From time to time WaPo publishes data that debunks the Subregional Job Dispersal Myth. Those who benefit from belief in this myth claim the core jobs in the Virginia portion of the National Capital Subregion – as opposed to houses and services – are scattering across the Countryside. See “Where the Jobs Are,” 24 May 2004 at https://www.baconsrebellion.com/ and subsequent collums that deal with job location.

Today is another of those times. The “Commercial Real Estate Report – What’s New in Northern Virginia” is a regular and useful – al be it misleadingly titled – service of WaPo. The map and table presenting the survey of office buildings completed or under construction “since 2003” is takes up a full page in today’s Business Section.

A quick application of Regional Metrics indicates that there are over four times the square footage of new and under construction office buildings in the Radius = 10 Miles to Radius = 20 Miles Radius Band as there are beyond Radius = 20 Miles.

There are twice as many square feet in new and under construction office buildings inside Radius = 10 Miles as there are in the band between Radius = 10 Miles and Radius = 20 Miles and eight times the number outside R = 20.

This is fully consistent with the data published over the past two decades:

The Subregion’s core Jobs are in the Core, Period.

The value of the buildings and the rents paid by the tenants document that this is where the jobs that are most important to the Subregion’s economy are located.

Several notes:

There are buildings under construction in the R = 10 to 20 Radius Band than in the R =
There are new office buildings in the Over R = 20 area outside the survey area. There is a small building going up along I-66 east of VA Route 234 Bus in Greater Manassas and another in “downtown” Gainesville. It can be assumed that if there were a lot buildings going up, the area of coverage would have been expanded. The buildings such as this are often occupied by residential service activities, not core (economic base) jobs.

The survey does not include owner occupied buildings for good reason. The location of owner occupied buildings is often the result of an employers wanting to create a new profit center as a speculative office developer using their own employees as captive tenants. It has been suggested that this strategy contributed to the downfall of both AOL and WorldCom. The AOL complex is soon to be less occupied – and if our Internet connection speed is any indication, soon to be empty – and WorldCom washed through bankruptcy and is now MCI.

In both cases by attempting to double dip and be real estate speculators these companies created work environments that were not attractive – among other things they were and are inaccessible to most potential employees in the Subregion.

To attract the sort of employee that a company needs to compete and survive in the global marketplace the job location must be intelligently located. Finding cheap land as both of these companies did is not enough. The Creative Class is not attracted to locations like ones near Wal*Mart in the Weeds.

The most important point driven home again by this survey is that most of the new offices are in Greater Alexandria, Greater South Arlington, Greater North Arlington, Greater Tysons Corner, and Greater Reston with several others located in places such as Fairfax Center and Greater Chantilly. The vast majority are in the first five and all five of those Beta Communities have a large imbalance of jobs over housing.

There are jobs needed to balance the existing (and planned) excess of housing over jobs in Greater Ashburn, Greater Cascades / Sterling, Greater Chantilly and Greater Centreville. That is why “South Dulles” – about which ones reads with increasing frequency – makes no sense as will be explored in upcoming columns.


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38 responses to “WHERE THE JOBS ARE NOT”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar


    According to MWCOG more than 50 percent of the region’s 1.4 million existing jobs remain in the inner suburbs, even though 53 percent of total job growth between 2001 and 2005 occurred within the outer suburbs. Tyson’s corner alone has more jobs than DC and more office space than downtown Atlanta.

    It takes a long time for changes to affect how our cities operate, and one of the failures we have made in planning is that by the time we get around to agreeing on what the plan should be, we are effectively planning for something thatis past tense.

    If more than 50% of the job growth is occurring in outlying areas then we should plan accordingly instead of denying the facts. It is Suburban Maryland that leads the area in commercial construction.

    Certainly, the core is still strong. Having already built it, it is unlikely to go away unless conditions there continue to get worse. But it is the outlying areas that are experiencing the most growth and those are the areas where we should concentrate our eforts to create sustainable communities before they self generate without sufficient planning.

    So what if core commercial buildings are larger? How does that contribute to more mixed use? It is the smaller and more dispersed buildings that do that.

    MCI and AOL had problems, of course, but those were problems with their business model, not their location. There are plenty of NEW businesses in Loudoun that are succeeding quite well, thank you. And Loudoun along with PW have the fastest rate of job growth in the area. True enough, the rate is against a small base, but once you reach a certain size the rate is bound to slow, just as job growth in the core areas demonstrates.

  2. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Intuitively, it makes sense that job growth, especially from newer and smaller companies, would be greater in outlying areas than in the core. The costs for rent, taxes, etc. are much higher in core areas. I often hear complaints from friends and acquaintances about the high costs of rent in Tysons, Reston and D.C.

    A large company that wanted to expand into this area and expected considerable federal government business, for example, might rent space in Tysons, Reston or other high-priced areas. But not every business can afford that level of overhead.

    The Post has published two articles about high costs driving out local businesses in favor of big chains. (Not that there is anything wrong with big and successful companies.) The stories related to Clarendon in Arlington and Connecticut Ave., north of Dupont Circle in the District. Many of the small businesses simply could not afford to operate in those locations as they redeveloped. I recently read a similar article about the loss of local merchants in the Tribeca area of Manhattan.

