The Harsh Future of El Paso

Here’s a great read from titled The Harsh Future of American Cities:

On the nation’s current trajectory, one of the most probable post-Covid future scenarios in our cities is stark austerity, with empty coffers for the very services and qualities that make for an appealing urban life — well-paying jobs, robust public transportation, concerts, museums, good schools, varied restaurants, boutiques, well-swept streets, and modern office space. There will be hopping pockets of the old days with adjustments for pandemic safety, but for years, many businesses could be shuttered and even boarded up, unable to weather Covid-19 and the economic downturn. Joblessness will be high, and many of the arts may go dark.

. . .

For the last couple of years, the top cities have been losing population, including New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, according to Brookings. The exodus has struck even San Francisco County, the capital of Silicon Valley. Who has been leaving, and where have they been going? A lot have been the same millennials now a little older and taking up residence on the outskirts of smaller metropolises like suburban and exurban Atlanta, Dallas, and Denver, where new jobs and affordable homes can be found.

The speed of the coronavirus’ attack on the cities has been brutal. In a recent survey of 2,463 cities and towns, half said they plan to cut public services to compensate for the loss of tens of billions of dollars in sales and income tax revenue; more than a quarter said they will lay off employees. New York suddenly has a 9% budget shortfall of about $8.1 billion. Ohio is a disaster zone all on its own, according to Brookings, with four of the country’s most cash-strapped cities.

Over the last six weeks, Congress and the Fed have allocated some $7 trillion in relief for businesses, hospitals, and workers. To call cities an afterthought would be an insult to the distracted many. The nation’s largest three dozen cities received 5% of the total voted by Congress, or $150 billion, to be doled out by the states where they are located. Afterward, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell advised cities and states that if they are in financial distress, they should declare bankruptcy. Senate and House Democrats say cities and states will be in the next tranche of relief, but McConnell has signaled there will be strings attached.

. . .

One conspicuous fallout is a potentially final blow to Main Street — the future likelihood that, when you walk or drive down your favorite roads, many of the shops and restaurants you love won’t reopen. In an April 22 note to clients, Barclays said Covid-19 had accelerated what it calls the “retail death curve,” the shift of business to e-commerce. Over the coming five years, 30% to 40% of still-existing physical shops will close, the bank said. Neighborhood shops hoping to survive may have to feature cashierless technology resembling Amazon Go, vending machine sales, and kiosks offering grab-and-go clothing combinations such as T-shirts, jeans, and jackets.

. . .

It will be the same with restaurant takeout and delivery. Restaurants will be far from finished as an urban thing. Some restaurants will vanish, but others will arise in their place. Dining out, however, may no longer be the main alternative to cooking at home. The winners will be Amazon and Uber, Walmart, DoorDash, and Target, whose boom in delivery will grow at almost everyone else’s expense. Other emerging businesses, perhaps to support the unicorns, will be reliable, close-at-hand farms growing enough food so the nearby city needn’t worry about future pandemic disruptions, said Alice Charles, a cities analyst for the World Economic Forum.

This article contains the kind of visionary thinking that should inform El Paso’s policy makers, and El Paso economic development strategy. It will, however, be ignored, because it doesn’t fit the plans and investments of the local bigs.

El Paso constantly plans for the present. Sometimes even the past. For instance, “Any city on the rise in America has a downtown arena and entertainment facility, and everyone knows that.” Arenas have been losing ground for at least ten years. so let’s hurry up and build one now.

El Paso needs visionary thinkers to lead us. Visionary thinkers that will use what we have without miring us in more debt.

Real visionary thinkers. Not con men propping up our ruling class with big ideas that we can’t afford.

Right now we’re in a hole so deep it will take us a generation to crawl out of it.

Let’s stop digging.


  1. Rich, an excellent article in Bloomberg today, with a focus on just Texas. It confirms everything you’re saying….but this is about ALL of Texas…so I can imagine how El Paso will suffer even more. El Paso has grown 8% in 5 years…so that’s 1.6% growth rate. Last year El Paso grew by 0.30%…1/3 of 1% doesn’t seem like we’re a “boomtown.” Build it and they will come doesn’t exactly work in El Paso.

  2. Basically, cities across the nation have been fooling themselves all along, just like El Paso. No planning has ever been done to accommodate unusual and disastrous events like this pandemic, while there has been an over reliance on uncertain, fickle sources of revenue. (Shades of Cortney Niland, and her need for new ‘revenue streams,’ or whatever the hell it was she went on about). Just as we need to be prepared for the extraordinary events that affect our household budgets, cities need to plan and react appropriately. That is why the years of neglected maintenance will now show us that we have even bigger problems than just budget shortfalls. El Paso will likely suffer more than many other cities across the nation, but then, we’ve been there before, too. Maybe we can finally find some folks willing to roll up their sleeves to get to work for the people of El Paso, instead of just the businesses. I can see it now. No public transportation; maybe private bus companies. Dirty, dusty streets. Few street lights. It is depressing, no? Maybe it is payback for all the years that the pubic has failed in its civic duties?

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