Two of Canada’s major national media outlets featured items today about the nature of suburban life and economics as influenced by transportation. The issue is the rapid of appearance of millions of square feet of office space in parts of an urban/suburban agglomeration once zoned exclusively for industry. Where once office jobs were downtown and industry near ports or in early inner suburbs and satellite locations (generally to the east as in most cities in the northern hemisphere thanks to prevailing wind) we now find office employment ubiquitous and growing fast near airports and out along highways and major arterial roads.
This shouldn’t be such a surprise, given decades of deindustrialization and the apparent economic advantages of sprawl, that employers put office space, server farms, call and data centres where once there were cornfields. Suburban office space can be built and occupied in a hurry and most jurisdictions, eager to maintain employment, property values, development levies and so forth are glad to have office and service employment over the declining prospects for manufacturing, against which there are other liabilities like air pollution, noise and perhaps a cultural loss of interest in making things, as well.
The Greater Toronto Area, with some five million people now, was the focus of both pieces. One is part of a series on CBC Morning called the Joyless Commute. They’d hardly devote a week of air space to a topic not recognized by the listenership. Many of whom are essentially forced to car commute for hours every week to office jobs many kilometres away and which are virtually impossible prospects for cycling, walking or public transit. The second item was also about the power of car commuting to far flung office pods, places often miles from a subway stop and served by low frequency buses at most. Curiously, the piece was front page in today’s Toronto Star business section. Not at the back of the local issues or lifestyle related parts of the paper.
Money talks. Getting these issues wrong is going to be bad for business and make life diffcult for working people.
All through the 80s, 90s and 2000’s getting it right too often meant grinding into public expenditure, cutting taxes for the rich, privatizing and reducing services. Now it means trying to bring millions of square feet of far flung office development into transit networks, reducing car dependece and pollution, providing appropriate infrastructure upgrades and general improvements to atmosphere and opportunity where our future workplaces will be. Everyone is feeling the pressure, workers, managers, planners, builders, employers, investors.
Stuck in gridlock? Blame the office thestar.com
Joyless Commute Metro Morning on CBC radio – see thursday segment
Strategic Regional Research: A Region in Transition
Canadian Urban Institute link to major report
image: Zlatko via Wikimedia Commons