Study: Bakersfield, Fresno rank among best for post-pandemic downtown recovery

The San Joaquin Valley’s largest cities boasted the best downtown bounce-back, a university study found.

Fresno and Bakersfield are two of the best performing cities for their post-pandemic downtown recovery, according to a new study from the University of Toronto. 

The University of Toronto’s School of Cities placed Bakersfield and Fresno as second and third in its downtown recovery rankings, respectively. 


The backstory: The study focused on 62 cities across the United States and Canada that have a population of at least 350,000. Researchers looked at metrics from March 2020 to May 2022 as they measured downtown recovery. 

  • Researchers usually use metrics such as vacancy rates, public transportation ridership and retail spending to measure downtown vitality. The University of Toronto analyzed mobile phone data containing user locations to track downtown activity patterns and compared data with pre-pandemic levels. 

Driving the news: Researchers found that downtowns that have struggled to bounce back from the COVID-19 pandemic are more likely to be larger and more densely populated, with a larger professional and tech sector. 

The big picture: Bakersfield and Fresno have not only bounced back from the pandemic, but their downtowns are two of the only three medium-sized cities to surpass their pre-pandemic metrics. 

  • Bakersfield ranked second – only behind Salt Lake City – among medium-sized cities with a 117 percent score in the study’s recovery quotient. 
  • Fresno ranked right behind with a 108 percent score. 
  • Omaha (92 percent) and El Paso (91 percent) rounded out the top five. Bakersfield and Fresno also ranked higher than Sacramento (80 percent) and Oakland (46 percent). 
  • Columbus was the only large city to surpass pre-pandemic metrics at 112 percent. The Central Valley’s two largest cities performed better than San Diego (89 percent), Los Angeles (61 percent) and San Francisco (31 percent), all of which have significantly larger downtowns. 

State of play: As part of the study, researchers proposed several policy recommendations to aid in downtown recovery. 

  • Those recommendations include facilitating loans for retail businesses, filling empty storefronts and offices at steeply discounted rates and invest in public transit systems. 
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