Study: Most of Portland’s jobs are near its core
City is avoiding job sprawl better than most of U.S., reports Brookings Institution
Daily Journal of Commerce
POSTED: 04:00 AM PDT Tuesday, April 7, 2009
BY SAM BENNETT
A new report by the Brookings Institution shows that the Portland metropolitan area continues to buck the trend of “job sprawl” seen in many large U.S. cities. Job sprawl is the loss of jobs from city centers to the suburbs.
The report, titled “Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment,” was released Monday and says that nearly 70 percent of the jobs in the Portland area are within 10 miles of the city center.
Sheila Martin, director of the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies, said the Portland metropolitan region’s urban growth boundary has created a “more compact region” that contains job sprawl. “Having jobs centrally located in a city where the jobs are easily accessible by public transit is important,” Martin said, “because not everyone can afford a car.”
The Brookings Institution report shows that, between 1998 and 2006, most metro areas saw a decrease in the share of jobs located within three miles of downtown – even though the number of jobs in all 98 metro areas rose in that period. The Brookings Institution is a nonprofit public policy research and education organization based in Washington, D.C.
According to the report, the decentralization of employment – or job sprawl – can undermine the economic health of cities and regions by boosting energy consumption and adding to the costs of building infrastructure for businesses that locate far from the urban core.
Job sprawl means longer commute times, “reduced innovations by lessening opportunities for firms to interact and exchange ideas,” and isolating low-income and minority workers in the urban core when jobs move to the suburbs, according to the report.
Ethan Seltzer, director of the Institute of Portland Metropolitan Studies at Portland State University, said “the idea that sprawl is not just residential is important.”
“A community is a place where a lot of different things happen in proximity to each other,” said Seltzer. “Portland, as a region, does that better than most.”
The most acute example of job sprawl, according to the Brookings report, can be found in Detroit. About 77 percent of the jobs are more than 10 miles from the city center.
“People sprawl has long been known for its effect on the environment, infrastructure, tax base, quality of life and more,” Elizabeth Kneebone, who wrote the report, said in a press release. “Now we must recognize what job sprawl means for the economic health of the nation.”
Portland’s “vibrant urban neighborhoods” help prevent job sprawl, according to Joe Cortright, an economist and founder of Impresa, a Portland economic analysis firm. “In Portland, there’s a tendency for people to live in close-in neighborhoods and that encourages jobs to stay closer as well.”
In addition, he said many cities in the United States provide economic incentives to lure big box retail stores and shopping centers to areas outside the downtowns, as a way to increase tax revenues. “That exacerbates the movement of commercial and retail jobs further out.”
Robert Puentes, a Brookings senior fellow, said in a press release that allowing jobs to shift away from city centers hurts economic productivity, “creates unsustainable and energy inefficient development and limits access to underemployed workers.”
Roger Hammer, an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology at Oregon State University, said the “major factor” preventing Portland’s job sprawl has been the urban growth boundary. Seattle, in contrast, has about 56 percent of its jobs more than 10 miles from the city center. But Hammer attributed that to the fact that Seattle, like Detroit, has seen its “major industrial centers already suburbanized.”
“If you’re limiting the housing growth on the far fringes of a metropolitan area, then you’re also limiting job growth,” said Hammer. The report said the Chicago area has about 69 percent of its jobs 10 miles or farther from the city center, Dallas has 67 percent 10 miles or more and Los Angeles has 66 percent.
Kneebone said despite the recession, she doubts the job sprawl trend will slow unless governments try to contain growth. “In this environment, we must be aware of every policy option we have available to us to reverse these job sprawl patterns,” she said.
Seltzer agreed that government can play a key role. In addition to supporting mass transit, as Portland does, he said cities should “work carefully, so that when roads are built, they’re done in a manner that helps meet a broader set of goals.”