    My experience has generally been that big and dense locations tend to have much higher prices and rents than small and scattered locations. Of course, there can be great price opportunities for moving to run-down big and dense locations, but they are, of course, subject to the risk that the area does not turn around or turns around too slowly.

    If we see the combination of lower business costs and lower-priced housing in more remote, less dense, locations, aren’t we going to continue to see continued development in those areas (i.e., sprawl)? Similarly, given the cost of land and construction, aren’t places such as Tysons Corner and Reston, likely to be among the most expensive in which to live or to operate a business?

    In theory, mixed use makes sense. But in practice, these new, dense developments will be quite expensive when they are located i the core. Mixed use, with mixed incomes, probably has a better chance of success in places such as Fredericksburg and Harrisonburg, IMHO.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Do a simple search on The Washington Post’s job board.

    As of this post there are;

    -951 available jobs in Alexandria

    -1233 available jobs in Arlington

    -6127 available jobs in Fairfax County

    -655 available jobs in Loudoun County

    -248 available jobs in Prince William County

    It’s not scientific, but the results are telling.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    It is telling.

    What it tells me is that it is a lot harder to fill a job in Fairfax than in Prince William. People don’t want to travel to get there, and don’t want to pay the higher costs of living there, only to battle the crowds trying to get out of town on the weekends.

    Companies find it difficult to offer the required pay increases to entice people to do what they don’t want and still remain competitive.

    I left a job in Fairfax for one farther out and closer to home, and got more money to boot. What is not to like?

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Ed fails to note the other story in todays paper, “Fairfax Split on Open Space”. Fairfax City has spent over $12 million to acquire open space, at the behest of voters. In fact, they pledged City Hall and other properties as collateral, because they didn’t have the tax money to spend.

    Apparently, not everyone thinks that the central areas should be fully developed to the 25th story. The current debacle over building heights in Fairfax county is further evidence.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Reality check – I am one of the creative class that everyone claims to speak for – I’d about ten thousand times rather live in Western Loudoun or Fredericksburg than in the innner core. So would most of the (similarly successful and educated) friends I have.

    Name calling (wal-mart in the weeds? give me a break) doesn’t strengthen a poor argument.

    The central pull is the Feds. The folks who have a choice of where to work often prefer to work in the outer rings.

  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Just back from 10,000 miles of seeing America and here’s the deal: Jobs are in the urban areas and mostly gone from the rural areas with the exception of some farming and some remaining manufacturing.

    Businesses want an available and ample labor pool that is educated and techno-savy.

    They’re simply not going to locate in rural areas where their labor pool needs are not assured.

    In other words – my observation is that business, and it’s needs are driving the equation. Everything else is secondary a directly-related impact of the initial business decision.

    Almost every state or region has it’s centralized labor market (urban areas) where many national and multi-national companies have chosen to locate – again not to sell products at that location but to attract qualified labor that can staff and operate the enterprise.

    It doesn’t matter whether they locate in the core or on the fringe – as long as their labor pool is MOBILE and willing to commute.

    It’s the same in Phoenix, Tucson, Grand Junction, Memphis, Birmingham, Atlanta, Charlotte, etc, etc…. it’s the same exact deal.

    In the DC area, yes, the Feds drive the equation… and perhaps without the Feds.. the DC/Northern Va area would be a small urban area as compared to our mega urban areas.

    Our Interstate road system was originally configured to move us from one urban area to another… and points in between.

    It was never designed for the purpose for which it is now being used – to provide region-wide mobility for urban areas.

    Even beltways were originally conceived to move traffic AROUND the urban areas so that travellers could avoid the urban cores – the theory being that the urban cores… would not actually expand and uses the beltways themselves to leverage expansion.

    Nor did the designers of the interstates forsee that workers would use them for not only longer-distance commuting (as opposed to living close to where one works) but to utilize them to shop – not locally – but miles away – trips that would take hours if not for the existance of an interstate-grade road and/or beltway.

    So – this is the reality.

    Also reality – we have a LOT more roads that we used to AND we drive a LOT more than we used to – almost triple the miles that our parents did. Transportation planners call this VMT – vehicle miles driven.

    If we want more roads ( I won’t use the word “need” because that implies there is no other solution) – then we are going to have to pay for them – and urban interstates cost ten times more than rural interstates – many, more than 100 million dollars per mile.

    The cost will also include the loss of green space and affordable housing simply because given a choice between paying to take down a skyscraper for a road verses plowing a park or modest homes – the outcome is preordained.

    And I’ll close by pointing out that way back when – companies included in their cost of business – what it would take to supply their labor needs. They even would build housing for their workers as well as the necessary infrastructure.

    Now days, they simply locate in urban areas – and let the governments worry about where people are going to live or how they will get to/from work.

    No blame here – just observations.

    and the answer is simple – but not easy – if folks want more roads – they’re going to have to pay quite a bit more than they’re paying right now – probably double or more.

    ditto for transit…. there are no free lunches… here… essentially if we want more/better mobility… get your wallets out – and any polician worth his salt would admit that in any dialogue about what to do next.

