Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
University of Minnesota researchers have mapped how disadvantaged neighborhoods stand to gain.
In the U.S. overall, there aren’t enough jobs to go around. But that’s not the case in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, where one job opening exists for each unemployed person, according to a 2015 report. The problem, however, is that while these vacancies are clustered in the suburbs, the people who could potentially fill them live in the urban centers. As with many other U.S. metros, prospective workers in the Twin Cities remain disconnected from job-rich areas.
A group of researchers at the University of Minnesota, led by Yingling Fan, associate professor at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, took a deep dive into this spatial mismatch in a new report. Using GIS mapping, they visualized the potential effect of recently proposed transit expansions in the region. Below are their two main findings:
Disadvantaged neighborhoods would see significant gains
The map below, from the report, shows the number of job vacancies that are accessible within 45 mins—by foot or via public transport—from a particular area. The warmer the color, the larger the number of easy-to-reach jobs:
Generally, the urban core generally seems pretty well-connected. But on closer examination, it’s clear that neighborhoods in North Minneapolis, despite their proximity to downtown, are faring pretty badly with respect to job accessibility. The Brooklyn Park neighborhood, which is northwest of the metro region, and eastern Saint Paul also contain neighborhoods with low transit access. Some context on these areas, via the report:
Disadvantaged urban areas with low transit accessibility—particularly North Minneapolis—frequently have high levels of local bus service. However, this service is often quite slow, meaning that transit- dependent workers living in these areas face prohibitively long commutes even to spatially proximate jobs. In such cases, a transit-dependent worker may have a short walk to a bus stop and a short wait for a bus, but still face an unreasonable commute.
The regional transportation plan that the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota adopted in 2015 would yield dramatic improvements in job accessibility for these disadvantaged neighborhoods in city centers, the researchers find. They estimate that light rail expansion would yield a 23 percent increase in job accessibility for Brooklyn Park. North Minneapolis and the Gateway Corridor along I-94, east of St. Paul, would see an 18 and 17 percent improvement, respectively. In fact, these are modest estimates given that the changes to the bus routes in the region haven’t been finalized, and therefore are not taken into account in this analysis. Upgrading the bus service is expected to boost the benefits even more. Here’s what job accessibility would look like once these changes to the regional transit system go through:
To make the gains to these neighborhoods even clearer, the report includes the another map, which shades the region based on the magnitude of change between current and the future scenarios. The warmer the color of the area, the more job-accessible it is:
These results may seem obvious to some, but the report really spells out their meaning:
The accessibility benefits to disadvantaged areas largely accrue from faster regional mobility, bringing more employment centers within the allowable travel time. Though fewer in number than local bus routes, light rail and BRT lines allow transit users to cover distance sufficiently faster to have significant accessibility even beyond immediate station areas.
Workforce development needed in the broader strategy
While transit accessibility is a key aspect of the story in the Twin Cities, it’s only one part. For the region overall, the report finds a need for a broader strategy that includes skill development and targeted recruiting. Via the research brief:
Transit planners and workforce development professionals see a need for greater coordination, particularly in suburban areas. There also is broad agreement that connecting urban workers with suburban jobs requires addressing the first-mile/last-mile problem at the worksite end of the commute.
After examining the job market in the region, the report finds that, in industry sectors with the highest demand for labor, most positions offering a livable salary don’t even require high educational attainment. It would be in the economic interest of businesses in the suburbs to direct recruiting efforts beyond their immediate vicinity, and make sure their workers have transportation options to and from the nearest transit station, researchers suggest. But connecting the unemployed to opportunity would also be a moral choice.
“If you’re meaning to hire a large number of people for relatively entry-level positions,” Andrew Guthrie, a research fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs who worked on the study, tells CityLab, ”it makes sense both from a business-efficiency perspective—and also from a social-equity perspective.”