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Blame lockdowns for urban doom loop in Portland, San Francisco

May 04, 2023

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Some studies show the COVID-19 lockdowns had a negative effect on mental health in the U.S. There is also evidence that stay-at-home mandates helped spur spikes in crime and the general deterioration of conditions in once-thriving cities.

Straight Arrow News contributor Tim Carney says lockdowns are to blame for the urban doom loop afflicting cities like Portland and San Francisco.

A vicious cycle is when bad conditions cause things to get even worse. The urban doom loop is a specific vicious cycle in which crime, social decay, or loss of business causes depopulation, and more loss of business, which in turn creates a fertile environment for more crime and social decay, and so on. Many U.S. cities have been hit by crime waves since the lockdowns emptied out the streets and shuttered stores in 2020. Sociologists and urban historians have explained for years that regular foot traffic from families, shoppers, and workers makes a neighborhood safer. When that foot traffic decreases, criminals, drug users, and vagrants take over the sidewalks. 

If you’ve ever seen a neighborhood improve, you’ve seen the opposite of the doom loop. An ambitious businessman opens a diner, or maybe a highly-regarded retail chain takes a chance. Soon, people have legitimate reason to walk down Main Street. This brings in more businesses, which brings more shoppers and families, and so on. Portland’s Pearl District was exactly this sort of story. It went from an industrial neighborhood to becoming one of the hippest, most desirable urban neighborhoods in the country. For the past few years though, it has descended into anarchy, crime, drugs, and filth, after lockdowns, protests, and a general acceptance of homelessness and drug abuse. 

REI’s only Portland store was in the Pearl District, but it just closed after the company reported “its highest number of break-ins and thefts in two decades.” Similarly, Whole Foods closed a fairly new store in San Francisco due to shoplifting, violence, and attempts at defecation in the aisles. And D.C.’s Metro System has seen collapsing ridership since before the pandemic, and an increase in crime and violence since the lockdowns.

A Whole Foods in San Francisco has shut its doors. REI, the famed hiking and camping store is closing its location in Portland, Oregon’s storied Pearl District, and in D.C. area, Metro System is warning of massive reductions in service. It’s the dreaded urban doom loop, which is plaguing more and more cities since the pandemic.
A vicious cycle is when bad conditions causes things to get even worse. The urban doom loop is a specific vicious cycle in which crime, social decay, or loss of business causes depopulation, and more loss of business, which in turn creates a fertile environment for more crime and social decay, and so on. Many US.. cities have been hit by crime waves since the lockdowns emptied out the streets and shuttered stores in 2020. Sociologists and urban historians have explained for years that regular foot traffic from families, shoppers and workers makes a neighborhood safer. When that foot traffic decreases, criminals, drug users, and vagrants take over the sidewalks.
If you’ve ever seen a neighborhood improve, you’ve seen the opposite of the doom loop. An ambitious businessman opens a diner or maybe a highly regarded retail chain takes a chance. Soon, people have legitimate reason to walk down Main Street. This brings in more businesses, which brings more shoppers and families and so on. Portland’s Pearl District was exactly this sort of a story. It went from an industrial neighborhood to becoming one of the hippest, most desirable urban neighborhoods in the country. For the past few years, though, it has descended into anarchy, crime, drugs and filth, after lockdowns, protests, and a general acceptance of homelessness and drug abuse.
REI’s only Portland store was in the Pearl District, but it just closed after the company reported “its highest number of break ins and thefts in two decades.” Similarly, Whole Foods closed a fairly new store in San Francisco due to shoplifting, violence, and attempts at defecation in the aisles. And D.C.’s Metro System has seen collapsing ridership since before the pandemic, and an increase in crime and violence since the lockdowns. Metro might make trains less frequent, thanks to the drop in revenues. Less frequent trains will mean more people give up on riding Metro and instead get a car or move.
Likewise, losing a Whole Foods and an REI will decrease the law-abiding, money spending clientele in those San Francisco and Portland neighborhoods. These changes will just cause more crime, which will scare away more families and consumers. There’s no easy way to reverse an urban doom loop. And so at best these cities can serve as a warning to others. Never accept mass homelessness and crime, and don’t ever again consider lockdowns.

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