  8. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, welcome back from your 10,000-mile trip. Where’d you go? What was the game plan?

    Regarding your comments about jobs in urban areas vs. countryside: You are absolutely right. For all the predictions that the Internet would free people to live and work wherever they want, people are not flocking to small towns and rural areas. Oh, sure, you have individuals with a wealth of experience and connections who can choose to live where they want and continue to do business as “consultants,” but the vast majority of people cannot. They go where the jobs are.

    Most companies today aren’t worried about access to raw materials, or railroad lines, or seaports — the drivers of economic growth in the industrial era. As you correctly observe, they first and foremost want access to skilled and educated workers. That means one of two things: You locate where the workers are — the metropolitan areas. That doesn’t mean all small towns are doomed, but they are swimming against the tide.

    The lesson for policy makers: The fundamental economic units in a globally competitive economy are labor-sheds, labor markets, New Urban Regions, whatever you want to call them. These units compete primarily upon their ability to develop, recruit and retain human capital. That’s why education has become an integral component of any regional economic development strategy. Likewise, that’s why it’s crucial to create human settlement patterns that enhance mobility and access, and that create the kinds of communities where people want, and can afford, to live.

  9. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “and the answer is simple – but not easy – if folks want more roads – they’re going to have to pay quite a bit more than they’re paying right now – probably double or more.

    ditto for transit…. there are no free lunches… here… essentially if we want more/better mobility… get your wallets out – and any polician worth his salt would admit that in any dialogue about what to do next.”


    I don’t think we are really talking about rural areas being centers of job expansion, just that the core are is no longer r5 or r10. There is a natural progression of homes moving out, then retail, then commercial. PW was a bedroom community for years, but that is rapidly becoming no longer the case.

    To ignore the facts or to proclaim them as otherwise is folly. To plan only for half (the truly urban half) of what we know is happening would be an enormous mistake that only perpetuates our current problem.

    As Larry notes, it is a lot less expensive to build in the less congested areas. Therefore we get more bang for our buck and a longe extension of utility into the future by concentrating our planning and building where the most new growth growth will occur as opposed to where there will be the most additional growth.

    The one thing there is no doubt about is that it will take money, even if we use all of the alternatives to road building that are available.

  10. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    6:58 You clearly have not been listening to the rhetoric of the Fairfax County real estate industry. Everyone wants to live in a condo near rail. Ha, ha! You are absolutely right; most people want an single family home that is affordable. That’s what the Census Bureau data show. That means more pressure for sprawl. A partial solution is to continue to encourage good-paying jobs to move to less-expensive locations where the workers live. More Places. (Ray, you should have filed for a copyright on that one.)

    Larry & Ray. If we want the roads or transit, we need to pay for them. That’s right, but who are the “we’s” in this argument. Some of the “we’s” want roads in locations near where they already live for a better commute. Others want roads near where they own undeveloped land so that they can develop the properties. Still others want roads from the outlying bedroom communities to locations where they own commerical buildings. Finally, some people don’t want more roads because they fear that more roads simply means more development and higher taxes.

    Then we also need to define who are the “we’s” who need to pay. Some want higher general taxes. Others want user fees (toll roads or gas taxes). Some want development impact fees or higher proffers. Some people simply don’t want to pay higher taxes whatsoever or fear that those higher taxes would just be used for more development.

    On this question, former President Clinton’s analysis is the right one — it all depends on the meaning of the word “we.”

    I continue to maintain that the development/infrastructure/tax or fee issue revolves around the fact that there is generally a big split in identity between those who benefit from development and those who perceive that they pay a big price for it. There will be no political consensus or solution to this issue until that identity split is addressed. Yet, we simply don’t see our elected officials talking about the issue. What’s in for me? What will this cost me?

  11. Anonymous Avatar

    “For all the predictions that the Internet would free people to live and work wherever they want, people are not flocking to small towns and rural areas.”

    Well, yes, actually, they are. Look at the explosion in growth in many formerly stagnant areas – and the boom in university towns, such as Blacksburg and Charlottesville, and the ring of counties around each, that allow professionals to live in a more rural or small town setting, and still work in a job center. Those jobs are fiercely fought over.

    Many people are moving as far out as they can and still have a decent professional job. For the highest skilled folks, there’s a lot of latitutde.

    “Oh, sure, you have individuals with a wealth of experience and connections who can choose to live where they want and continue to do business as “consultants,” but the vast majority of people cannot. They go where the jobs are.”

    As more and more folks are telecommuting, more and more of the “creative class” people are choosing to live in outer areas and work from home, or commute in a day a week or a few days a month. It’s a noticeable pattern, particularly with high-skilled professionals. No, it’s not a majority – yet. Get to $5 per gallon of gas, and it’s not going to be just the whiz kids.

    We need to be looking at the trends of the future, and this is a very noticeable trend – especially with the most skilled and desirable workers – that many – not most, but a substantial number – of them prefer less intensely urban settings. Creative class kids in their 20’s often want to live in the city. In their 30’s and 40’s and 50’s, with kids, not so much.

