (couples and singles alike) haven’t given up on their cities just yet. Cities are nowhere near recovered but our MFactor data suggests that momentum for “cities” is picking back up (for now at least) as young people learn how to adjust to the new normals of living in the city, express optimism about the future state and are committed to being part of the revitalization.

While the pandemic accelerated the move out of the city for some young families and older couples, our MFactor data for suburbs suggests suburban living was just a fad for young Millennials and older Gen Zers during the initial panic. We’re seeing the momentum start to head back down as these younger generations realize the fresh air was… well… just a breath of fresh air this spring and summer. They aren’t done with their city life yet.

The Decode

ON THE UP: Cities

Momentum for cities is picking up as younger city dwellers (young millennials and older Gen Z) and local business owners express optimism and commitment to revitalizing their cities. MFactor is up from a low of 63 in May to a high of 89 in August.

Here’s how Cities are hitting all Five Drivers of Momentum:

  • Disruption: Quarantine ignited a fight or flight reaction. Those who had alternative options and decided to leave their cities during quarantine fled to places that felt more safe with more space, fewer people, and family members. Renting or living at your parents’ in the suburbs was appealing during the period of uncertainty. And for some city dwellers, it was initially a welcomed disruption from the constant city grind. But with the feeling of uncertainty and panic subsiding, city dwellers are ready to get back to their natural habitats in the concrete jungle.
  • Innovation: As we enter a new era of city living, we are looking to the culture, business, and government leaders to pave the way and set a vision for the future of the cities. Restaurateurs innovated with sidewalk dining, cocktails to go and outdoor bars. Now they are starting to set the vision for what this will look like through the colder months (heat lamps are just the start). Those that run public transportation and ride share are innovating on ways to make riders and employees feel more safe. Business leaders are innovating ways to get their employees back to the office (some are introducing contact tracing apps). Local governments are innovating on ways to get kids safely back to school.
  • Polarization: The million dollar question is when we can start #doingthings (@outdoorvoices) again. Some are jumping at the fact that being in the city makes it easier to safely “do things” again (i.e. socialize, go into the office, take public transportation, etc). But this doesn’t come without pushback. Companies like Facebook sparked discussion & debate as they went from talking about extended WFH to announcing the opening of their new office in a former NYC post office. Governor Cuomo’s announcement that NY schools can reopen fosters the ongoing debate about the pros and cons of kids getting back to in-person learning and their daily routines.
  • Social Impact: There is undoubtedly skepticism over how cities will get back to their glory days, particularly as so many local businesses are continuing to permanently close. City dwellers know that there’s no one person that can revive the cities alone — it will take a community effort. Optimistic young city dwellers recognize that they need to be part of the solution. Moving back, supporting small / local businesses, paying for transportation and continuing to take all necessary safety precautions are among the first steps towards revitalizing our cities.
  • Sticky: We are a country that has always bounced back. Cities across the country have struggled through hard times before and will make it through this too. And once they do… what’s more memorable than being part of the 21st century Roaring 20s?


What happened?

The novelty and allure of suburban living is wearing off and young millennial & Gen Z city dwellers (that were either renting or crashing with family) are ready to start moving back to their cities.

The MFactor for “suburbs” hit a peak of 60 this summer and is starting to drop, with velocity and mass both trending down.

What happened?

  • WFH/WFA went from productive to monotonous. remote work in the suburbs is not as glamorous as it first seemed. Weak WiFi, unexpected coworkers (looking at you mom!), no work friends or mentors to take coffee breaks with and no white boards to have lively brainstorms are making everyone miss the office.
  • Young people are running out of things to do. The walks around suburban towns or the weekend trips to the park were fun at first, but let’s face it- young adults without kids in the suburbs are feeling the FOMO (fear of missing out) as cities start to feel lively again and place like Chicago and LA start hosting social distance activities like drive-in movies.
  • They miss their friends and neighbors. Sure, people have kept up with their close friends and family during this time, but it’s actually casual friendships people miss the most: the buddy at the office or the neighbor down the hall.


Maybe you had fun exploring a new city or maybe you reverted back to your childhood relationships with your siblings, but if you identified as a “city person” in March, you are likely still a “city person” in September. And your city is ready to welcome you home: not with open arms, but with a mask and a bottle of sanitizer!

And what does this mean for the businesses and brands based in cities? The young people are looking to you to be the leaders setting the vision for what their city will look like 6 to 12 to 24 months from now. Give them a reason to come back.


About MFactor Scores: Decode_M’s proprietary tool.

The MFactor is a single score that quantifies Cultural Momentum and is based on the Newtonian definition of Mass times Velocity.

We use data science, inputs from thousands of sources and proprietary AI to compute new metrics that reflect how polarizing, innovative or sticky any subject of interest is.

The MFactor score can be tracked over time to compare anything you Google:

  • Brand / Product (e.g. across any industry or subcategory)
  • People of interest (any political candidates/politicians, celebrities, artists, etc.)
  • Political issues / movements / trends

Link HERE for more information on the MFactor score.




Momentum Maker, Author of Maximum Momentum, Founder & CEO of Decode_M

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Mike Berland

Mike Berland

Momentum Maker, Author of Maximum Momentum, Founder & CEO of Decode_M

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