The first exhibit shows the popular view of the geography of urban employment in Australia’s largest cities. It is commonly assumed the great bulk of jobs – and certainly virtually all “good” jobs – is located in the CBD.
This is an understandable view given the first exhibit shows the spatial distribution of employment density in Melbourne in 2006. It indicates the density of jobs in the Central Business District (CBD) – the first one km radius ring around the town hall – is an order of magnitude higher than anywhere else in the metropolitan area. It closely aligns with the cluster of high rise office buildings that define the CBD in the popular imagination.
But is this is an adequate representation of the geography of employment in Australia’s second largest city? The second exhibit highlights that density is not the same as the number of jobs. It shows how employment is really distributed within Melbourne – the CBD is easily the largest single concentration of employment, but it nevertheless has only 15% of all metropolitan jobs. In fact only 28% of metropolitan jobs are located in the inner city – i.e. lie within a 5 km radius of the town hall – and 50% are located within 13 km radius.
This dispersed pattern is not recent. Melbourne was compact and dense up until the end of the nineteenth century when the appearance of mechanised transport – primarily trams and trains – enabled middle class residents to escape the crowding and congestion of the centre for the space and amenity of the suburbs. This trend was boosted dramatically after WW2 when increasingly widespread car ownership democratised access to affordable land on the urban fringe.
Firms followed a similar pattern. Initially, manufacturing and distribution firms moved to the outer suburbs so they could escape congestion in the inner city, exploit new space-intensive horizontal production methods, and be closer to the suburbanising workforce. The suburban population generated increasing numbers of jobs to service its consumption needs, amplified by the increasing level of outsourcing from the home. More recently, some higher order activities have moved from the CBD to near-CBD and inner city locations and some back office functions have moved to the suburbs.
By 1981, only 35% of Melbourne’s jobs were located within 5 km of the centre. The “average job” was 12.4 km from the centre and the “centre of mass” of employment was 5.9 km away. The trend to the suburbs was very strong over the succeeding 25 years. By 2006 just 28% of jobs were within 5 km radius and the ‘average job’ was now 15.6 km from the centre. The centre of mass had moved 2 km further outwards to the vicinity of Tooronga, 7.9 km from the CBD. Read the rest of this entry »
We’re familiar enough with the idea of the ‘centre of gravity’ of population in Melbourne. But where is the centre of gravity of employment?
Is it the city centre? No, for one thing the CBD’s only got around 15% of all metropolitan jobs. For another, the combination of Melbourne’s distinctly lop-sided growth south of the Yarra and the fact that 72% of jobs are more than 5 km from the CBD, suggests it’s going to be somewhere south east of the CBD.
So I’ve calculated the location of the centre of gravity (more correctly, the ‘centre of mass’) of jobs from Census data. The accompanying chart shows how that location changed over the period from 1981 to 2006.
The centre of gravity is calculated by dividing Melbourne up into 1,000 traffic zones and weighting the coordinates of the centroid of each zone by the number of jobs it holds. If you imagine a relief model of employment in Melbourne, the centre of gravity is where you’d rest the model on a needle so that it balancess perfectly.
In 1981, the centre of mass of employment was 5.9 km east south east of the CBD, on Kooyong Rd, just north of Toorak Rd. By 2006 it was 7.9 km from the CBD, close to the corner of Malvern and Tooronga Rds.
This movement reflected the much stronger growth in jobs in the suburbs over this period compared to the CBD and inner city. Read the rest of this entry »
The accompanying chart shows how public transport’s share of the journey to work varies with population density across 41 US and Australian cities.
It is taken from the same article that I mentioned in my last post. The authors, Dr John Stone and Dr Paul Mees, find there is only a modest relationship between population density and transit share (R2 = 0.229). They conclude that “higher density across the whole urban region is not the explanatory variable that many might expect”.
Los Angeles, for example, is the densest metropolitan area in the US – denser ever than New York – yet the chart shows public transport’s share of work travel in LA is much smaller than in NY.
If that seems counter-intuitive, your intuition could be right. The chart uses average population density calculated across the entire urbanised area of each city.
While that’s perfectly alright in some contexts, it doesn’t allow for the possibility that public transport’s ability to win travel away from cars is related to the morphology of density – the ‘peaks and troughs’ in the way the population is spatially distributed. It’s possible that the relative proportion of population in high density areas vs low density areas has a greater impact on mode share.
Using average density probably won’t present a serious problem with cities like Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Phoenix and Portland where the population is overwhelmingly suburbanised at relatively uniform (low) densities. But it could have a big impact on places like New York which have an extensive ring of low density suburbs as well as a high density central region e.g. Manhattan and Brooklyn.