    Also, a substantial number of the folks in the big city urban core are newer immigrants, not US natives – no idea why, but look at the demographics of places like Fairfax or LA. Their numbers are masking a real pattern of out-migration.

    Not claiming this is the majority – but this is a strong pull with a substantial number of people with a very definite less urban preference.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The 10K trip not your normal..vacation but did focus on visiting National Monuments and lesser known National Parks along with visiting many, many “places” – where people live … beyond urban areas though we did pass through them when we had little choice.

    and those urban areas.. walk, talk and feel like Wash DC… or worse.. (aka Atlanta – where the commuting area easily extends 70 miles and beyond the core). Rome Georgia has a rush hour like Prince William… ditto Gainsville, etc.

    Rural America is STILL there… 50, 100, 200 miles from urban areas and people still live in those places – but for the most part they are not vibrant centers of economic activity. More than a few have closed manufacturing plants nearby… some stil have their plants.

    Some are doing fine and some are doing “ok” but many are just hanging on – and I suspect the primary jobs are governmental… with “spin-off” jobs that provide goods and services.

    A good metric – I think – would be to differentiate between money generated entirely locally.. and money brought in – say salaries for postal workers… or Park Service employees, etc… OR a company that provides NET jobs… such as Saturn… Toyota, and/or supplier companies.

    In other words.. distinguish between jobs that are core jobs and jobs that would not exist if not for those core jobs and really are spin-off jobs.

    WalMart is …. EVERYWHERE … and wherever they are.. there are boarded up small shops and even shopping centers whose “anchor” could not compete against WalMart.

    (I don’t dislike WalMart – they function exactly like our forefathers wanted – a competitive economy that rewards productivity – but even if I did – it would be futile because no where that we went did we see empty WalMarts; that means that most all of the local folks.. actually DO WANT the WalMarts.

    Give WalMart credit – they KNOW what demographics are needed for their stores to thrive… very… very few dead Walmarts that overestimated their market area….

    The only jobs for young people outside urban areas are fast food, clerking, etc and jobs for well-educated young people are sparse… and lower paying.

    An Irony – There is LOTS and LOTS of EXCESS infrastructure… homes, roads, schools, water/sewer… all built for towns whose populations were larger… years ago but have now shrunk.

    In fact, I’d bet that if one totaled up ALL the available, underused infrastructure, it would probably match up with what is needed … but unfortunately in the WRONG PLACE.

    So the moral to the story is that America has moved – to it’s urban areas because that’s were the jobs went.

    Many folks who already live in urban areas don’t want more people and more congestion and more density much less pay higher taxes to provide the “come-heres” with more roads, schools, homes, etc.

    I’m not encouraged nor optimistic that Americans will give up their cars… or even drive them less miles…. until and unless… gasoline reaches $4-5 a gallon… or more…. forget folks buying New Urban.. living closer to work or taking mass transit so that things will be “better”… for others.


    People will bitch about the “awful” congestion.. and suggest that without new roads that urban areas will become economically strangled.. but I don’t buy that either.

    People, companies.. will do what they have to do… to preserve their interests vice commiting economic hari kari. When companies actually start moving OUT of the urban areas.. would we WRING our hands… or breath a sign of relief?

    Companies are not going to move their operations to rural America.. at least not anytime soon – they’ll more likely move them to the urban fringes…then .. because their labor force is still in the same region – AND they want their folks Physically on-site… so managers .. will actually have something to do (God forbid.. they’d have to actually determine the work product of an employee 100 miles away).

    But I’ll end on a hopeful note.

    We visted friends in New Mexico who are refuges from the DC urban mess.

    Her job is to give seminars on Medical Billing Codes … instead of fighting her way to Dulles/Reagan/BWI… she now takes a relatively easy trip to Albuquerque AND she holds fewer seminars and makes MORE money as her employers wanted her services badly.

    In her case – the Internet IS critical.. and a key issue was if DSL was available where they wanted to live – it was.. and after 40+ years in the DC Area.. they now awake to crisp mornings.. and the only congestion is the horses jostling for the best grass.

    Important to recognize.. that she had something that was needed – that folks are willing to pay for… and so she COULD dictate the terms of her employment.

    .. so I do believe that the Internet will play a central role… in WHERE businesses actually DO business… but by the time we get a good handle on HOW.. it will have already happened.

    Proactive Planning.. is apparently not our long suite!

  13. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “An Irony – There is LOTS and LOTS of EXCESS infrastructure… homes, roads, schools, water/sewer… all built for towns whose populations were larger… years ago but have now shrunk.”

    Yup. 20% of our traffic and 40% of our traffic congestion occurs on 10% of the roads.

    “…people are not flocking to small towns and rural areas.” A recent copy of Progressive Farmer documented just the opposite.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    FYI, you don’t need DSL. Satellite Internet is available pretty much anywhere via hughes.net, and is reasonably priced, and works pretty darn decently. My small business uses them.

