Sunday, May 28, 2006

Living Close to Where You Work -- For A While, Anyway

George Pyle, editorial writer for the Salt Lake Tribune, recently took on the transportation debate, first in his blog and then in the Trib opinion section, and the question of why more people don't just live closer to where they work. As many so often do, he blames it on our development patterns which isolate housing neighborhoods away from commercial and business areas.

This approach can work two ways, however. The way that Mr. Pyle seems to favor is having people live closer to downtown, or near transit lines (which are aimed primarily at downtown.) But, as some of the commenters on the blog point out, this approach generally leads to rapidly elevating housing costs in those areas, making it more difficult to do.

The other way to accomplish this laudible goal is to move jobs out to where people live, but many decry this as contributing to sprawl. Perhaps the answer is urban villages, but that's a topic for another entry.

One of the things that tends to be overlooked in discussions on this topic, however, is the nature of our working lives these days. While it is true that people change their place of residence relatively frequently thes days, I think they are more likely to change their jobs even more frequently. People seem to build their dream house, or find a place that they really like, and maybe it happens to be close to where they work when they buy it. But then one or the other or maybe both primary wage earners find different jobs which are now further away, but they don't want to move from that great house and neighborhood they now live in. So, in a short time, all those people living close to their work, are no longer living close to work but having to commute greater distances.

People just won't behave the way we think they should ... what do we do about that?


At 7:21 PM, Blogger ARCritic said...

I don't have an email address so I will post this here. Did you see this article of a community using emminent domain to STOP a walmart?

Here is the article.

At 9:52 PM, Blogger Wilf said...

Arcritic, take a look at the blog posting just previous to this one.

At 8:10 AM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

I think the changing equation of the cost of commuting will motivate people to live near transit. Employers will also gravitate towards transit oriented locations when they realize it will make them more attractive to employees as well as visiting customers.

When I bought my home in West Point in 2000, I was unaware of impending serious energy problems but I did consider lengthy daily commutes a foolish way to waste many hours of your life. I bought close enough to work to have a quick drive, a modest bike ride, and a doable walk. But if I had my house purchase to do over, I would have bought within a half mile of a grocery store and a #70 bus stop. That would allow me carless access to employers from Salt Lake to Ogden without having to move.

The #70 bus is pretty much the core route of Davis and Weber counties. It goes from downtown Ogden to downtown Salt Lake, passing thru pretty much every major commercial zone in between. It has a high frequency, extended hours, and Sunday service. Living near the #70 line would be about the only viable way to live without a car in Davis County. If Davis County ever gets light rail I would imagine it would pretty much follow the #70 route.

When the cost of being totally car dependent gets painful and only looks to get worse in the future, access to transit will become a much more important factor in where people choose to live and work.

I hope the accelerated build out of the Trax system occurs in Salt Lake, giving many more people a practical transit link between affordable housing and good jobs. They are going to need it more than they realize.

At 12:12 PM, Blogger coltakashi said...

There are already plenty of incentives for people to find a home near their workplace. Everyone has different reasons for choosing a particular location. Anyone who complains that people don't give ENOUGH weight to the time and distance and transportation costs when selecting a home is trying to take away from people the right to place priorities on other factors, such as: Housing closer to work is usually more expensive; public schools close to town may not be as good, and the cost of private schools is too high for many; your spouse's work place may be in a totally different city; and giving priority to where you are working at a particular time makes not sense, since you could be changing jobs at any time, and even moving to another state. So why give your job the highest priority in picking a home? As for creating dispersed job centers: That will definitely influence people who are looking for generic jobs--administrative, computer system support, etc.--a bias toward the closest business center. People who have high paying jobs in a particular company or profession (there are only a limited number of places where business lawyers set up their offices) will be compensated for their commute, while those in lower paying generic jobs will be most influenced to search for work in the closest business cluster.

At 5:42 PM, Blogger vagabond said...

I, for one, am pretty nervous about the whole Peak Oil thing and I hope that energy prices will stabilize for a period of time.

Coltakashi makes some good points for sure. However, the point can be made that, on the whole, most of us would be better off if we simply lived closer to our work. While there may be legitiamte reasons for some to continue to commute long distances, ultimately the market will dictate where and how most of us will live. Can it really be argued otherwise? When gas hits $6 per gallon some day, perhaps sooner than later, few of us will be able to ignore the economic reality that transportation costs may force a great percentage of us to move.

In a perfect world, wouldn't it be ideal if most people were not forced to make the rational and logical decision to conserve and relocate?

Assuming gas prices continue to rise substantially over the next year or two, there may be a shift in the real estate market as people decide that they must move closer to work centers such as downtown SLC. If that happens, watch out as real estate prices near large employment centers surge.

At 8:35 PM, Blogger Utah Peaknik said...

I'm so glad to see that peak oil awareness is increasing.

At 11:34 AM, Blogger sunshyn said...

Coltakashi makes great points that planners often forget - you can always imagine the way a place should be, and where people should work, and how they should get there, how far their commute should be, but these are just broad parameters that oftentimes only encompass a certain select core. Everyone is going to have different reasons for choosing a place to live, based on income, preference to urban, suburban or exurban, lifestyle, age, etc. etc. etc. Therefore, while you can plan for the needs of people today, you can't base planning on what you hope or feel that people should want or desire in the future, such as believing that people's tipping point on fuel prices will change habits. It really hasn't changed terribly much so far, so while we would like people to embrace certain ideals, it often doesn't happen. Perhaps if more attention was paid to community involvement, surveys, community charrette's, etc., some of this push/pull between planners and the public would be alleviated.


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