A way of dealing with this issue is to use weighted density rather than average density. This involves weighting the density of each suburb (or other convenient geographical unit e.g. traffic zone) by its share of the city’s total population. So a one km2 suburb with 5,000 residents (say) carries a lot more weight than another suburb of the same area that has only 1,000 residents. Read the rest of this entry »
According to a report in The Age last month, new research published in the latest issue of Australian Planner shows that higher suburban densities are not a precondition for vastly better public transport. Reporter Andrew West says:
City dwellers have been presented with a false choice – live in apartments and enjoy good public transport or retain the house and land and rely on cars
The research by Dr John Stone and Dr Paul Mees contends that it is not necessary to intensify land-use across the whole city before significant improvement in both patronage and economic efficiency of public transport becomes possible.
They say the contribution made by urban consolidation “to recent public transport patronage growth is modest and makes little impact on the density of the whole urban region”. Most residents of Australian cities will continue to live in houses and suburban subdivisions that are already built so “alternatives to the car will need to be effective at existing urban residential densities”.
They argue instead for a ‘networked’ model of public transport. Improving the way existing public transport resources are managed – especially by providing higher frequencies and improving coordination between services and between modes – will yield significantly higher transit patronage in the suburbs without the need for broadbrush increases in density.
I’ve argued before that increasing residential density, by itself, will not necessarily increase public transport patronage significantly, much less shift travellers out of their cars in large numbers.
I’ve also argued that there are generally better gains to be had from using existing resources more efficiently rather than relying on strategies based around huge new infrastructure investments or massive land use changes.
And I think the idea of networking public transport is absolutely critical. By embracing transfers, networking provides faster travel paths to all parts of the metropolitan area than is possible by radial routing.
However it’s not obvious to me that ‘networked’ public transport, by itself, would have the sort of major impact on mode share in the suburbs implied by The Age’s report. I can see that it would make public transport much better for existing users and I’ve no doubt it would increase patronage, but I’m not persuaded that it would be enough to address the ‘false choice’ that The Age says Melburnites have been presented with. Read the rest of this entry »
Sooner rather than later, the Baillieu Government is going to have to prove its credibility on public transport by making substantial progress on one of the rail lines it has promised. And I have an idea for where it should start.
The easiest candidate is the promised Avalon rail line because its cost is estimated at only $250 million. But as some commentators have pointed out, including me, this would almost inevitably be a jumbo white elephant. It could be a real political liability too.
If good sense prevails, the Federal Government will refuse to contribute to the project and the Government will be off the hook. The private operator might also refuse to contribute to a properly designed financial model.
The other promised rail lines – to Rowville, Doncaster and Melbourne Airport – are all subject to studies. They will all be very costly to build to an acceptable standard but it’s unlikely the electorate will be bothered by the fine print or the cost. It’s likely that as far as they’re concerned, a ‘promise’ is a promise.
I’ve indicated before that none of these lines, on the face of it, seem ready for the green light just yet (here, here and here). Unless new information is introduced or the projects are redefined, it seems to me that any objective study would have to conclude they won’t be ready for funding for some time, probably not until after 2020 (it wouldn’t be politic for any government to come out and say ‘no’ outright).
But I think the Government will have to show serious progress on at least one of these lines by the time of the next election. In my view, the preferred candidate should be the Rowville line, but in an amended form. Read the rest of this entry »
The credibility of the six new suburban ‘supercentres’ announced by the Victorian Government in October 2008 has been undermined by a recent Government report on land supply.
The Government announced in October 2008 that it was upgrading six existing suburban Principal Activity Centres (PAC) to Central Activities District (CAD) status. The CADs are a new top-level category of centre intended to provide “significant CBD-type jobs and services” in the suburbs.
Described as “mini CBDs” by The Age and envisaged to have a mix of business, residential and civic uses, the six designated CADs are Broadmeadows, Box Hill, Dandenong, Footscray, Frankston and Ringwood.
I’ve previously pointed out there’s little evidence that any “science” was applied to the selection of the CADs. It seems the Government picked six centres under the existing Transit Cities Program and designated them as CADs.
They do not appear to be natural centres of commerce or industry. Only one of the six CADs (Box Hill) ranks among the nine largest suburban centres in terms of job numbers.
Now the 2009 Annual Report on the Urban Development Program issued earlier this year by the planning department shows that the CADs aren’t the preferred location of residents or developers, either. The accompanying graph indicates the number of dwellings recently built, under construction, or planned, in major suburban activity centres. Read the rest of this entry »
There are many misconceptions about the suburbs. A common one is that they are dormitories for workers who commute to the CBD. Another is that jobs in the suburbs are mostly low skill and low pay.