    Also, jobs outside the urban core are a lot more diverse than you appear to realize. Actual rural jobs I actually know about include farming with all its myriad specialized variations (from raising chicks to nursery stock to flower seeds to heritage livestock and plants to organic farming to raising horses), free-lance writing, pottery, painting, other arts and crafts, remote computer administration and support. Plus doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects, physical therapists, and dozens of others.

    MANY rural jobs are home-based businesses, which are typically taking advantage of favorable zoning flexibility.

    Quite a few vital rural areas are centered around colleges and universities, around state and national parks, etc.

    The trend has been people moving in for jobs. Now a lot of people are interested in moving back out – and with satellite Internet and telecommuting, they can.

  15. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    jobs with high salaries…. verses jobs such as organic gardening… botique… cottage industries… etc….

    I’m not running those jobs down… only pointing out that a more modest lifestyle accompanies them by default.

    And I agree.. more and more folks are deciding that money (higher salaries) are simply not worth the serious compromises in lifestyle… and ARE leaving the urban areas …

    … but the overall numbers… tell the story… most areas like the DC area are STILL growing… still expanding.. still gaining more and more people… and .. yes.. we might be approaching the day when they stop.. and jobs become very dispursed… and many out into the rural areas…. we may, in fact, be in the middle of this trend… and not know it yet ..(but I doubt it).

    Young folks… not yet established… financially or career-wise… and still have marriage and family ahead of them… have a hard row to hoe… so to speak .. in trying to START their journey in a rural area… unless of course Mom/Dad already have an established business (internet-driven naturally)… for them to join… and who knows.. maybe we’re witnessing the birth/early childhood of such a thing.

    I certainly think that such potentials cannot be ignored… but will take time to play out.. in numbers… that actually result in significant numeric reductions in the growth of jobs and people in urban areas.

    And .. I’d certainly think a provocative thought would be to consider whether folks leaving the urban areas for internet-driven rural lifestyles… would not only outpace new urban concept efforts.. but,… perhaps render them moot… and amusing artifacts of do-gooders attempts to tinker with settlement patterns. (no insult intended to anyone who may have a dog in the settlement pattern “hunt”)

  16. Ray Hyde Avatar

    “a hard row to hoe… so to speak .. in trying to START their journey in a rural area”

    That’s right. Most of my neighbors are retired or semi-retired consultants who previously were young urban singles and paid their dues in high tech, government, or defense jobs, and then got out. But they are pretty much on the fringe. I don’t think we are talking about pure rural development as a big growth area, but to ignore the situation of the edge cities and THEIR subsequent expansion is just wrong. And the Dulles situation shows the importance of managing the situation in a timely manner.

  17. tobias Jodter Avatar
    tobias Jodter

    This thread is why I enjoy reading this blog – it should be mandatory reading for all politicians… toomanytaxes needs to run for office – you’d get my vote…

    On a side note this article from the WP is quite germane to the discussion:


  18. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    TJ – Your words are too kind. I’m active in public affairs, but politics are too dirty. Years ago, in another state, I helped run two successful election campaigns for a state senator. I was exposed to way too much ugly mud-slinging and back-biting. I’ll stay active in public issues, but not on any ballot.

  19. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m still wondering why some urban areas grow “up” and others expand “out”.

    Or perhaps both happen… in concert… but still left with wondering what the criteria/dynamics are.

    I know this may sound a bit weird… but if one takes the goals of New Urbanism and applies them to multi-story buildings that house businesses and residences …

    mobility – less cars – more walking – more using public transportation

    storm water runoff – one roof sheds the same amount of runoff.. whether there be one floor or 40 floors below it.

    Home is near shopping, medical, work, etc… and can be done without a car.

    I dunno about schools… no clue
    do they have schools in skyscrapers? 🙂

    but the basics are – why out rather than up especially when density is deemed a more efficient use of land?

    When we advocate governments to incentivize New Urban type projects – why do we not also advocate incentivizing multi-story mixed-use projects?

    I’m sure this is a case of ignorance on my part and someone out there can readily supply the rationale that determines whether a developer seeks to build a multi-story project centrally located vs building a flatter project on the urban fringe.

  20. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross


    excellent article! Thanks for the link!

    Reminds me of that show “Green Acres” where city folk… of indepependent means make their way to a rural area and bring with them their own tastes and then recognize that others like them also have the same needs.

    This kind of thing IS ocurring all across the country but almost always in areas where an old town already exists and has quite a few shuttered shops readily available for re-use.

    Important to point out that the “new” shops usually are not things like markets or hardware, etc that serves the needs of the pre-existing rural folks who already live there.

    Rather… somewhere… usually within 30-40 miles.. there is a WalMart where EVERYONE obtains their day-to-day needs.

    I’m not saying this is good or bad – only that it is not what it used to be.

    I do wonder that if this type of resettlement is going to accelerate – what THAT means…

    Does it mean a lot of our older essentially abandoned towns are going to be brought back to life because of the internet and UPS?

    Will we see the small villiage settlement pattern.. become a major way that our expanding population will settle?

    In 50 years.. will the issues of Sprawl and awful traffic congestion be little more than memories of the bad old days?

