Cities have long been touted as the world's cultural centres, but for a brief period in the early 2020s, they became virtual ghost towns. The rise of the pandemic and changes in people's working lifestyles emptied out what used to be bustling urban centres of some of the world's most vibrant cities.

During the two worst years of the pandemic, people hunkered down at home and rarely ventured outdoors for anything but the life necessities they couldn't have delivered. The health crisis forever changed how people dined out, used public transportation, and shopped. But what could have resulted in a dystopian environment instead became a catalyst for change in how and where people decided to live.

Today, many people have prioritized lifestyle over work and have relocated to rural and regional areas, bridging the urban-rural cultural divide. Rural and regional areas are thriving with life, culture and the arts. With families moving away from the city-lifestyle, local economies are booming. In response, councils and governments of cities have opted to reinvigorate their landscape, further investing in an urban planning model within regional centres to create a stronger sense of connection amongst local residents and a greater sense of belonging.

Colloquially known as “15-minute cities” these new models have forever changed how people live. The concept has been shown to improve quality of life, minimizing travel between housing, offices, restaurants, and cultural venues. And they've made it possible for residents to fulfill the six critical social functions of living, working, caring, learning, supplying, and enjoying.

Still, urban experts warn that the popular design principle continues to exacerbate long-time problems like inequality, segregated neighborhoods, and discriminatory policing. Governments and businesses must persist in their efforts to explore and invest in sometimes drastic interventions and investments, using systematic and holistic approaches to address issues of social or environmental equity and justice.

Why did this happen?

During the 20s and 30s, millennials or those from Generation Y played a critical role in disrupting the norms of the average work-lifestyle and took a stand against companies that did not meet their needs and expectations by voting with their feet. They were the driving force to changes in corporate policies and standards, with organization's putting social issues at the forefront of their organization's mission and vision statements. Putting their money where their political beliefs laid, this young group of consumers invested in brands that stood up for causes their generation believed in. Most importantly, they boycotted those that did not. This created a culture of challenging society's expectations of what it meant to work for an employer.

The employment landscape changed as well, as job candidates began choosing future employers based on ESG or environmental, social, and governance factors. The Great Resignation that started in 2021 continued to drive changes in employer/employee relationships deep into the 20s. And by 2030, there was significant growth in the number of digital nomads in wealthy, industrialized nations who worked as freelancers or on a piecemeal basis, pursuing alternate careers aligned with their values.

Millennials who voted with their feet in 2021 are still using similar tactics in their mid-careers, placing a high value on being able to choose where they live and work, with no regard to location and geography.


The Great Resignation and Urban Migration has motivated more organizations to embrace diversity in the workplace. Legacy hiring and work practices have given way to people choosing to build their homes, careers, and networks within rural, suburban neighborhoods, including their hometowns.

Employers are benefitting, too, as the new skill-sets and cultures that bloom in rural and regional areas are helping them design and build new business models and innovative epicenters away from major cities. These rising startup communities are no longer the realm of traditional white-collar workers in the tech sector, either. Today they exist on a global scale, bursting with cultural, social, and artistic dynamism.

While there's still quite a way to go to address the socio-economic divides that still exist, a new “lost generation” of creators continues to revolutionize how we live and work. These modern-day Hemingways, Kahlos and Picassos celebrate diversity, embrace revitalization, and inspire others to bridge the rural-urban divide.

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Brittany Gaines


Jessica Davies

University of Leeds

Serena Gagliardi

University of Leeds


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