Detroit, Grand Rapids are at two ends of ‘job sprawl’ scale

As policy-makers and regional leaders in Southeast Michigan, and other parts of our state, work to grow jobs and connect residents to economic opportunity following the Great Recession, it’s important to remember that with jobs, location matters. The location of employment within a metro area intersects with a range of policy issues — from transportation to work force development to regional innovation — that affect a region’s long-term prosperity and social inclusion.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Detroit.

The Brookings Institution recently completed an analysis of private-sector employment within 35 miles of a downtown (CBD ) in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas from 2007 to 2010. The major findings of the study were:

--Steep employment losses following the Great Recession stalled the steady decentralization of jobs that characterized the early to mid-2000s.

--Job losses in industries hit hardest by the downturn, including construction and manufacturing, helped check employment decentralization in the late 2000s.

--In all but nine of the 100 largest metro areas, the share of jobs located within three miles of downtown declined during the 2000s.

--A metro area’s total employment and policy and planning decisions around land use, economic development and zoning help shape the location of its jobs.

This last point was illustrated by the fact that while employment is more decentralized in metro areas with at least 500,000 jobs, such decentralization, in areas such as Chicago and Detroit, is characterized by the concentration of many of their jobs in dense locations outside the urban core.

The Detroit metropolitan area, comprised of the six counties of Lapeer, Livingston, Macomb, Oakland, St. Clair and Wayne, had the highest share of total jobs – 77.4 percent -- located 10 to 35 miles  from the Central Business District.  Figure 1 provides a set of comparison metros.

Grand Rapids, the only other Michigan metro in the Top 100, is included as a striking comparison to Detroit, with 85 percent of its jobs within 10 miles of its CBD.

Between 2000 and 2007, the nation saw a steady decentralization of jobs across the vast majority of metropolitan areas, with the outer ring adding jobs at four times the rate of the middle ring, and the inner ring experiencing job loss. This trend was stalled by job losses brought on by the Great Recession, leaving the overall job distribution relatively unchanged between 2007 and 2010.

The result, however, was that all but 9 of the 100 experienced a decrease in the share of jobs within 3 miles of the CBD over the decade. Meanwhile, the share of jobs in the outer ring increased in 85 of the 100 over the decade.

The largest increases in outer-ring growth were concentrated in the fast=growing areas of the South and Southwest, led by Phoenix, four metros in Texas, two in Florida, and one each in Arkansas and Oklahoma. The only area from the Midwest or Northeast to break into the Top 10 was Indianapolis.

The analysis from the Brookings Institution recognizes that a number of factors help determine where jobs locate within a region:

“As demonstrated by abrupt changes in employment levels following the Great Recession, the number of jobs — and whether that number is growing or declining —helps shape patterns and trends in the geographic distribution of  employment. In fact, the number of jobs that a region contains matters more to its degree of employment decentralization than the actual geographic size of a metro area. In general, the more jobs a metro area has, the more decentralized those jobs tend to be."

In metropolitan areas with fewer than 500,000 jobs, 30 percent were within three miles while 24.4 percent were 10 miles or more.  Metropolitan areas with more than 500,000 jobs exhibited a very different pattern, with 21 percent within three miles and 48.2 percent beyond the 10-mile mark.

Political fragmentation — or the number of jurisdictions within a region — also can influence job location.  Fragmentation has had a long history in Southeast Michigan and has contributed greatly to the sprawling of people and jobs.

The three-county core of the Detroit metro is home to 141 communities -- cities, townships and villages. Edward Glaeser and others found a significant relationship between the extent of a metro area’s fragmentation and its level of job sprawl, the Brookings report noted. Jobs tend to locate farther from the city center in regions with more political units, as employers look for business-friendly tax rates and local governments beyond the central city.

Does this sound familiar?

“To be sure, not all job decentralization is created equal. Traditional depictions of ‘sprawl’ focus on patterns of diffuse, low-density greenfield development at the fringes of metropolitan regions, whether they are actually growing overall or just growing outward as populations decline. But many regions are seeing suburban development occurring in denser ways — whether in new places or through retrofitting older communities — that can, for instance, facilitate transit connections. Among the 100 largest metro areas, 42 have at least half of their jobs in high-density ZIP codes. And for many of these regions, a sizeable share of metro area jobs locates in high-density ZIP codes outside the urban core,” Brookings stated.

Detroit topped the list for the most decentralized metro area and also ranked among the Top 10 for the density of employment outside the urban core.

Figure 2 identifies the top employment ZIP Codes in the tri-county area.

We recognize 48226 as the CBD ZIP, while 48202 sits just north and includes Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center and Vanguard Health System, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit Public Schools and the Michigan State Office Building among its major employers.

However, we see that ZIPs in Auburn Hills (home of Chrysler) and Troy (home of a vast tract of office buildings and the Somerset Collection) are listed as having more employees than the CBD ZIP.

Two Southfield ZIPs and another in Troy follow close behind.

These data provide additional documentation that show Oakland County – not Wayne -- is the jobs hub of the entire Southeast Michigan region.

A re-calculation of job sprawl from a central business district centered at Interstate 75 and Big Beaver Road would produce some very different results from the ones shown here.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Charles Richards
Thu, 06/06/2013 - 12:46pm
This is interesting, but not particularly helpful. A 3D graph of the Metro area with the height of bars for each zip code showing the number of jobs would have given a more intuitive feel for the distribution of jobs. Yesterday's (June 5, 2013) Wall Street Journal had a good article about Vancouver, British Columbia that detailed that city's effort to increase its density by encouraging the construction of cottages in backyards and the creation of basement apartments. They could do that because of the high demand for living space in the city. The attractiveness of the city evidently overcame the forces promoting decentralization. Perhaps it was a more homogeneous population. I think it is low density rather than the multiplicity of governmental units that accounts for our sprawl.
Peter Ruark
Mon, 06/10/2013 - 2:40pm
Very interesting. It certainly does not bode well for low-income Detroit residents when the metro area leads the way in job sprawl and at the same time has the least comprehensive public transportation system of all the major cities. If we are looking at the effect on core city residents, the ones most likely to be low-income and hence to have transportation difficulties, the 10-miles comparison of Detroit (139 sq. miles) and Grand Rapids (44 sq. miles) would seem to be of limited helpfulness. Going 10 miles in any direction from downtown GR takes you well out of the city, which is of course far from the case in Detroit. But the comparison of Detroit to its peer cities is certainly illuminating--and sobering.
Mon, 06/10/2013 - 4:39pm
I find this article confusing. So any insight would be appreciated.