  21. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Larry, This is not a complete answer to your question, why do some communities build “out” rather than “up,” but it is part of the equation. Apparently (I say “apparently” because I’m no expert) there are significant costs associated with constructing buildings over 8 floors in height. Erecting buildings above that height can be justified only in locations where property values are very, very high.

  22. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Jim, a number of people in the construction and real estate industry have told me that the breakpoint where construction costs escalate is just above three or four stories. They tell me that it is much cheaper to build garden apartments or one-to-three story buildings for an industrial park than high-rise condos or tall office buildings.

    I notice that, in years past, local governments used to build high-rise apartments for low-income housing, but not anymore. There were lots of problems with these buildings, and I suspect that they are now too expensive to build also.

  23. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Larry, I hope you got to visit Glacier: it is the hidden and unsung gem among America’s great parks.

    I think TMT is right, you can pick a house out of a catalog, but a multistory structure has to be custom engineered, then there are setback and step back requirements, the community needs ladder trucks for emergency services, not to mention local resistance.

    It has to be a very high value proposition before you can think about it, and the driving issue is land prices. There are engineering trade offs that tell you when you can afford to go from one story and acres of parking to multiple stories with parking structures, and high-rise with underground parking.

  24. Anonymous Avatar

    I have a friend that lives in the Del Ray area of Alexandria. His wife takes Metro to work, but has a car for her other trips.

    He drives 40 miles one way to his job in the suburbs.

  25. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    I’m not sure whether this is too remote or not, but here goes. In one sense, it is important for government contractors to be near their customer — in this case, the federal government. However, can one also make a strong argument that, by concentrating so much of the federal government’s contractors in one general area, a disaster-related risk has been created? Would a terrorist attack or natural disaster in this area not only cripple the federal government, but also its contractor network? Should so much government contracting be done so close to the capital?

    In the telecom industry, companies such as Verizon have their large packet switches and databases for their signaling network in mated pairs, but not in the same city. Similarly, many information service providers have their servers located in more than one location.

    Does this principle apply to government vendors? Should it? Has NoVA become a national/homeland security risk because of the huge concentration of government contractors in the same general area? Would the federal government be more secure if more contractors were located in Alabama or Kansas? Clearly, if more vendors were located in those areas, we might be blogging other problems, rather than growth and transportation.

  26. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Transportation is a problem because too many jobs are in one place. That causes many other problems, including the ones you note. One of the stated reasons for the BRAC move was to increase security. Another may well be that people hate their commute. Despite that, the cost and perceived danger and inconvenience of city living drives many people away from choosing that alternative. And all of the means of making it more attractive are means that will make the city even more expensive.

    Yet the Smart Growth crowd insists that the answer is to do more of what we’ve been doing, more densification, and they somehow think that will result in something different from what we’ve got. And this is in spite of economic evidence that several small cities produce more than one big one of equivalent population.

    There is no evidence anywhere that increasing density can do anything other than concentrate our transportation and pollution problems. And yet one strong driver behind this is to prevent sprawl from eating up precious open space: we are going to concentrate our problems as an environmental imperative.

    At the same time, city residents are demanding more open space. Fairfax mortgaged their town hall to buy open land. In the outlying areas we are zoning land as off limits to those who would willingly buy it otherwise. In so doing we are also prohibiting some people who would willingly do so from selling it. Outrageous lot sizes mean that they can only be sold to those who will willingly hold most of it open, and can afford to.

    But whether we buy it or preserve it in other ways, the main purpose of those policies is to use the land for nothing. We justify this and put the value on it by calling it viewscape, watershed, habitat, forest, farms etc. At least Fairfax is honest. They are buying the land at the express request of their citizens, and they are sending the citizens the bill to the tune of $12.5 million.

    Eventually all this land saving is going to mean that new development will go someplace else. The very process of trying to increase both densification and save open space is going to result in the grass looking that much greener on the other side of the fence, and the property there that much more desirable and valuable.

    With conflicting policies like these, we should change the state flag and make it the horns of a dillema on a field of green confusion.

  27. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    TTM, You raise an interesting question regarding the concentration of federal contractors in the D.C. metro area, and whether it would make good policy to encourage a broader geographical dispersion of the contractor base. In my observation, the contractor base is getting more and more concentrated. Barely a week goes by without some out-of-state company announcing that it’s setting up an office in Northern Virginia to better serve its federal customers.

    Back to a point I made earlier, while in theory the Internet makes it possible to do business from anywhere, in practice, the dynamics of the knowledge economy create countervailing forces. Face-to-face contact is just as important as ever, perhaps more so. When the primary means of production is people, building and maintaining relationships is critical. Witness Silicon Valley, Hollywood, Wall Street. The same applies to government IT. Vendors need to be physically close to their customers in order to interact with them. Satellite conference calls will do in a pinch, but they’re no substitute.

    On top of the human factor, you’ve got the “skills” factor. Doing business with the federal government requires a detailed knowledge of federal procurement practices. Business is not done the same way as it is in the private sector. To gain access to people with that knowledge base, you have to be in the Washington area.

