Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Oh, Give Me A Home Where I Never Need Roam...

One of the many interesting things that I picked up during my "sabbatical" was a story in the Seattle Times about the difficulty in getting people to live close to work, or trying to plan things that way.

For some time I have listened to planners talk about the "jobs-housing balance," that if we can just get houses to be built near work centers (or vice-versa), then the need for commuting would be dramatically reduced. While at a certain level this almost seems intuitive, the more I observed, the more I came to realize that this just wouldn't work at all.

For one thing, people change jobs pretty frequently in the U.S., but they don't seem to change where they live quite so much, particularly if they just change jobs in the same general metro area. So while someone may buy a house near their job at one point in time, often within a few years they have changed jobs and they don't live so close to work anymore. By then, they've gotten to like the neighborhood, made friends in the area, the kids like the school, and they don't want to move -- so, the drive to work just gets longer. I have a couple of families in my own neighborhood in Kaysville where the primary wage earners drive to Draper and even to Orem each day! I have asked them, why don't you move to avoid the drive, and they say, "It's not so bad, and we really like the neighborhood and don't want to move!"

Also, many households these days are comprised to two primary wage earners, and rarely are both workers employed in the same place. So the solution is, live near work for one and let the other drive, or compromise and live somewhere near the middle between the two and require both to drive moderate distances.

Now I can anticipate what many of you will say -- the rising cost of gasoline is going to change all that. Well, maybe, to some extent over the long term. But I don't think we're there yet. One of my good friends who is a planner and believes in this concept, just took a new job that is considerably further away from where he had been working. Is he planning to move? I don't think so -- he's just getting to the point where his kids are moving through high school, and I don't think they want to leave. Reality!


At 7:46 PM, Blogger Utah Peaknik said...


Reality, Wilf, may slap all of us upside the face within 5 years if gas costs 8 dollars a gallon. Then your neighbors can say goodbye to living in their sprawled out Kaysville subdivision and driving all the way down to Draper for work.

Too bad it will be at least several years before commuter rail or a trax extension services Draper.

What we fail to understand is that living 30 miles away from work is a luxury, not our God-given entitlement.

And it's only a matter of time before that luxury isn't affordable anymore.

At 5:58 AM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

Welcome back Wilf. I'm glad to hear you had such a great vacation and I'm looking forward to your observations about the urban environments in Ireland and Scotland.
I agree with you that we're "not there yet". But I hope that doesn't lead the planning community to believe we never will be. I hope they don't abandon the idea of balancing housing and employment, and interconnecting centers of dense development with practical transit. The public makes it's decisions about where to live and work and how to commute based on their experiences of the past. They do not yet know the future will be different. They may not be using the infrastructure in the way the planners intended now, but they will.
I live in a neighborhood near Freeport Center, for instance. I have neighbors that commute all over the place, everywhere but Freeport Center. I would not be surprised if in the future, my current neighbors start moving away to be nearer to their jobs, and I find I have a lot of new neighbors who walk to their jobs at Freeport Center.

At 10:11 AM, Blogger Wilf said...

What both utah peaknik and google peak oil say may yet come to pass, but I don't think it will be particularly fast or sudden. Part of what planning should be about is to look into the future and try to make some reasonable assumptions about how things might be and how we should adjust to those future realities. Unfortunately, people just aren't very good at that -- we prefer to keep doing things the way they have always been done, until something dramatic happens to force a change (e.g., the way we travel after 9/11).

Transit is definitely a big part of what we should be planning for in the future. But given the nature of job locations and where we live, we need to think about a more "distributive" form of transit rather than one main trunk line running up and down the center of the Wasatch Front metro area.

Keep thinking!

At 10:29 AM, Blogger vagabond said...

Wilf is right on at least one level. We change jobs a lot in our nation and it is hard to plan on where you will live for more than a few years. I, for one, was forced to move by an employer years ago to an area that I did not want particularly want to live in since I liked my n'hood just fine. After moving to the new area, I found that after some years there, that I was settling in and did not want to move again while kids are in school. Well it happened--a job change back to the area where I lived before and now I feel the pain of commuting once again. With kids in Jr & Sr. High school, I really can't ask them to uproot right now--regardless of the current cost of gas.

I do, however, believe that gas at $5 per gallon would probably force me to move since both my spouse and I work at least 20 miles from home. AAAARRRGGGHHH!

Wilf and peaknik are both right.

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