Work from home trend is killing downtown Toronto, experts say it could get worse
Over a year and a half into this pandemic, I can honestly say that I never fail to get stuck on a crowded streetcar in downtown Toronto every morning.
But I miss Soup Nutsy, CJ Lunchbox, Green Box, Little India, and the many PATH stores I frequented for last minute gifts and replacement mittens.
Hopefully these businesses will be exactly where we left them in March 2020, when COVID-19 hit and scared everyone from their desks for the safety of their homes. But it is unlikely.
New data released today by the Toronto Region Board of Trade (TRBOT) shows the city’s downtown core continues to lag behind in terms of economic recovery compared to other parts of what it calls the âInnovation corridorâ.
A large geographic area anchored by the Toronto, Hamilton and Waterloo regions, the corridor in question has been divided by TRBOT into five different âbusiness districtsâ for its new Recovery Tracker tool.
âThe Recovery Tracker is intended to provide businesses, political leaders and other interested parties with the knowledge and trends that will help inform future strategic and investment decisions,â said Jan De Silva, President and CEO from TRBOT in a press release announcing the new online dashboard. Friday.
âAs we continue our economic recovery and begin to envision a return to power – once the time is right – it will become increasingly important to better understand how different types of businesses have been affected by COVID-19, and what is their recovery. Looks like. This is what the Tracker aims to inform. “
So it’s no surprise that downtown Toronto includes its own neighborhood, officially known on the tracker’s website as âThe Metropolitan Centerâ or âMCâ.
What may be surprising is how badly this district is doing compared to the other five districts (a map of which can be seen here.)
“Since the start of the pandemic and the closures that followed, in-person consumer spending has fallen in the MC, declining by more than 60% during the initial lockdown,” reads a report on downtown Toronto, in particular, released in conjunction with the tracker.
âWhile other business districts have seen a gradual pick-up in consumer spending as the lockdown was relaxed, spending levels in the MC have remained suppressedâ¦ This is likely due to continued restrictions in the city of Toronto due to a high number of COVID-19 cases, a limited volume of day workers and a strong presence of one-story retail stores and regional malls in the MC. “
The report, titled âChallenges Today and Futureproofing for Tomorrow in the Metropolitan Center of Canada’s Innovation Corridor,â explains that consumer spending experienced the largest decline (80%) in the entertainment and travel sectors.
One only needs to walk through the ghost town that was once the financial district on a weekday to see how much restaurants, bars, retail stores and hotels are suffering from the pandemic.
Analysts at TRBOT’s Economic Blueprint Institute attribute most of the drop to two things: a shortage of tourists and the widespread shift to remote working.
âThe combination of the exodus of day workers and the lack of foot traffic from national and international tourism has effectively halted economic activity in the district and the massive drop in in-store consumer spending has undoubtedly hurt thousands of small business owners, âthe report reads.
“With rising vacancy rates for office buildings, falling transit riders, sustained declines in consumer spending and widespread job losses, the MC has taken a terrible blow.”
With around 67 percent of the employees in this neighborhood currently able to work from home, it’s easy to see how the once bustling nucleus has become so quiet. What’s harder to predict is when things will bounce back … if they ever do.
As many employers have announced plans to reopen their offices this summer as Ontario skyrockets through the first two stages of reopening, the emergence of a fourth wave driven by the highly contagious Delta variant has set a turning point. in these plans.
It seems more and more that as the months go by, many people will continue to work from home, at least part of the time. CBRE economist Richard Barkham is quoted in the TRBOT report as saying surveys predict a 32% drop in the number of days workers spend in the office.
âThe shift to remote and hybrid working arrangements is expected to continue, with far-reaching ramifications for urban inequalities, downtown recovery and demand for office space,â the report read, which reads. warns that “the ‘rigidity’ of remote work areas and the slow rebound in the tourist economy will have lasting effects” on the entire region.
But all is not gloomy: the council also offers a host of potential solutions to help enable a successful long-term recovery for downtown Toronto’s economy.
The proposed measures include the ‘requalification and skills upgrading’ of vulnerable MC workers who cannot do their jobs remotely and urges governments’ to increase their flexibility with regard to regulations and policies regarding the use. buildings and public space.
And with respect to remote workers who are reluctant to leave the comfort of their home office, the report states that “employers need to configure desks to support social interactions and collaboration, which will be one of the main reasons why workers will return to the office “.
For my part, that’s what I’m here for.