  28. Anonymous Avatar

    Local offices for government IT are typically sales people, not the folks doing the work. Look at Oracle’s Reston office – you don’t have the developers there – you have sales people and some trainers.

    A VERY substantial percentage of IT folks telecommute some or all of the time – and many more would and could do so if they had a chance.

    IT work typically involves a lot of individual effort, making it ideal for telecommuting and remote locations.

  29. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “There will be no political consensus or solution to this issue until that identity split is addressed.”

    Excellent discourse on who “owns” the problem and who will pay.

    But methinks there WILL be a political consensus – at some point – and it may or may not be happy days for any.

    I doubt seriously that any local politician is going to be thrown out of office for NOT raising taxes despite claims to the contrary… 🙂

    Where I come down on this is that what will not fly is to collect money from everyone and then have a political process where the proceeds are allocated without regard to where that money came from.

    What this boils down to, in my view, is that if NoVa folks want more roads – they’re going to have to pay for them.

    If folks who live in Fredericksburg want more roads to commute to NoVa, they’re going to have to pony up that money.

    Even then.. not everyone in either jurisdiction will want to pay for more roads

    .. and this is why I think, in the end, people are going to end up paying on an individual basis for new roads.

    .. you drive – you pay. if you want to drive more -then you’ll pay more.

    This concept was not possible before the advent of electronic tolling but is now and road use can be charged just as electricity or water/sewer is.

    This obviously will not work for surface streets so folks who use only surface streets.. i.e. live and work locally will be fine.

    Commuters – yes – they’re going to feel the pain – between tolls and higher gasoline costs – they’re going to have to go back and re-calculate the cost of where they live vs the cost of how much it costs to get to/from where they have chosen to live.

    At some point – the answer to the question about whether one MUST drive a lot verses someone who WANTS to drive a lot – will be answered by simple economics – not politics or policies.

  30. Anonymous Avatar

    I think an economic approach would be far more palatable to more people than a regulatory approach – provided that the economic approach is based on real use of real infrastructure.

    I worry a bit when I see folks here talking about the expense of county water and sewer, and charging it back, when we’re discussing small farms that are on individual well and septic. Seems like some of these folks have never lived outside of a city.

  31. Ray Hyde Avatar

    If you have electronic tolling there is no reason it can’t work for surface streets as well as arterials. I think part of the call for tolling comes from people who think it won’t affect them much.

    It still misses the point of drive heavier pay more or drive more wastefully pay more and therefore taxes may people unfairly. It also requires an entire new infrastructure.

    Set the tax on fuel where it really needs to be and you will achieve the same result of drive more pay more, and additionally you will collect for drive heavier pay more, use more HP pay more, don’t keep your car tuned up, pay more.

    One possible problem with the gas tax is that short trips use proportionately more gas, so those that live work and shop close to home would also pay more, proportionately.

    Unless electronic tolling is quite granular, it will result area related inequities or zones of free transit and that will become a political football closely related to land values. I don’t think that is what people have in mind when they talk about linking transportation with land use.

    I think that anonymous 8:24 is correct. If we actually charge the TRUE locational costs we might be very surprised at the results.

  32. Toomanytaxes Avatar

    Ray, I think that we are back to the questions of “which fuels do we tax” and “how do we tax them”? I expect that we will see more vehicles powered by other than gasoline and diesel fuels in the future. As we see more and more hybrids on the road, we are also seeing lesser contributions to the transportation fund. Should two vehicles that are equal weight and driven the same number of miles pay drastically different tax payments because one is a hybrid and the other isn’t? I could make good arguments on both sides of that issue. But, in any event, the problem will only grow larger.

    We may see all vehicles contain a mandatory RFID tag that can be read when a vehicle enters or leaves a state, a county, a toll road or a “congestion zone.” Other factors such as time of day, vehicle weight, etc. can be factored into the equation. Usage-sensitive pricing is what it is. Ditch the fuel taxes and bill the drivers monthly. I suspect that an RFID tag and a database could also trigger a message to the state police that Vehicle XYZ has failed to pay the last two months’ fees and needs to be stopped and ticketed.

    Moreover, the same tags could be used by public and private roads. We might even see demand management as roads lower their prices for heavier trucks that drive at night in congested areas.

    I’m sure that there are reliability and security issues that would need to be addressed, but there are quite a few smart people in this country, many of whom live right here in Virginia.

  33. Ray Hyde Avatar

    My basic approach is that anything that is sold gets taxed, including labor and services. Therefore you would tax all fuels, including home heating oil, natural gas and firewood.

    In exchange, you would then leave capital alone unless capital asset is sold. That way capital can do its job and generate more wealth and more spending and more tax revenue, without being slapped with imputed taxes as in real estate tax.

    People who earn more buy more and use more would get taxed more. People who save would not get taxed as much as people who spend. Our wasteful ways go far beyond tooling around in our SUV to pick up a loaf of bread.

    Under my plan, road use would not be explicitly taxed because no money is changing hands. However, because road use is so closely tied to commerce, the effect is the same. We just have to set the tax high enough to support the road use we actually need, which hasn’t been done so far.