The reality is most economic activity in our capital cities takes place in the suburbs. In Melbourne, for example, 72% of jobs are more than 5 km from the CBD, 50% are more than 13 km away and 25% more than 22 km away.
Jobs have been moving away from the centre for a long time. The “centre of gravity” of jobs in Melbourne is now 7.9 km south east of the CBD, in the vicinity of Tooronga station, East Malvern. That’s up from 5.9 km in 1981. The “average” job is 15.6 km from the CBD (12.4 km in 1981).
This decentralised pattern holds for most industry sectors. More than 70% of jobs in the Community sector and more than 80% of jobs in the Retail, Wholesale and Manufacturing sectors are in the suburbs (defined as more than 5km from the CBD). Even in the Commercial Services sector, which is the inner city’s great strength, 49% of metropolitan jobs are in the suburbs.
Over 90% of Melburnites live in the suburbs and the great bulk work there too. Less than 10% of workers who live in outer suburbs like Casey, Cardinia, Dandenong, Knox, Maroondah, Mornington work in the centre (City of Melbourne). Even in older suburbs like Hobsons Bay, Brimbank, Maribyrnong and Moonee Valley, less than 25% of the workforce works in the centre. Read the rest of this entry »
We know that most jobs in Melbourne are now in the suburbs. There’s also an increasing understanding that large metropolitan areas are now generally polycentric rather than monocentric in form i.e. there are significant activity centres outside the CBD with large numbers of jobs. The strategic planning update to Melbourne 2030, Melbourne @ 5 Million, released in October 2008, explicitly acknowledged this reality.
It is clear that firms can increasingly obtain the benefits of density, such as face-to-face contact, in both inner city and suburban centres where they don’t have to carry the extra costs in rent and congestion imposed by the very high density of the CBD. The CBD’s share of metropolitan jobs has consequently fallen significantly over the last 30-40 years (it has staged a small revival since 1996, showing significant jobs growth in absolute terms, but its share of metropolitan jobs has not increased).
Yet many studies in many countries have found that while the number of suburban and inner city activity centres is increasing, the proportion of jobs located within them is falling. In fact, around a half to two thirds of employment in US cities is scattered across the metropolitan area at relatively low densities. Inter-city and cross-country comparisons are difficult, but the evidence suggests that suburban jobs are even more scattered in Melbourne.
It seems that firms can increasingly achieve the benefits of agglomeration at a larger geographical scale than that of the CBD or suburban activity centres. The advantages of physical proximity have apparently declined to such an extent that the costs of aggregation now exceed the benefits at ever lower levels of density.
But why are firms increasingly spurning density? Read the rest of this entry »
The Premier wants a Melbourne which encourages the transformation from a mono-centric to a multi-centred city, “so that people can work closer to where they live”. He goes on to laud Melbourne as “a city we’re all proud of – ‘a city of villages’, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.”
I’m not completely sure what he intends but I wonder if he’s thinking about “urban villages” where the great bulk of jobs are filled by local residents who live at density and walk to work. This is an old idea in planning and the Victorian planning department ran strongly with the idea in 1996.
Whether or not “employment self-sufficiency” can be achieved in practice depends on the level of geography. If we look at Melbourne from a regional perspective, most people already work in the same region in which they live (other than for jobs in the CBD) – see this paper by Kevin O’Connor and Ernest Healy. The median journey to work time in Melbourne is consequently a reasonable 30 minutes by car (55 minutes by public transport, reflecting longer trips to the city centre).
However achieving something like “self-sufficiency” in employment at a smaller geographic level is hard. There are a number of reasons for this.
One is the increasing complexity of households. In two income households both parties frequently work in separate locations, so they either elect to live near one member’s workplace (and if so which one?) or they select a compromise location. Children who continue to live at home after they’ve entered the work force have no flexibility to live closer to where they work. If changing jobs involves a change in job location then that adds another layer of difficulty.
Another reason is that the journey to work has declined in importance as a determinant of where people live. It now accounts for only one fifth to one quarter of all trips, as people travel a lot more for other purposes than they used to. There is now less reason to live near work. Other factors like the level of local amenity seem to be an increasingly important determinant of the residential location decision. Read the rest of this entry »
Last week I looked at the geography of suburban jobs in Melbourne (Where are the suburban jobs?), finding there are 31 centres that account for just 20% of all suburban jobs. There is a large variation in the size of centres, with the largest four – Clayton, Tullamarine, Kew/Hawthorn and Box Hill – accounting for nearly half of the jobs in these centres.
