GEOGRAPHIC DISPERSAL

The same telecommunications capabilities that make some trips unnecessary also support and amplify the land use patterns and densities, and the resultant origins, destinations, and activities that cause growing amounts of vehicle travel. These land use patterns can be characterized as a mix of centralization and decentralization yielding, in effect, an archipelago economy. Metropolitan areas of all sizes are the islands, and rural areas are the sea. Transportation and communications between the metropolitan islands are critical to economic functioning. The hotels and meeting rooms of cities serve as places for face-to-face encounters.

The continuing strength of city nodes is a reflection of the clustering patterns that occur as a result of agglomeration economies and the accumulation of critical resource mass. Telecommunications networks organize around city patterns very well, with switching, points of presence, order taking, and other network management functions located where there is access to a work force.

So, population and business activity are growing fastest within metropolitan areas rather than in nonmetropolitan, more rural areas. Within the larger metropolitan areas, however, the forces of the partially regulated market economy are causing a pattern of decentralization and sprawl, known lately as Edge City (Garreau, 1991), to develop. Sprawling suburban patterns of residential, employer, and service locations are understood by transportation analysts to be the nation's major generator of automobile travel. The nonmetropolitan areas growing the fastest are those directly adjoining metropolitan areas, in transformation toward becoming part of the metropolitan region in a future population census. As the metropolitan areas sprawl outward into surrounding rural counties, becoming what Ed Risse (1993) calls the "new urban regions," traffic must travel on typically less developed roadway infrastructure, generating worsening congestion.

Transportation analyst Alan Pisarski (1992) has analyzed the growth of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) during the 1980s and found that it can be statistically traced to the following five factors measured by the Nationwide Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) and the U.S. Census: population growth, growth in the number of daily trips per household, longer average trip lengths, lower automobile occupancy loads, and falling public transit use. The relative weights of these five factors are shown in Exhibit 2-10. All five are quite prominent, ranging in relative contribution to VMT growth from 13% for population growth, to 36% for the longer average trip lengths.

Each of these five VMT growth factors is strongly linked to the continuing expansion of the suburbs as the dominant place for Americans to live and work. Population growth is now occurring mostly in suburban parts of the U.S., as seen in Exhibit 2-11. The suburbs are now home to 46% of the population. Most employment and retail growth is taking place in the suburbs as well. Of the new office space constructed since 1970, 80% is outside central business districts (FHWA, 1992).

The lower densities and dispersed destinations of the suburbs lead to more trips and longer trips. The inability of the public transportation industry to offer services that gain significant market share in suburb-to-suburb commuting and the dispersion of destinations lead to the dominance of single-occupant automobile use as the best way to make on-demand, rapid, door-to-door movement.

The ongoing deployment and use of telecommunications has been a cause of suburbanization in the United States. Causation here means that including the history of the deployment and use of telecommunications in a history of U.S. suburbs provides a better explanation of how and why they have evolved than excluding the development of telecommunications. Analysts would also assign inexpensive real estate on the metropolitan periphery and increasingly affordable access to automobiles as causations. Telecommunications, automobiles, and inexpensive real estate are each necessary but not sufficient conditions for the development of the sprawling suburbs that have arisen since World War II.

In analyzing the role of telecommunications and land use, some would hold that telecommunications is a neutral facilitating technology that could just as well have supported more centralized, higher density patterns as it did the suburban land use patterns that in fact have come to dominate the U.S. scene. Perhaps, but what is striking is in fact how the Edge City pattern found from coast to coast is now universally shaping metropolitan areas that began at such different times in the history of the country and with such different economic and lifestyle bases.

The first mass telecommunications medium, the telephone, rose to prominence when a significant portion of the population still lived in rural areas but when the center cities of the early 20th century were growing as well. Central city downtowns were facilitated in their growth by the deployment of technologies that served to put large numbers of working people into close proximity: mass transit systems, skyscrapers, and elevators. The automobile and telephone were widely adopted, after the first stages of deployment of these technologies of closeness, to make remoteness work better, including facilitation of taller skyscrapers and making a major improvement in the quality of rural life. The multiple Edge City office complexes and industrial parks of the suburbs are a product of technologies that limit and control mass proximity by providing only limited and controlled access: automobiles on freeways and multi-functional, computerized telecommunications. Newer forms of telecommunications (for example, cellular phones, voice mail, alphanumeric paging, and wireless e-mail) make remoteness and mobility work even better (Pratt, 1993).

