The first COVID-19 lockdowns in early 2020 encouraged people to flee the city in search of more space and fresh air.
But new Sky News analysis has found that people are now choosing city life again.
Manchester and London are the most popular places to move to, according to GP records – a good proxy for where people are deciding to live long term.
The population of northwest London and Salford, an area just a few miles outside Manchester’s city centre, rose by about 6% over the past two years.
Rent also points to the rising popularity of city life
Rents are on the rise and far above pre-pandemic levels, despite an initial dip when COVID-19 hit, according to data from SpareRoom.
Anthony Breach, senior analyst at the Centre for Cities, says that people are drawn by the wealth of work and leisure opportunities.
“After two years of not having any urban amenities, big cities in particular are even more attractive,” he says.
This was the case for Jo Threlfall, who moved from the West Yorkshire countryside to Manchester last year.
She says that the pandemic made her into a bit of a “hermit” but that moving to the city centre was the perfect opportunity to make new friends and socialise again.
“I really threw myself in at the deep end and it almost felt like I was back at university all over again,” she says.
“Manchester has lots of gigs and nightlife, and it’s a hub of vintage fashion – being a bit of a thrifter that definitely called to me.”
Who is moving back to the city?
Trends vary across cities. Manchester and London saw population growth across all age groups, but the largest increases were in people in their 40s.
In Liverpool, the number of people in their 30s rose nearly 7%, while Birmingham saw a decline in the number of younger people.
Mr Breach says that people of all ages are attracted by the social opportunities in cities, and that people of all experience levels, from graduates to managers, benefit from meeting co-workers in person.
This is one of the key reasons for the rising popularity of Manchester, which is “growing its role within the national economy”, he said.
“These post-industrial cities that had a very difficult 20th century have turned around and have become places of increasingly productive and specialised economic activity – and that process is still incomplete.”
Ms Threlfall is one of the people that moved to Manchester for her career.
She says she has always wanted to live there but only took the plunge after landing her dream job as head of PR at digital marketing company Embryo.
“I could see it was evolving to become a new hub spot for businesses and also for the digital marketing space as well,” she says.
“The long-term plan is to stay in Manchester for my career and for the other opportunities it offers.”
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