Location, Location, Location
American cities are in trouble. According to "Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment," a new report from the Brookings Institution, fewer and fewer people work in or near metropolitan downtowns, and more jobs are departing cities for the suburbs. The report, an analysis of the spatial location of private-sector jobs in the 98 largest U.S. cities (by employment), found that between 1998 and 2006, 95 of the cities experienced a decrease in the share of jobs located within three miles of downtown. And the larger the metropolitan area, the more likely people are to work more than 10 miles from downtown. In Detroit, Chicago, and Dallas, almost 50 percent of jobs are more than 10 miles from downtown. Elizabeth Kneebone, senior research analyst at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings and the report's author, said in an interview posted on Brooking's website that job sprawl "can undermine the economic health of cities."
John McIlwain, senior resident fellow and the J. Ronald Terwilliger Chair for Housing at the Urban Land Institute, offered ARCHITECT his thoughts on job sprawl.
How can architects, engineers, and urban land planners really effect change for the better, to limit such sprawl?
Job sprawl is a function of housing sprawl. We will never have all the jobs back in the city, but we are beginning to build housing around suburban job centers and link them with transit in many metro areas. This works well.
How important is smart urban redevelopment to limiting the problems associated with sprawl?
We need to redevelop the many rings of suburban development. Older, inner-ring suburbs are ideal locations for housing and jobs, but the middle rings also have centers developing. The "edge cities" are now attracting housing, which means we are developing smart, compact, mixed-use, mixed-income towns that circle around the central city. On the edges of metro areas, we need to build smartly—i.e., with compact, mixed-use, mixed-income communities instead of cul-de-sac suburban homes.
Do you think people are trending toward or away from wanting tolive in urban areas?
That depends on the metro area. The EPA released a study back in January that shows that a growing percentage of residential building permits have been issued in the core urban areas of half of the top 50 metro regions, and this number grew from 1990 through 2007. In several—New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles—the core had over 50 percent of the permits in 2007. So there is a definite trend back to the urban core, but not in every city.
Last week, 19 commercial real estate companies and the Department of Energy hatched a partnership to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The Commercial Real Estate Energy Alliance (CREEA) will work to link building owners and operators with research and technologies being developed by Energy's National Laboratories, and to share best practices. The CREEA joins the Retailer Energy Alliance (formed in 2008 with companies including Walmart, Target, and Macy's) as part of the agency's Net-Zero Energy Commercial Building Initiative, with a goal to achieve market-ready, zero-energy commercial buildings by 2025.
The National Audubon Society and the Natural Resources Defense Council have launched an online map of 13 western U.S. states highlighting areas that should be considered for renewable energy generation development. For example, some states—including Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Colorado, North Dakota, and South Dakota—are ideal for wind power. The map also shows areas where development should not occur because of concerns about wildlife and other issues.