As Tucson leaders debate the future of downtown – and whether it has much of a future at all – a new study on job sprawl provides needed direction.
More than 85 percent of Tucsonans work within 10 miles of downtown – one of the highest percentages in the nation.
And no city has a higher percentage of people working nearby but not downtown. Almost 2 of every 3 Tucsonans work more than three but fewer than 10 miles from downtown.
The figures are from Job Sprawl Revisited, a report by the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.
The study found that jobs are moving away from city centers nationwide – and the same is true in Tucson.
Since 1998, the number of jobs more than 10 miles from Tucson’s downtown has grown from 9.6 percent to 14.5 percent.
But Tucson remains a compact city. Only six cities have fewer jobs farther from the city center.
Why does this matter?
As the study notes, the geographical distribution of jobs has implications for a range of policy issues – including housing, transportation and economic development.
The cities that will be the most productive, inclusive and sustainable will be those cities in which jobs are not scattered across a large area.
The study points to a concern for Tucson – and one that can be addressed here while it is too late for many other American cities.
Cohesive planning policies for affordable housing, transportation – including automobiles and transit – and other factors must be drawn up with an eye toward keeping Tucson jobs from sprawling farther.
The value of this was explained by Laura Shaw of Tucson Regional Economic Opportunities:
“Many of our jobs are closer in to town, contrary to perception,” said Shaw, vice president of investor relations at TREO. “That puts us in a good position to attract a creative class that wants to live closer to town. From an economic development standpoint, we’re in good shape.”
Not everyone wants to live or work in the central city. But Tucson must put in place planning and zoning guidelines encouraging development of a compact city that leaves a smaller and less-intensive footprint.
The Brookings study shows it still can be accomplished.