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Aerial view of downtown San Francisco at sunset, San Francisco, CA. (Photo: Saraporn/Shutterstock)

New Report Shows San Francisco Has Worst Downtown Recovery Rate Of Any Major US, Canadian City

Bakersfield and Fresno saw unprecedented growth

By Evan Symon, May 6, 2023 2:30 am

A new report released on Friday found that San Francisco currently has the worst downtown recovery rate of large cities in the US and Canada, coming in with only 32% recovery of activity before the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the report, conducted by the University of Toronto in Canada, downtown activity was measured by the number of smartphones pinging off of cell phone towers in the central city areas.  Data from 2019 and early 2020 was then compared against data from 2022 and early 2023.

The report found that most California cities are well on their way to getting back to full strength. Two cities, Bakersfield and Fresno, saw unprecedented growth, coming in at 118% and 115% respectively. Salt Lake City had 139% more activity than before COVID. San Diego (93%), Sacramento (75%), San Jose (71%) and Los Angeles (62%) were also shown to be well on their way to recovery, having climbed significantly in activity within the past year.

However many cities skewed with progressive policies and were shown to have not recovered much following the pandemic. Oakland, for example, is only currently at 47%. Nationwide, cities like St. Louis and Portland, Oregon are at the bottom, with St. Louis in particular reported to be the second worst with only 38% recovery. But it was San Francisco that was far and beyond the worst, being the only major city to not even have their downtown come back by a third of their pre-pandemic levels, scoring only a 32%.

“Unfortunately, some downtowns are still stuck,” said University of Toronto School of Cities Director Karen Chapple on Friday.

Many reasons have been put forward on why San Francisco’s recovery has been so low and slow to improvement: high crime rate, high homeless population, mass layoffs in the city, fewer office workers going downtown due to layoffs or working from home, a high number of businesses leaving the city, high vacancy rates, high costs, not enough police officers, and a progressive justice system have all been put forward by experts, with many noting that they are all connected.

“Everything you just listed is connected with each other,” explained Frank Ma, a former law enforcement official who now works as a security advisor for businesses in San Francisco and cities in the Peninsula. “You have that 32% figure and San Francisco being a ghost town in many places because city officials failed the city in so many places. And this is how bad it has gotten. San Francisco is trying to bring back businesses with incentives, but they won’t really come back unless the crime situation improves, they can get enough business, and they’ll know that they are safe. Likewise, you can bring in low-income housing, but that won’t make the drug problem better or have more businesses return to the down town.”

“The city has to do a lot at once, everything from removing progressive crime policies to reducing homelessness, for it to really work. I’ve had clients who noted that maybe foot traffic is up, but everything else is happening so their business isn’t really doing better. Of course the number of people using smartphones is going to be way less there. Everyone is being scared away  by a combination of several things. Everything is finally hitting home all at once.”

More reports on the city’s overall economic and crime situation are expected in the coming months.

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Evan Symon
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11 thoughts on “New Report Shows San Francisco Has Worst Downtown Recovery Rate Of Any Major US, Canadian City

  1. hey evan, covid ismt over and some of us have gealth issues that stillake covid deadly
    if you dont retract this article and stfu, i will have no choice but to track you down and shut you up permanently

    1. How ironic that you label yourself “Antifa” – short for “anti-fascism” – and yet by threatening a journalist you become an example of fascism.
      Congratulations on the hypocrisy.

  2. ^^^This hateful comment above demonstrates why SF is slow to recover. Not a single rational person would voluntarily return to that city amongst all the hate, crime and filth. It once was a vibrant, fun beautiful place to live, work and visit.

    1. Even today it’s still not okay to make death threats to reporters, whether in a comment, a phone call, an email, a letter, or in person.
      I expect that The Globe is getting to the bottom of this and taking the appropriate action.

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