Maps

The Recession Halted Urban Job Sprawl

A silver lining.

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For most of the 2000s, jobs were sprawling alongside houses out of American cities and into the suburbs and beyond. From 2000 to 2007, the outer rings of metropolitan areas – those suburbs and exurbs 10-35 miles away from downtown – were gaining jobs at four times the rate of neighborhoods and inner-ring suburbs closer to the center of town. On the ground, you likely noticed this trend driving by a far-flung glass office park on an Interstate 45 minutes outside of many major cities.

This trend of decentralized employment has been bad for cities, and particularly bad for anyone who relies on public transit to connect to work. By and large, there's no bus route running from urban neighborhoods to that office park on the highway.

The post-2007 recession, however, may have brought cities a bit of a silver lining on the job-sprawl front. According to a new report from Brookings, that metropolitan outer ring shed jobs during the recession at a higher rate than downtowns and areas closer to it. The trend toward suburban job sprawl hasn't exactly reversed as a result, but it did stall during the recession. It's no coincidence that exurban job loss mirrored another geographic pattern during the recession. According to the report's author, Elizabeth Kneebone:

In fact, owing in part to the suburban-led nature of the housing market collapse and the downturn that followed, 45 percent of employment losses from 2007 to 2010 occurred more than 10 miles away from downtown.

During this same time period, the share of metropolitan jobs within three miles of downtown in America's 100 largest metro areas stabilized. That share, though, was still significantly smaller in 2010 than it was in 2000. This map from the report illustrates that more than 45 percent of jobs in many metros, including Chicago, Dallas and Seattle, are still located more than 10 miles from downtown:

So what will happen now that the economy is picking back up again? As Kneebone writes, "These trends suggest that, as the economy recovers, the outward shift of employment will also likely resume within most major metro areas." But a handful of them – Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis, San Francisco and Washington – have been actively trying to encourage denser suburban development and policies to lure jobs back to the urban core. Regions that resume their old growth patterns may find that new jobs aren't necessarily good jobs if they're in the wrong places.

Top image: Hank Shiffman/Shutterstock

About the Author

  • Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific StandardGOODThe Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.