Interesting story in the Post today covering a reportÂ (PDF) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics on metropolitan D.C. employment patterns. There’s a lot to go through in the actual report, some of which I’ll probably harvest for my Sunday DCist post (you’re all reading it, right?). For now, just a couple of thoughts.
1) The District and Fairfax County remain very different animals. D.C. is still the largest center of employment in the region, containing 100,000 more jobs in its 66 square miles than Fairfax does in its 400 square miles. For all the talk about dual cores, the center city (containing the District, Arlington, Alexandria, and the near Maryland suburbs) is the biggest, densest game in town.
2) It’s wrong to downplay District job growth, and it’s also important to place metropolitan patterns in context. As the Post notes, declining Federal employment has been a significant factor in determining employment patternsÂ (in D.C. a huge factor, where overall job growth would have been massive but for a loss of 40,000 federal jobs over the past 15 years). The federal government has been actively dispersing many federal jobs, as well, meaning that lots of work that requires proximity to federal agencies has been moving outward. I think it’s also safe to assume that many of the private contractors which have been replacing federal jobs have taken office space farther out than the jobs they’re replacing. This is due, in part, to the fact that many of those outsourced jobs are of a clerical, low value added nature, meaning that low-density, cheap office space is adequate for their needs.
3) But let’s definitely give Fairfax credit; its job and employment growth has been impressive and is likely to continue. Where many other suburban counties are looking to restrain growth, Fairfax has barreled ahead, looking to increase the density of many of its business and residential hubs, from Tyson’s Corner to MetroWest. Fairfax also has the Silver Line in its future, and it has expressed support for Arlington’s planned streetcar line, which might mean that further transit plans are in the county’s future.
4) Still, in a perfect world, there would be regional authority looking to concentrate jobs more in the center of the metropolitan area. The BLS report notes that most suburban commuters into the District come from inner suburban counties: Arlington and Alexandria, Prince George’s, Montgomery, and Fairfax. Most commuters into Fairfax, however, come from exurban counties: Loudoun and Prince William, most notably. This suggests that much of the outward residential growth is due to outward employment growth. This is part of what makes regional coordination so important. Every county wants jobs. Prince William does and Spotsylvania does and Henrico does and Greensville does. There will always be an incentive to recruit jobs from your more crowded neighbor into your jurisdiction. But doing that pulls people out, and it makes it that much more difficult to provide good public services and infrastructure to everyone. As Fairfax continues to grow, its going toÂ need to work with it neighbors and with the state to try and reduce sprawl. But that’s going to be incredibly difficult to do, given Virginia’s political environment.
And that’s another issue: jobs and people are migrating toward areas less friendly to regulation. This is perfectly rational, but it’s very harmful to the long-term health of the city.
More on all this later, as I have time to go through the numbers.