  34. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    “it still misses the point of drive heavier pay more or drive more wastefully pay more and therefore taxes may people unfairly.”

    Ray – I don’t understand this.

    If you want to drink 5 2-liter bottles of coke a day – you are not being unfairly taxed (with the sales tax).

    You’re starting off presuming that many folks “have no choice”.

    Why not let folks make their own decisions about what they must do and what they choose to do or not the same exact way they do with anything that costs money?

    Providing everyone with unlimited infrastructure no matter whether they really need it or not is the economic equivalent of giving lumber away and letting people decide if they “need” it.

    This is the fundamental issue with roads that cost millions of dollars per mile to build and maintain – and a gas (fuel) tax that would have to easily triple to provide enough money to fully fund the backlog of roads (assuming that they are all needed and needed right now (ludicrous).

    Even with water/sewer/electricity (all of which are health/welfare issues – the cost is keyed to useage and we all know what happens if you don’t penalize people for excess useage.

    They’ll leave the hose on… all the lights on… etc…

    Only when there is an economic penality for excess useage will folks make decisions based on what is best for them – economically.

    Imagine if the electric company had to plan capacity for the grid – if electricity were sold below cost and no penalities for excessive useage.

    Well, you don’t have to imagine what would happen.. it’s happening right now with roads.

  35. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, a significant part of the cost of gasoline is taxes.

    There’s a HUGE economic penalty for driving more, which anyone who actually has to drive a good bit for their job (I do) is intimately familiar with.

    How do you define excess usage? Especially considering that usage of roads directly benefits the economy – making commerce possible, making our Virginia tourism possible, allowing a free market in jobs and easing the ability to change jobs and bounce back after layoffs, etc.

    Spending extra time on the road costs in TIME (probably the most important), in expensive gasoline, wear and tear on your car, and additional insurance costs. No one who spends a lot of time in a car thinks it’s free – it’s incredibly expensive to drive a lot.

    I have “free” water (well water) and I sure don’t leave the hose on. I have “free” sewer (individual septic) and I sure don’t flush the toilet extra just because it’s free.

    But with gas at nearly $3 per gallon, driving sure isnt’ “free”.

  36. Ray Hyde Avatar

    Larry, I agree, that wasn’t very clear. If you have tolls you will collect tolls from those in that area. And everyone else takes a pass, so tolling is more inequitable than gas tax that snags everyone who drives, or receives goods that were delivered by road.

    Gas taxes automatically charge more for those thtat drive heavier vehicles, drive longer distances, make multiple short trips, and it makes no distinction as to whethter the trip is wasteful or not. The infrastructure is already in place to collect the gas tax so it is far more efficient than new tolling mechanisms can be.

    However, there are some places where tolls make sense, I’m not excluding them entirely.

    I agree it is ludicrous to think that we need to raise the gas tax times three to fund all the roads we may or may not need, but your argument against the gas tax, that it won’t raise the money we won’t need any longer because people will drive less only implies how well it will work.

    Furthermore, I don’t agree that roads are offered at below cost. All the roads we have are paid for somehow, and we are paying the bill. It is true that some of the cost comes out of real estate taxes and income taxes, but both of those sources are also highly dependent on the roads.

  37. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Valued Reader:

    If you have gotten to this comment you know there have been a lot of ideas tossed against the wall in this string. Some good, some not so good.

    Among the latter category is the very first comment.

    I starts with a one word paragraph:


    The next paragraph cites data which, if it were understood by the commenter, does not contradict the Blog posting.

    The data is confusing because it relies on municipal jurisdictional borders that do not conform to the organic components of human settlement patterns. In spite of this Wash COG data over the years have generally supported the data published by WaPo and in this Blog posting.

    COG data is confusing because of the use of the phrases “inner suburbs” and “outer suburbs.” Those who benefit from citizens misunderstanding the location of jobs relish this confusion.

    That is why at S/PI we use Radius Analysis. Tysons Corner is inside R=10. “Core” is capitalized and has a specific meaning. When it is all sorted out the picture is very clear and undercuts the posters desire to build houses for urban residents on his wifes farm.

    The commenter goes on in the next three paragraphs to intentionally use confusing words such as “cities,” “outlying areas” and “core” (not capitalized) to further muddle the issues raised.

    “Nonsense” is in fact a good description of what follows that comment, not what comes before it.

    This also causes many of the comments that follow by others to be a little off point.

    We will try to address some of the misconceptions in future columns.


  38. I have bad news for the “creative class” people who can live and work in rural settings distant from customers and collegues. If a company can parcel the work out to someone over the internet in Charlottesville they can parcel the work out to someone over the internet in Chennai as well. And the person in Chennai will do the work at about 1/5 the cost. I have traveled and worked extensively throughout India (Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Hyderabad to name a few places I’ve worked). The Indians are smart, hardworking and creative. The big barriers to sending technology work to India are the need to work directly with customers, the need for face-to-face collaboration among technicians and the need for personal leadership of technology teams. I love Charlottesville (went to college there) but I’d be nervous if I could live down there and do my job over the internet.

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