Data show that people are still avoiding downtown Minneapolis

My great-aunt smoked a pack of cigarettes a day and died in her mid-80s. Does this prove that smoking isn’t harmful? Of course not. Longevity is affected by many things. To assess whether smoking is harmful to you or not, we would be foolish to look at one story. Instead, you want to collect a large number of stories, call it data, if you like. These will show you that, on average, smoking is harmful and that my great-aunt got lucky.

This seems pretty obvious, but it is amazing how often people dismiss data — generally data that doesn’t fit with their priors — based on one anecdote that doesn’t fit the model. Here is a case in point:

This, of course, is idiotic in the extreme: the equivalent of seeing my great-aunt chuffing away at 80 and assuming that smoking is safe.

Data — not such stories — tell us that businesses are, indeed, fleeing downtown Minneapolis. Data also tell us that people are avoiding downtown Minneapolis.

The University of Toronto’s School of Cities has been looking at cell phone activity at points of interest (POI) in the downtowns of the top 62 cities in North America and comparing the most recent period to pre-pandemic spring 2019 to assess the recovery of these downtowns from COVID-19.

Figure 1 shows how activity in the cities in the United States has recovered from COVID-19 by Spring 2023. Only four are above their pre-pandemic levels: El Paso, Fresno, Bakersfield, and Salt Lake City. Columbus, OH, is the best-performing city in the Midwest, having recovered 89% of its activity.

Data show that Minneapolis is towards the bottom of the ranking, having recovered just 40% of its pre-pandemic activity, above only Portland, Cleveland, and San Francisco: not the sort of company we want to be in.

Figure 1: Recovery of downtown to Spring 2023

I don’t like this any more than the next chap, but we are not going to tackle the problem by pretending it doesn’t exist because it took someone an hour to drive across town when Ed Sheeran played a concert.