As USDOT noted in its telecommuting study, telecommunications and information technology "have made possible a high degree of geographic decentralization of work, characterized by an almost continual flow of telephone conversations, faxes, and overnight express packages on a national and international scale. Customers, colleagues, and suppliers are increasingly likely to be physically distant, linked by modern telecommunications and other services" (USDOT, 1993, p. 9).

The role of telecommunications as one cause of the development of the suburbs is conventional wisdom among analysts of suburbs (Fishman, 1990; Garreau, 1991; Downs, 1992). Suburbs began as new residential zones, followed initially by shopping and other services and later by manufacturing and office employment locations, including many relocations from downtown and center-city locations. Simultaneously with the rise of the suburbs since World War II, telecommunications has become increasingly necessary for basic business functioning. All production of goods and services is becoming increasingly telecommunications intensive, as described earlier.

There are several underlying reasons why telecommunications has been a stronger support technology for the suburbs than for the central cities or for the rural areas that are more distant from metropolitan areas.

First, the growing capability of telecommunications allows businesses and other organizations to locate operations more flexibly, where managers want them to be located. Where managers want to be, more and more, is suburbia. The lower density settlement patterns that characterize suburbia have natural strengths in the modern economy, including how they resonate with telecommunications-based growth opportunities.

Inexpensive space in the suburbs is a critical requirement for the newer, smaller firms that grow up as strong users of new telecommunications technologies. Larger, more flexible space available in suburbs allows for rapid changes in configuration and tenant commitment that are necessary for survival in the wired, high-speed, chaotic new economy.

A greater choice of newly constructed buildings allows for provision of new inside wiring for telecommunications. Clearer, more nearly interference-free, less restricted, and more abundant roof space gives line-of-sight access to satellites and distant microwave towers. Radio frequency characteristics in lower density areas are less problematic than those found in busy downtowns.

Larger floor space options and more room for parking allow customer access from a wide geographic area. Thus, national chain stores can capitalize on the economies of scale that arise from telecommunications-intensive systems.

Better public schools for employees' children are typically found in suburbs, compared to central city schools. Suburban schools generally have more computers and are doing better at using them in the curriculum. Suburbs provide better access to more educated and skilled job applicants, including those having a stronger facility in using telecommunications and computers. Telecommunications makes having back offices and branch offices in locations closer to suburban workers possible because of telecommunications connections to traditional center city headquarters.

Finally, movement to outlying suburbs is sometimes made in search of better access to suppliers in order to receive frequent just-in-time shipments, as described later in this chapter. National and export-oriented businesses seek better access to airports, typically located on city outskirts. Air travel is a complementary means of getting to the distant markets that are opened up through telecommunications.

Robert Reich, in The Work of Nations (1991), writes of the clustering instincts of symbolic analysts, the 20% of the U.S. work force that solve, identify, and broker problems by manipulating symbols. Reich associates these professional people--managers, designers, engineers, scientists, lawyers, and consultants--very closely with the computer and telecommunications tools with which they work. "Symbolic analysts can work almost anywhere there exist a phone, fax, modem, and airport" (pp. 294-95). They choose, however, to cluster in suburbs located near universities, research parks, or corporate headquarters as a way of seceding into communities of like-minded people with similar incomes and values (pp. 271-272).

Some transportation planners have lately taken to predicting that more successful metropolitan-area transportation services than those seen to date are going to require policies that begin to shape land use into a series of relatively high-density residential clusters, employment clusters, and service clusters. These clusters would have to be arranged in a pattern of geographic proximity ready to be served by new public transportation modes that substitute for the single-occupant automobile. Advocates of such land use changes may regard telecommunications as a neutral tool available for use by governments legislating new land use and zoning regulations that fit this less transportation-intensive vision. For example, government policy could stimulate the development of telework centers within walking distance of residential neighborhoods. Telecommunications technology would permit these centers to exist.

While these kinds of spatial rearrangements could in theory be established as a goal in the public interest, our reading of present government policy and market forces is that telecommunications, like the automobile, has become a relentless force shaping the suburban-dominated social, economic, land use, and transportation patterns we see actually emerging almost universally across America already. Consequently, major changes in the momentum of these patterns, even at the suburban edges of growth, are not going to be easy to achieve without significant modifications to the current mix of residential choices made available to consumers as well as changes in the cost of doing business. A policy framework of providing consumer and business management choice is likely to continue as a necessity, with limits on the level of compulsion that is feasible, not to mention desirable. A first step in using policy tools to change living and working patterns requires understanding how telecommunications and market forces now shape these patterns.

To summarize this section, the evolving deployment and growing use of telecommunications are important facilitating causes of the suburbanized metropolitan land use patterns and the resulting mobility demands that have emerged nationwide.

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