Wednesday, September 14, 2005

The importance of keeping jobs in the core

This Toronto Star article asks the question, "Is it a good thing if residents are moving into the city, but jobs are moving out?" Of course, it's better than both jobs and residents moving out of the city (like in the Rust Belt), but it's clearly worse than having healthy growth of both in a city.

...some are starting to question the wisdom of turning the city into a work-free zone. This is where people come to live and have fun, but increasingly their jobs are farther afield.

The traditional equation that had much of the suburban population heading downtown to work is gradually changing. More and more, people are driving from suburb to suburb or even from downtown to suburb to get to their jobs. Rush hour now happens in both directions, inbound and out, morning and night.

And because businesses in the city pay municipal property taxes at a rate 3.3 times that charged homeowners, the corporations are quietly abandoning the core for the hinterland.


For the moment, this massive influx of residents is seen as a good thing. Yet one wonders what becomes of a downtown where so few are actually employed. What happens to the tax base of a city that has been emptied of business?

In Houston, my sense is that traffic congestion is a bigger issue than taxes in determining where employers go. Houston has made substantial mobility investments to the core (both freeways and HOV lanes), so we have actually done a pretty good job of keeping jobs here. At the same time, we're starting to see a residential renaissance inside the loop. So, for now, Houston seems to be getting the best of both worlds. Keeping both trends going will require two things:
  1. Improving "quality of place" to attract new urban residents (an initiative of GHP, Gulf Coast Institute, and others)
  2. Continuing investments in mobility - both freeways and commuter transit - so existing employers don't leave for the suburbs
The majority of employees at most companies will remain suburban dwellers, mostly families, and it is critical that they be able to get into the city to their jobs. If that gets too painful, they will pressure their employers to move out to them. This is already happening to some extent, with substantial employment growth in Sugar Land and The Woodlands. A balance of core and suburban job growth is healthy, and even helps us better utilize our freeways by having reverse commuters. The key is balanced growth, of both suburban and urban jobs and residents. Most new job announcements seem to be in the suburbs (like the Citgo move to the far westside), so it is more important than ever to hold onto the existing core employers and their internal job growth to balance out the new jobs being attracted to the 'burbs.


At 10:35 PM, September 14, 2005, Blogger John Whiteside said...

Don't forget that quality of place is relevant to keeping jobs in the city (as well as residents), also. The same amenities that attract residents also make places desirable office locations - amenities near the office are good for workers, and save companies from having to include cafeterias, gyms, etc. in suburban office campuses.

At 11:04 PM, September 14, 2005, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...


You're generally right on this, although I'd add that we need to focus more on those things that truely distinguish Houston -- such as our steller museum district, beautiful parks, and our exceptional educational institutions (Rice, Baylor Med) -- while still keeping a streamlined municipal government with little regulation. If we try to start building heavy rail commuter lines, for example, I think we'll pull money away from more valuable projects.

If Houston could place HOT lanes on every freeway, with well-funded, cost-effective bus service along all major corridors, I think we'll maintain a vibrant downtown.


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