Fewer jobs downtown in U.S. cities, upstate New York

May 3, 2013

The first decade of this century has seen a steady flow of jobs moving away from city downtowns around the U.S according to a new report from the Brookings Institution. But cities in upstate New York have fared better than some.

Areas like Albany, Schenectady and Syracuse have, on average, more employment within their downtown zones than most major metro areas.

Only 17 percent of jobs in Syracuse are located 10 – 35 miles from the cities' central business district for example, compared with 77 percent in the Detroit metro area.

But decentralization is ongoing in upstate with Buffalo and Rochester leading the region in the number of jobs moving out into the suburbs.

“Those were also regions that saw jobs within three miles of the downtown, in what we could call the urban core of the metro area, drop by the largest margins,” says lead author of the study Elizabeth Kneebone.

She says these changes cause issues like limited access to public transport which can adversely affect employment opportunities for low income residents.

Additionally, the further jobs spread from downtown areas, Kneebone says, the longer the commute times, the more traffic congestion is caused, and the bigger the carbon footprint of an area.

“Really the location of employment relates to a number of different issues that affect the long term health, inclusivity, and sustainability of metropolitan areas.”

The early 2000's were characterized by a growing migration of jobs, driven in part by the increased employment in the manufacturing and construction sectors.

Kneebone says, despite employment fluctuations throughout the years, the stream of jobs exiting the CBD of metro areas was steady across most industries. She says that trend was effectively paused by the decline in jobs during the recession.

But momentum is likely to pick up as the economy improves, Kneebone says, unless policies are put in place to retrofit downtown spaces where public transport services can be maximized.