Today I want to look at the economic functions of suburban centres, as indicated by their industry composition. If a centre is specialised by industry compared to jobs in the rest of the suburbs, it suggests it has a distinct economic role. It could also mean that the benefits of agglomeration may not be especially important.
Actually it’s a little more complex than that – specialisation implies that being in a large, diverse centre is not that important, but being spatially close to firms in the same or a related sector is. In other words, firms seek to minimise the costs of density by locating just with “their own kind” and avoid the overhead of firms from whom they obtain little benefit.
The data shows that the economic functions of suburban centres are many and varied and differ markedly from the 80% of suburban jobs that are not located in centres. Some centres are dominated by a single industry and accordingly have a distinct “personality”. There are thirteen such centres, mostly focussed on Retail or Manufacturing, although Latrobe is concentrated in Education and Heidelberg in Health.
Yet that only tells part of the story. With only one exception, all centres have a specialisation in at least one of 17 industries and some are specialised in multiple industries. For example, although Box Hill is not dominated by a single industry like Latrobe is, it nevertheless has specialisations in Health and Government (defined as having at least twice the share of jobs in each of these two industries as jobs located outside centres do). Health accounts for 27% of jobs in Box Hill and Government for 17% – the respective figures for suburban jobs outside of centres are just 11% and 4%.
Some centres like Burwood East, Sunshine and Broadmeadows are specialised in three industries. The only truly “diversified” centre is Kew/Hawthorne, whose sectoral composition is reasonably similar to that of the rest of the suburbs in all industries (note that larger centres tend to have fewer specialisations because there is less variability). Read the rest of this entry »
Where are suburban jobs – are they located in activity centres or are they spread more or less uniformly across the suburbs?
Many people are surprised to learn that nearly three quarters of the jobs in Melbourne are located more than 5 km from the CBD i.e. in the suburbs (see The jobs are already in the suburbs). Here’s another surprise – only 20% of those suburban jobs are located in medium to large activity centres.
The other 80% aren’t sprinkled throughout residential areas in stand-alone developments (although some most definitely are). Rather, they’re mostly located in relatively small centres, for example in what Melbourne 2030 curiously calls Major Activity Centres.
Defining an activity centre is not as straightforward as it might appear. There are a number of possible approaches, such as identifying higher density clusters of jobs, people or trip ends. Another way is to look for concentrations of particular land uses such as retail space. In practise, planning agencies don’t always seem to apply a lot of rigour to defining centres. Counting the area of retail space seems to suffice in many cases, or accepting historical hierarchies in others.
I defined centres as agglomerations of employment. This is in line with the customary approach in the literature on this topic and is appropriate because employment is a good indicator of economic activity. I broke Melbourne down into 1,950 zones and applied minimum thresholds for job numbers and gross job density to each zone using 1981- 2006 Census data. Zones that exceeded both thresholds constitute centres (contiguous qualifying zones are aggregated to a single centre).
Using 2006 Census job data, I found there are 31 suburban centres in Melbourne. These contain just one fifth of all suburban jobs. That low proportion is not because my thresholds are taxing – I used the mean values of employment and density for all zones across Melbourne. The suburban centres collectively are only around one eighth as dense as the CBD (defined to include Docklands and Southbank).
If I were to set the density threshold at the same level as the inner city (including the CBD) then only 7% of all suburban jobs would be in centres. If it were set at just over half the density of the CBD then just 2% of suburban jobs would be in centres (they would be Box Hill, Doncaster, Dandenong, Wantirna Sth and Heidelberg).
I also found that the proportion of suburban firms located in centres declined significantly over 1981-06, although the number of centres increased. This is a near-universal trend in US cities and is often interpreted as signifying that density is declining in importance as transport and communication costs have fallen.
That such a relatively small proportion of suburban jobs is located in centres is an enormously important finding. It indicates that the great bulk of firms in the suburbs (and hence most firms in Melbourne) either eschew anything but modest density or, alternatively, simply can’t get access to higher density locations. Read the rest of this entry »
The six building blocks for a better Melbourne announced yesterday by the Premier are innocuous (the term mother’s milk springs to mind) except for the third one, in which he pledges to ensure the planning system “encourages the transformation of Melbourne from a mono-centric to a multi-centred city, so that people can work closer to where they live”.
