Thursday, April 9, 2009

Jobs, like people, sprawled over the past decade …

   Okay, we’re in the middle of a recession in which nothing is being built, exurbs are hemorrhaging foreclosures, and we’re still shook up from last year’s spike in gasoline prices.  Does this truly signal the “end of sprawl,” as so many critics have predicted (hoped)?  Perhaps.  But if so, it will be something truly new, according to a new report on “job sprawl” by the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution (author: Elizabeth Kneebone).     
   The report studied private-sector jobs (remember those?) from 1998 to 2006 in the 98 largest American metro areas, which comprise about two-thirds of jobs in the country.  Despite the efforts of urbanism to bring “life” back to city, the report found that employment “steadily decentralized” in nearly all the areas, and that jobs “shifted away from the city center” in almost every private industry.
   The Brookings report also noted troubling policy implications for this continued sprawl.  Not only did the drift deplete the tax bases of central cities, but the movement of jobs to suburbs created an ever greater “spatial mismatch” between jobs and residents of color.  Interestingly, it also noted studies that suggested that decentralization tends to spoil interactive “innovation” (which reminds me of the ideas of Richard Florida; see Land Use Prof Blog, Feb. 20, 2009).  
  True, the report finished its study with 2006 data, just as the housing boom was ending, and just as the recession and high gas prices were hitting.  A follow-up report in 2019 might conclude that “jobs and middle-class families returned to the cities over the past decade, as the result of economic forces and smart land use laws to revive urbanism.”  But I’m not holding my breath ….

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