Sunday, July 03, 2011

Job Sprawl And Cocktail Napkin Startups

Why does residential density matter? If a suburban enclave (like you would find in Northern Virginia) packs people in on par with with an urban living environment, is that as good as more people moving into cities? I'm not the least bit concerned about the geography of home. I'm only interested in where the jobs are located.

If you want to talk about the journey to work, then I'll listen. Few can afford to drive long distances for employment. There is a ton of captive labor out there, which explains the massive income discrepancies found in the wealthiest counties. Co-locating job and residence is a boon for those struggling to make ends meet. Bring geographic arbitrage to the people stuck in place.

As for job density, there isn't much difference between San Francisco and Silicon Valley. You can find tremendous benefits of talent proximity in either area. But moving Twitter from tech park to downtown isn't necessarily a win for urbanists:

That was an important lesson learned in the 1960s and ’70s, after urban renewal advocates like Robert Moses in New York bulldozed neighborhoods in hopes of starting afresh. Buildings with no space for shops rose on the scraped earth, and it took years for people to return to the sidewalks.

All of this comes to mind because San Francisco is offering tax breaks to tech companies that relocate their offices to the city’s blighted neighborhoods. Twitter will be the first recipient of this largess when it moves into new offices in the Furniture Mart on a particularly desolate section of Market Street next year.

Twitter, which is competing for talent with Google and Facebook, gives its employees free food. The question is whether those urban employees will leave the building often enough to dramatically improve the neighborhood.

Gabriel Metcalf, the executive director of the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR, an urban policy research group, says the impact of corporate cafeterias in an urban setting has not been rigorously studied. But, Mr. Metcalf says, “You certainly get more life on the street if everyone is going out to lunch.”

University of Pennsylvania. Yale. There are a bunch of urban campuses that, until recently, remained hermetically sealed off from the surrounding neighborhoods. Providing incentives for businesses and people alike to move into the city are not enough to spark revitalization.

That's a shot across the bow for those adhering too religiously to rational choice migration. Not all moving in is a win. San Francisco is chasing smokestacks. Bad policy all around.

What about encouraging more people to go out to lunch? Only now am I beginning to appreciate the wisdom of Aaron Renn's (The Urbanophile) recommendation:

My idea for today is a very simple one: change the local business culture so that it is not just tacitly tolerated but actively accepted to drink alcohol at lunch again.

The drive to work and to lunch have done a grave disservice to deals over cocktails. Golfing has filled the void admirably. One still has to get to and from the links. I'd bet drunk driving is more prevalent than anyone will admit. It's about time that boozing for biz and transit oriented development become (formally) acquainted.

There should be value in locating your company near a popular watering hole or exceptional dining. That is to say, the proximity to urban (or town) amenities matters to the development of your workforce. So Penn's or Yale's inner city location is an asset instead of a liability. Planning and zoning could be a lot more creative in addressing short-term fixes to regional problems.

No comments: