I could drive a Caterpillar D6 to work and still use less fuel than most folks do in their commute. That is because I choose to work less than 2 miles from my office, out here in the northern suburbs of Phoenix (and, when it is not 110 degrees out, there is a bike path that takes a more direct route that is even shorter). There is no place I would choose to live anywhere near the central business district of Phoenix; if my job was downtown, rather than in my suburban neighborhood, my commute would increase to sixty minutes per day rather than six.
So, I wonder why the movement of jobs from city centers to suburbs has the Brookings folks so upset. If your remember, urban planning types lamented the move of homes to the suburbs, saying this increased commuting time and energy use. Now that the jobs are moving out to the suburbs as well, close to where people actually live (rather than where the planners want them to live), this increases gas use and commute times as well?
Since 1998, almost every major American metro area has seen a drop in the share of employment located downtown as jobs have increasingly moved into farther-out suburbs, exacerbating "job sprawl" "“ a phenomenon that threatens to undermine the long-term prosperity of the nation's vital economic engines, according to a report released today by the Brookings Institution.
""˜People sprawl' has long been known for its effect on the environment, infrastructure, tax base, quality of life, and more. Now, we must recognize what "˜job sprawl' means for the economic health of the nation," stated Elizabeth Kneebone, author of the report and senior research analyst at the Metropolitan Policy Program.
"The location of jobs is also important to the larger discussion about growing the number of jobs," said Robert Puentes, a Brookings senior fellow. "Allowing jobs to shift away from city
centers hurts economic productivity, creates unsustainable and energy inefficient development, and limits access to underemployed workers."
The economic productivity argument has me totally flummoxed. Are they really arguing that companies purposely reduce their own productivity and access to labor? Why? This makes no sense, and as the Anti-Planner points out, goes totally unproven in their study.
The only possible argument I can see is a government one, that somehow suburb infrastructure by being more spread out is more costly per person than urban infrastructure. But this is a point that has never been well proven, and is a classic case of looking at just one variable in an multi-variate system. Sure, I would guess the total miles of sewer pipe and roads per person is greater in the suburbs than the city. But the cost of land acquisition, infrastructure construction, and maintenance are all lower. It is not at all clear how these balance, and the authors do not even try to figure it out. I would be surprised if the government infrastructure costs per person in, say, Scottsdale is really higher than in Manhattan.
In fact, if there is an issue here, it strikes me it is more a government pricing issue than a demographic issue. If government is somehow taking a loss on suburban vs. urban infrastructure, then it needs to rethink its tax structure to appropriately set property taxes and fees to match actual costs. But I think we all know that this is NOT the problem. Where suburbs are separate cities from the inner cities, those cities tend to have lower taxes and healthier budgets than their inner city cousins, giving the lie to the statement that suburban infrastructure is somehow more expensive (or, as a minimum, that any increase in costs are more than offset by other cost advantages to government of the suburbs).
And all this ignores the individual rights issue of why government should be influencing the shape of people's living and commuting choices at all. Note the very suggestive words in the Brookings press release -- "Allowing jobs to shift away from city centers hurts economic productivity," as if the location of my employees requires government approval. It's amazing to me that the children of the sixties grew up to be such control freaks.