There are two key ingredients to successfully grow a city: employment and transportation. In Alain Bertaud’s article, “Cities as Labor Markets”, the author underscores the interdependencies between these two forces. A city can only be scalable if transportation allows employees to get to their jobs in a reasonable amount of time, with a 1-hour commute each way being a maximum. Additionally there needs to be a diversity of employment options spread throughout the city, not a concentrated mono-industry, with Detroit being a clear deterrent; the city collapsed after the auto industry eliminated local jobs. A city that attracts a variety of business sectors will also draw a diverse employee stock and grow economically. If done correctly, this growth will become self-perpetuating so it is critical that urban planners and city government get the balance right.
A city should start planing an affordable mass transit system to shuttle people and goods as early as fiscally possible; it is cost-prohibitive after the city has grown beyond a certain size as it must work within the existing infrastructure.Without organized urban planning residents and businesses will begin moving outside the city for cheap real estate, which increases sprawl, congestion (which increases greenhouse gas emissions) and requires significant investment in roadway expansion and maintenance. This horizontal development is most clearly seen in Atlanta, where the abnormally low population density of 6 people per hectare makes designing a comprehensive mass transit solution nearly impossible; plans to spend $8 billion on expanding their bus system, MARTA, may be met with limited success.
One solution offered to reduce traffic is congestion pricing, where drivers are charged a daily or time of day fee when entering the city; it is an effective method of deterrance. Although this approach has had mixed results in Europe, it has never been adopted in the United States due to the high cost of implementation, strong public opposition, and impact on lower-income communters. However, other options are being explored including micro-buses, ride sharing, and mixed-use compact development which increases density, creates employment, reduced the necessity for commuting, and generates vibrant neighborhoods.
A related issue is real estate prices, which are normally more expensive in the city due to the larger number of employment options and higher-wage jobs, as well as other amenities that cities offer including: culture, convenience, and a larger ratio of single people which increases dating options. A city must offer a variety of housing options, including affordable housing, to allow people from various income levels to live within range of the highest number of employment options, reduce commuting times and congestion. Cities that have successfully attracted diverse populations, including immigrants and minorities, can create self-sustaining employment options by encouraging community investment and entreprenuership.
Attempts to regulate city size, or creating planned cities from the ground up, do not normally meet with success. As Jane Jacobs noted more than 50 years ago, “There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.” Trying to control development thoughtfully, and plan for the future, is a constant balancing of priorities that is daunting but not impossible. Adding to this challenge are concerns about sustainable development and the environment. As more people flock to our urban centers, city planners must meet the growing demands for affordable housing, divere employment, and flexible transportation.
Image credit: City Data