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So long, 2020: the year our cities stood still

This year has challenged urban life like few others. But if there’s one thing we know about cities, it’s that they always come back

James Manning
Written by
James Manning

So 2020 was… interesting.

We won’t dwell on the details, but things haven’t exactly gone great this year for cities and those who live in and love them.

One of the cruellest things about this year’s events is how they’ve seemed to target the things that make life fun. Travel, culture, hospitality and even friendship have been through the wringer. Street life, social spaces, living in public – the things that make cities fizz – have faced a greater challenge in 2020 than at any other time in living memory.

We’ll never forget the haunting and eerily beautiful sight of city centres abandoned and empty in London, New York, Singapore, Sydney and so many more. And we don’t blame the hordes of people who, empowered by remote working, have left cities around the world in search of space, clean air and built-in social distance. We get it.

But it’s hard to stop a city. It takes something bigger than a virus. Take any great metropolis you like, punch its name into Wikipedia, and you’ll likely find it’s suffered plagues, fires, wars, earthquakes, occupations – pretty much everything you can throw at a place – multiple times over, and survived. It may not happen straight away, but we know our cities will come back swinging.

And why are we so sure? Because city-dwellers are the most resilient people around. This year, we’ve seen restaurants and bars become shops overnight; high-end establishments turn their hands to takeout, meal kits and cocktails-to-go; makers and creatives flip from physical to virtual; cultural venues do whatever it takes to make sure the show goes on, whether that’s stripping out half their seats or filling the auditorium with houseplants. We’ve seen culture-starved urbanites take to streaming theatre, drive-in movies and socially distant concerts like particularly classy ducks to water. And we’ve seen city-dwellers take to the streets for all the right reasons, protesting injustice under the banner of Black Lives Matter. Consider this a titanic ‘thank you’ to anyone who kept on healing, feeding, entertaining, caring and inspiring through the toughest of times.

There have even been some silver linings. We’ve gained a new appreciation for nature and animals in the city, for our neighbourhoods, and for the local businesses that keep cities on the rails. We’ve felt a renewed sense of solidarity, applauding health workers and taking part in citywide singalongs. Streets have been turned over from cars to alfresco dining, urban parks and… well, people. And, forced to slow down and look around, we’ve rediscovered the underground, the unsung, the sense of surprise and wonder that can be found in even the most seemingly boring city streets. Hopefully, plenty of what we’ve learned and felt about our cities this year will stick around.

Fortunately, we’re starting to glimpse the end of this particular horror show. There’s still a long road ahead, with the cruel twist of a Christmas lockdown in more than a few cities. But as we ring out 2020 across the world (good riddance!), it feels like the coming year could bring some sort of return for the things we love.

And as life seeps back to the world’s great cities, you can trust Time Out (as ever) to be your guide. Stick with us, and we’ll see you in 2021!

Watch our 2020 recap video and feel all the feels:

Now look back on some more actually good bits of the year…

🦠 Did you complete 2020? Take the ultimate end-of-year quiz

🎵 The 15 best new albums that pulled us through this year

📚 The 24 really, really great books that got us through 2020

🍳 The 17 cookbooks that made 2020 taste less awful

👀 The 21 TV shows that helped us escape in 2020

🥇 42 surprising things we achieved this year

🐼 The cutest baby animals born around the world in 2020

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