Visitation concentration
How many unique visitors per month appear in each 50x50m grid cell in 2022
Business Score
How many unique businesses are open in 120-min commute to/from each street block in Midtown in 2022
Uneven commercial potential
Defined by LRS that compares visitation and business numbers in 120-min commute from each street block in Midtown
Where are people going?
Unique monthly visitors (score, July 2022)
Block-level trends
Big data reveals localized impacts across Midtown
Where are businesses located?
Unique businesses (score, July 2022)
Key gateways
to Midtown
Selected Midtown
Midtown is crossing with other areas' commute rings
To shed light on these questions, the Jacobs Urban Tech Hub at Cornell Tech partnered with Habidatum, an urban analytics firm.

Looking at data on population movements and business locations, we found that Midtown remains the functional center of a fast-expanding region. Zooming in to the block level, we show how this expanding reach is rewriting the competitive landscape for commercial real estate throughout the region's most important central business district, putting buildings in more direct competition with outlying areas and neighboring cities.
But is there a silver lining for New York City in a future of hybrid work? What role will Midtown play when commuters take advantage of newfound freedoms to move further out from the region's core? And how will extreme commuting reshape the map of the Northeast?
More than three years after the arrival of COVID-19, New York City's recovery continues. However, home-based work is still widespread, leaving many office buildings under-utilized. Anxiety about the future of Midtown Manhattan and other commercial centers is growing as the region restructures around new work arrangements.
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Unique visitors
Number of monthly visitors to average Midtown block has recovered to near 2019 levels (July 2019 = 100)
Mobile phone location records reveal that the total monthly number of visitors to Midtown has recovered to near pre-pandemic levels.
Cities have bounced back before. What's different today is our ability to see this process play out in real-time through the detailed data generated by digital networks.
Midtown Manhattan is busy again.
Diversity of business establishments
Sectoral diversity of business establishments within average Midtown block (2019=100)
Number of business establishments
Number of business establishments within average Midtown block (2019=100)
Unique visitors
Number of visitors to average Midtown block (2019=100)
What we found is alarming. The number of businesses on the average Midtown block continues to decline — and that pattern appeared to accelerate between July 2021 and July 2022. However, the diversity of businesses remains strong.
People's decisions about where to work, learn, shop, and play can change rapidly. But businesses' decisions about whether to open, close, or relocate take place more slowly. To understand business resilience in Midtown, we calculated how the number and diversity of active businesses changed on each Midtown block from July 2019 to July 2022.
BUSINESS DIVERSITY REMAINS HIGH across Midtown, even as many establishments vanished.
Area within 120-min commute
One-way rush hour travel time area (120 min, 60 min or less)

Between the region and Midtown
Even as the region's center has held onto its functions, the region itself is expanding as remote access loosens the glue between worker and office.

To understand how activity patterns have changed through the course of the pandemic, we defined a regional study area encompassing locations with a 120-minute rush hour transit commute of Midtown Manhattan.
This threshold assumes that many workers in organizations with hybrid work arrangements may only commute 2-3 days per week, but are willing to make longer commutes on those days, keeping their total weekly commuting time constant. In turn, the ability to commute over longer distances opens up new locations with affordable housing, good schools, and other amenities.

The impact of this redefined commute is stunning — expanding Midtown's potential labor market deep into Connecticut, eastern Pennsylvania, and upstate.
Surges in activity
Increase in total unique visitors (July 2019 to July 2020)
The new geography of work in the New York region was shaped by the migrations in spring and summer 2020. Mobile phone data reveals elevated activity levels in suburban communities where workers stayed home.
But New York City's population fell by more than 336,000 people in the first year of the pandemic, according to Cornell University's Program on Applied Demographics. Many of these migrants gravitated to resort communities along the Atlantic coast, upstate, and Pennsylvania's Pocono Mountains.
Area within X-min commute
One-way rush hour travel time area (X min or less)

Between the region and Midtown
Visitation recovery in %
Average street block's 2019 – 2022 visitation number comparison

Inside commute areas
We then measured mobile phone activity in each ring based on average number of monthly visitors, and compared the change from July 2019 (before the pandemic) to July 2022. What we find is that activity in outlying areas remains well above pre-pandemic levels, while the innermost ring — encompassing nearby residential areas in Manhattan — remains depressed.

Indeed, the further a place is from Midtown, the bigger the gain in activity. And these patterns show little change from 2021 to 2022, indicating a potentially permanent shift.
This new regional division of labor APPEARS LOCKED IN.
Pandemic restrictions and fears eased after vaccination campaigns in spring and summer 2021. But these new activity patterns have proven surprisingly sticky.

