Working in Suburbia

I've done a lot of writing here about urbanism, suburbia and commuting. A lot of my posts revolve around the idea that people work in cities and live in suburbia. I often get criticism by people who don't. So I've decided that when it comes to sprawl, people working and cities and living in suburbs isn't the key driver. White-collar companies that locate their offices deep in suburbia are the drivers of sprawl.

(from Flickr user MarkPritchard)

Despite the growth of job sprawl, as it's been called, metro areas are still set-up to accommodate people who live in suburbs and work in cities. Transit typically runs in peak directions during peak hours. There are park-and-rides in suburbia. Downtown areas are more conducive to bicyclists than suburban areas. These systems are designed to give options to people who live in suburbs to get to work in cities. And of course, people who live in cities and work in cities have similar options at their disposal.

It's an entirely different story if you work in an Office Space style campus out in suburbia. If you do, there is likely a single option for getting to work: drive.

Now, this is great for some people, especially if they live near the suburban office and would drive alone to work no matter where the office was located.

On the other hand, I know several people, recent college grads, who landed jobs at companies out in suburbia. In a few instances, they faced a frustrating dilemma. They wanted to live in the city, but a reverse commute out to the suburbs wasn't appealing. They'd have a long commute, they'd have to pay for a place to park near their home, and they'd have to drive there every day. At the end of the day, many throw up their arms and moved into suburbia, where the rent is cheap, parking is free subsidized and the commute is short. It's not the neighborhood they imagined residing in fresh out of college, but with limited options, it made sense.

The reason I bring this up is because every time I write on this topic I get a comment or an email about personal preference. Usually, it goes something like this:
Tons of people prefer to live in the suburbs, they hate the city, if they drive around everywhere, it's because they want to. Stop telling people how to live their lives.
But the anecdote above demonstrates that it's not always exclusively about preference, sometimes it's about practicality. And preference is not constant; it can only be as strong as the options that people have available to them in their lives.


    Cars are the drivers of sprawl. The people move because cars make it convenient (more or less), then the companies follow, then the people follow, etc., etc.

    It's certainly true that having the jobs spread throughout a metropolitan area makes the tradeoff between where you live and where you work tougher. That's especially noticeable there in DC because the auto based transport system is already so ineffective for commuting.


    I'm totally with you on this. It's practically a fact of life in most Southern cities, our major commerce and office activity has moved to cheap office parks. With my first job with the nonprofit, my apartment complex was named after Research Triangle Park, that's how close I was to the the office park area and not downtown Durham or Raleigh, where which I really wanted to reside. These companies can afford being downtown, it's time for them to go back.

    On August 01, 2010 Bryan Willman said...

    Some companies, including one I worked for, really do want and need one big area for everybody to be together. They need the space.

    This is why in Seattle the largest area employers are not (or not wholly) in the City. Microsoft, Boeing, Safeco, etc. all have big complexes out in the countryside because that's the whole place to have the big complex.

    (And yes, many people will live in the city or in the 'burbs or in the boonies based entirely on life constraints like jobs, schools, and money.)