The belated recognition that large modern cities tend to have multiple major employment centres was set out in the Victorian Government’s supplementary strategy plan, Melbourne @ 5 Million, released in late 2008. The original strategy, Melbourne 2030, implicitly conceived of Melbourne as a nineteenth century monocentric city – with jobs in the centre and with the suburbs acting as dormitories for workers. The multitude of small suburban centres identified in Melbourne 2030 were seen as largely providing retail and personal services for residents.
It seems the Premier knows that 72% of Melbourne’s jobs are now located more than 5 km from the CBD and 50% are more than 13 km out. But the Government doesn’t seem to know much about the geography of suburban jobs, particularly the number and role of major suburban activity centres.
Melbourne @ 5 Million designated six new Central Activities Districts (CADs) to provide “significant CBD-type jobs and services” in the suburbs. The Age described them as “mini-CBDs”. They are Broadmeadows, Box Hill, Dandenong, Footscray, Frankston and Ringwood.
I find it very hard to imagine that any of these CADs can seriously be thought of as having the potential to provide “significant CBD-type jobs and services”, at least in the foreseeable future. All the indications are that six of the existing Transit Cities were simply redesignated as CADs without much further thought.
Consider the case of Broadmeadows. On 24 March The Age ran a story headlined “Broadie all set for major revamp”, with the subtitle “Broadmeadows could become a major economic centre in the north”*. According to the story, the outstanding prospects for Broadmeadows come down to its designation as a CAD.
I don’t however see much evidence that Broadmeadows is acquiring a CBD-type character. The story lists a number of major investments that are either proceeding or planned, all of which are public sector driven.
There’re new Council premises, a Global Learning Centre, a leisure centre, a secondary school, a tree-lined extension of Main St, an upgrade of the railway station and a parking station. There’s a planned seven level office building but it is intended to accommodate public servants. All in all, there is little evidence that the private sector, which is the backbone of the CBD, has much interest in Broadmeadows beyond retailing and consumer services.
An examination of the composition of jobs is revealing. Whereas almost half of all jobs in the CBD are in Commercial Services (i.e. Finance, Insurance, Business and Property), the corresponding figure for the Broadmeadows CAD is just 4%. Where it excels however, as the projects listed above suggest, is in government – 44% of jobs are in the public sector.
Broadmeadows also has neither of the other two key characteristics of the CBD – size and density. It has only 1% as many jobs as the CBD and is only one eighth as dense. The idea that it could function like the CBD in the foreseeable future seems fanciful. Read the rest of this entry »
There was another good story published in The Age yesterday as part of the continuing series, Project Melbourne: Towards a Sustainable City. Titled The Great Divide, it compares living in a CBD apartment with outer suburban living.
However there is a point where the writer, Julie Szego, goes too far. She contends that outer suburban living “depends on jobs becoming a reality. If jobs don’t come to the suburbs, roads will remain choked and families time-poor”.
The idea that there are few jobs in the suburbs is a common misconception with important policy implications.
The reality is that around 72% of all jobs in Melbourne are located at a distance greater than 5 km from the CBD. Half of all jobs are more than 13 km from the CBD.
And these aren’t all low-skill, low-pay jobs either. The majority of jobs in Melbourne occupied by graduates are located more than 5 km from the CBD.
This misunderstanding of the geography of employment is also displayed in the first feature written for The Age’s current Project Melbourne series. That article, titled The Outer Limits, made the claim that “of those jobs that are available (in fringe suburbs), a higher percentage are blue-collar”.
The idea that suburban jobs are mostly in low skill occupations seems to be another popular misconception.
In fact, only 9% of jobs located more than 40 km from the CBD are in the Manufacturing sector, compared to 14% for all of Melbourne. If the definition of blue collar is extended to include jobs in the Wholesale, Transport and Construction sectors, the respective figures for the fringe and metropolitan area are 26% and 31%. What the fringe areas actually do have is a higher proportion of jobs than the metropolitan average in the high-skill education and health sectors.
It is not in any event clear why having more ‘blue collar’ jobs would be a disadvantage compared, say, to having an over-representation of retailing jobs. Many jobs in the modern Manufacturing and Construction industries are highly skilled and involve interacting with complex technologies and systems.
The main issues associated with employment in Melbourne can be explored in this presentation I gave last year at a cultural industries seminar at Qld University of Technology, Jobs in the Suburbs.
The contention in Julie Szego’s article that outer suburban roads are “choked” probably depends on one’s definition of what constitutes congestion. Most outer suburban residents travel locally – for example, 70% of trips by residents of the City of Casey are to destinations located in either Casey itself or the adjacent City of Cardinia (the corresponding figure for Cardinia is 83%). Read the rest of this entry »