To better understand how remote work is distributed throughout the region, we further divided this expanded region into four sub-areas corresponding to rush hour travel time to Midtown Manhattan (less than 20 minutes, 20-40 minutes, 40-60 minutes, and 60-120 minutes).
None of these challenges is unique. Central business districts everywhere face similar shifts. But Midtown is especially well-prepared to tap a dispersing workforce. Major infrastructure projects such as East Side Access, the Gateway Program, and the possible new Midtown Bus Terminal are being delivered with fortuitous timing. These new connections allow Midtown employers to access hybrid workers living further from New York City than ever before.
Midtown is well-positioned for a hybrid future. But the pandemic accelerated the restructuring of the commercial property market.
But these new connections will also change how buildings in different parts of Midtown compete with each other. As the average commute grows, but becomes less frequent, the additional travel time involved in reaching different locations in Midtown becomes less important. This will give employers seeking office space more flexibility to choose between different parts of Midtown, bringing different submarkets into more direct competition.
Consider two blocks in Midtown, one located near Penn Station and the other near Grand Central Terminal. Using the pre-pandemic norm of a 5-day, 60-minute-maximum one-way transit commute, these two blocks map to vastly different market territory. However, under the "new normal" of 2-3 day, 120-minute one-way commutes, their accessible territory is essentially identical.
Differences of 120-min commute areas:
Magenta — larger commute area of Block 1
Blue — larger commute area of Block 2
Hatch line — overlap
Hybrid advantages
Expanded 120-minute commute rings from Philadelphia, Albany, New Haven, and Hartford could bring these cities' central business districts into direct competition with Midtown for workers
Midtown's hybrid advantage is not exclusive, however. The same dynamics also create the potential for increased competition from lower-cost urban centers in the Northeast.
Applying the same 120-minute commute to center city of Philadelphia, Albany, New Haven, and Hartford we find considerable areas of overlap — and likely future competition — in the labor market area defined by these extreme hybrid commutes.
Interactive map to explore midtown in more detail.
Click on each Midtown block and see:
1. Areas within 120- and 60-min one-way commute — boundary on the New York region map.
2. Scores (0-100) — numbers on the panel and colors on the Midtown map.
3. Heatmaps of Visitation, Business and Centrality Level* (combined Visitation and Business — see Annex for further explanation), defining each block's score — colors on the New York region map.
Business diversity
Business number
The Location Resilience Score (LRS), developed by Habidatum, combines the two indicators used in this study — mobile phone data that reveals where people go, and statistics on the number and diversity of businesses. This score is calculated for each block in Midtown and allows us to compare the relative commercial resilience of locations and how that resilience changes over time.
LRS measures and compares blocks' influence areas, defined by the travel time (60-and 120-minute commute). These influence areas are mapped for each Midtown's block. Their size and total values of mobile phone data and business indicators differ, which defines each block's score.
While the forces shaping the future of Midtown are global and regional in nature, the granularity of mobile phone and business data allows us to calculate highly precise analytics that synthesize multiple indicators of economic resilience.
See further details in the Data Dictionary:
Methodology notes:
● GPS data is approximated to the total population using available Census data.
● LRS is measured using the distance decay function.
Data sources:
● Visitation is assessed using GPS mobile phone data from Cuebiq (Spectus), enriched with additional proprietary and public domain GPS and Census data.
● Business numbers are measured using OpenStreetMap and Google data.
● Travel time is assessed using OpenStreetMap and Google data.
● Visitation — number of unique visitors in a geographic unit per month, shown in absolute numbers.
● Visitation Score — number of unique visitors in a geographic unit per month, shown as a 0-100 score where 100 is the highest number.
● Business number — number of open businesses in a geographic unit per month, shown in absolute numbers.
● Business diversity — number of open business categories in a geographic unit per month, shown in absolute numbers.
● Business Score — number of open businesses in a geographic unit per month and business categories, shown as a 0-100 score where 100 is the highest number.
● Centrality Level — a combination of Visitation, Business number and Business diversity in a geographic unit per month, shown in absolute numbers.
● Location Resilience Score (LRS) — a combination of Visitation, Business number and Business diversity in a geographic unit per month, shown as a 0-100 score where 100 is the highest number.
Temporal units:
● 2019-2020-2021-2022, average month comparisons.
● % Recovery — comparison between 2019 and selected year in %.
● Growth — comparison between selected years in absolute numbers.
Geographic units:
● Midtown — analyzed in the boundaries between 27-25th St and 59th St, comparative to the definitions of JLL, CBRE, Cushman & Wakefield.
● Street block / Block — 463 units within Midtown, bounded by street and avenue intersections.
● Commute area / Travel time area / Region — area defined by a certain travel time to/from a block (20 min - 40 min - 60 min - 120 min). Defined at rush hours when transit is more frequent.
Grid cell / Location — regular units within the region, sized 230x230m.