Where are the new jobs going in the National Capital Subregion? If we know that, we can make intelligent decision about where to locate housing, services and infrastructure to create Balanced Communities.
New office location data from The Washington Post
provide important insight into current and future job location reality. In the 10 May edition of
"Washington Business," The Washington Post published a compilation of data and a map documenting new office locations and building value for a portion of the northern
portion of the Virginia Subregion.
By applying a calculator and a compass to the information compiled by Dana Hedgpeth,
along with four other
Post writers and private data sources, a reader can confirm that the trends of office/job location and building value established over the last three decades
continue as before. The data and map confirm the extensive information published by
the Post in 1999 about the location, value of buildings and the dollar volume of businesses by location in the National Capital Subregion. The data and map also confirm the information developed by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments in their
"activity center analysis" summarized in July 2002.
Why is it so important to confirm the trends of
the last 30 years? Because it exposes as faulty propaganda much of the advertising, slanted news, editorials and other vehicles
that reinforce damaging land-use and transportation myths.
This smoke-and-mirrors slant is what the beneficiaries
of Business As Usual would like people to
believe when decisions are to be made about infrastructure, housing,
facilities and services.
Here are some examples:
The news slant and editorial policy of
The Washington Post with respect to the need for and location of new transport facilities in the Subregion. As if to refute their own job-location data, the 10 May issue of
the Post also printed another in a long series of counterproductive transport facility editorials. (See
Jan. 19, 2004.)
"projections" and wishful thinking of some subregional think tank/analysis centers, as well as studies and advertising funded by those who profit from the creation of dysfunctional human settlement patterns. Every story about new jobs in the National Capital Subregion includes a talking head pontificating about the inevitable prospect of new jobs sprouting 30 and 40 miles from the centroid of the Subregion.
The office buildings
"completed or under construction since
2001" in the portion of Virginia highlighted in
the Post have a total of over 18.1 million square feet of space. That is
enough room for between 70,000 and 95,000 new jobs. The 10 May data document that
office buildings within 10 miles of the centroid
(1) of the National
Capital Subregion account for 68 percent of the square footage (12.2-million + sq. ft.).
A full 94
percent of this office space (16.9-million + sq. ft.) is within 20 miles of the
centroid (the R=20 mile radius area).
That leaves a mere 6 percent (1.1-million + sq. ft.)
within the 20- to 30-mile radius covering the
"fast growing" communities in eastern Loudoun County and Greater Manassas in western Prince William County.
Because there are so few offices there now, the percentage growth
may looks impressive to some. These
percent-change numbers on on very low bases, and
in spite of very high vacancy rates and low
per-square-foot rental rates, are used to justify scattering urban dwellings in these locations and beyond.
All the buildings under construction or recently completed in
the Virginia Subregion are within the most logical alignment of a Clear Edge around the core of the Subregion. (See
"Beyond the Clear
Edge," May 26, 2003.) This location reality means the jobs need to be matched with housing, services, recreation and amenity in Balanced Communities that are also inside the Clear Edge.
The Post data support the job location information (Reality 2) in our most recent Backgrounder
"Five Critical Realities that Shape the
Future" published at the end of 2003. When the information on the value per square foot of the leases for new buildings is examined, it documents the facts outlined in
Abandonment" published 8 September 2003.
Perhaps most important this data and map underscore the need for a regional sketch plan based on the facts, not myths and municipal plans.
Current municipal plans are being driven by the wishes of land speculators, road builders and the developers of scattered urban dwellings and businesses. These advocates of
Business as Usual are aided and abetted by municipal governance practitioners seeking to attract
"tax base" to dysfunctional locations.
Business As Usual advocates dismiss the need for Fundamental Change and the creation of Balanced Communities. (See the Backgrounder
Role of Municipal Planning in Creating
Dysfunctional Human Settlement Patterns.")
The information provided by the Post is valuable in many ways:
It indicates that the biggest current office building project,
the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, is in Alexandria. Alexandria is an urban enclave in the core of the Subregion that has been agglomerating for 300 years. Three days after the 10 May survey was published,
the Post reported a multi-building lease signing in two other buildings under construction in Arlington. This new project would be among the largest in the survey. The
biggest projects are not in outlying areas where there is cheap land. As we have noted in the context of housing, the land is cheap because it is not well located. That is what the building value data confirms.
Another important insight that can be derived from
the Post data is that large organizations which have the resources to build and occupy offices in relatively remote locations also have the labor market clout necessary to shift the cost of office space from the employer to the employee. Companies like AOL and MCI (nee UUNet and World Com)
reap a savings from cheap space but burden
their employees with long drives. The result is lower operating costs for the employer and
increasing commuting costs, both in time and
money, for employees.
businesses -- again, AOL is an example -- treat the provision of work space for their employees as a profit center and become speculative office builders with a guaranteed market. These practices are the result
of direct and indirect subsidies for scattered office locations
provided by the Commonwealth and by municipalities. As readers of this column know, there is a cure for this dysfunctional practice: Fairly and equitably allocate all
location- dependent costs to those who
benefit from them.
As important as
the Post information is, it is not golden. It does not cover all of the National Capital Subregion that falls in Virginia. (See
"Where is Northern
Virginia?", 11 August 2003.) It also appears to miss some projects even in the geography covered.
There is one critical perspective that the Post does not address: Where are the
non-office jobs going?
Using Regional Metrics-like techniques, the Post suggests that the office space delivered in 2003 would serve about
50 percent of the 50,000 new jobs created in the northern part of Virginia during 2003. There are several factors in play here:
Many of the new jobs are service and retail jobs. Major retail and service buildings (e.g. hotels), while not listed in this survey, are often in the same or adjacent buildings. This is the move toward
"mixed use," and that is a very good thing, especially in METRO station areas.
Any analysis of new jobs must examine the role of work from home in all its
forms: home-based businesses, home offices, telework, telecommuting and others. The scattering of urban housing scatters these work locations and contributes to dysfunctional human settlement patterns.
Most important, many of the new jobs are held by workers who drive from place to place or to
"job sites" that change over time. Like homeowners seeking the most house for the dollar, businesses that
"work out of the shop" tend to migrate to the cheapest land and/or shift the burden of a dysfunctional location to the worker.
Much of the housing in the Subregion that is deemed
"affordable" is not
"accessible." (See "The Housing
Dilemma," July 14, 2003 and "Affordable, But No
Bargain," Feb 17, 2003.) The scattered destinations of job- and service-related trips for
"work out of the shop" and "work out of the
home" workers make up a big part of the peak hour/peak direction traffic congestion.
The "work out of the shop" workers frequently drive a company truck, van or pickup. Based on a windshield survey and
the Post data, one might jump to the conclusion that these non-office workers
who drive to and from dysfunctionally scattered locations might justify the predictions of a rapid dispersal of jobs in the Subregion. The Washington Metropolitan Council of Governments
"activity center" data on all jobs suggest this is not the case.
It is likely that many of those vans and pickups that one sees on the road are company vehicles being driven home and back as a perk. Like
"free" parking, driving a company vehicle home is a perk that negatively impacts mobility and distorts the cost of travel.
It is clear that, induced by advertising that promises that they will
"save money," shoppers spend hours and significant automobility resources (aka, total private vehicle-related expenses) to save a few cents on items such as a box of disposable diapers. Non-office business owners would be surprised at how much more productive employees would be and how much more profitable their business could be if their non-office business were better located. That is exactly what the data on the value of office buildings at and near the core tells us about those who work in offices.
The facts are clear. Office jobs are center-weighted. So are non-office jobs. We know the best strategy is to evolve communities with a balance of jobs/housing/services/recreation/amenity. In other words, Balanced Communities. The good news is that
the Post does a great service by documenting the facts. The bad news is their editorial writers as well as some editors and writers either do not understand or choose to ignore the data and
An understanding of the importance of Balanced Communities and functional human settlement patterns
needed for a sustainable region would benefit all citizens.
Perhaps it is time to conform advertising, news coverage and editorial policy so that they reflect reality.
May 24, 2004
In other words, that part of the Commonwealth
within the 10-mile radius of the Virginia end of
the War Memorial Bridge.