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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on August 6, 2008 9:36 AM. The previous post in this blog was He's been right so far. The next post in this blog is A trendy place to get mugged. Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

'Burb-to-city commute gets tougher

Gas prices are causing people who work downtown to rethink their decision to live in the suburbs. What's not clear is whether the workers will move further in, or the jobs will head further out. In Portland, sometimes it seems as though both trends are trying to happen at the same time.

Comments (28)

Nah... we have that fancy MAX train to take us to work...it drops me off one block from my building downtown. But I dont take it because of gas prices. I take it because of parking prices.


As an example of the jobs moving out to the burbs, there was Northwest's Pipe decision to relocate its manufacturing ops to Vancouver (Wa) from the city of Portland. The managers at Northwest Pipe cited as a reason the ugly commute for its Vancover workers.

Although Portland is losing some well paying jobs, you also see a vibrant downtown bursting with activities on the weekends like this past Saturday with the Flung a something. This vibrancy may be partly artificial given the large borrowings, state and federal subsidies flowing into the downtown economy. But I think Portland would be vibrant even without cityhall's myriad of commands and directions.

Downtown Portland will no longer be the core for everyone, like in the "old days". There are booming commerce centers in the surrounding cities that have lulled businesses away from Downtown. There are many different locations for employment opportunities out there, yes, located in the burbs.

As gas becomes more expensive and people don't want to commute into downtown, and as business continue to feel the anti-businesses pressures in Portland, this trend will continue with people and companies leaving the downtown core as well as the city itself. I say Go For It.

As for families moving Downtown to be closer to work, I doubt that this will be a real trend. Downtown is no place for kids, let alone adults much of the time from what I see going on. Some of the close in neighborhoods are nice, but being close in will mean that these properties are in high demand and the prices will be higher for homes there than in suburbia.

Portland. What can I say?

In these discussions about "suburbs" in national press, what distance are they talking about? In southern California folks had been buying "affordable" housing 50 miles away from their jobs. I don't see that as much of an issue here, except for people who, say, choose to live in Salem and work in PDX. Commutes from Hillsboro or Gresham are only 10 or 12 miles, which is hardly onerous using either a car or transit.

Downtown has been losing jobs for years. According to the PBA, 30,000 downtown jobs in a decade. Unfortunately, the transit system is pretty much set up to get people from the outer areas downtown. That's one of the problems with fixed rail; you can't move it.

That's one of the problems with fixed rail; you can't move it.

Also one of the advantages, as its permanence tends to attract development, unlike bus routes which can be moved overnight.

I don't see that any of this is a bad thing. More jobs in the 'burbs for people want to live in big houses with big yards and raise families, so they won't have to commute for an hour in their gas-guzzling and road-clogging SUV? Sounds like a winner for everybody to me. I don't see families moving downtown any time soon, but I think there will continue to be appeal for young (and not-so-young) "creative class" singles and couple without kids who will see a lot of upside to being in the inner city.

Don't worry about downtown and the rest of inner Portland. It's still going to be the cultural center of the region. Next time you take in the symphony, a great play, a decent concert, or go to a top-tier restaurant (okay, I know there are a small handful of exceptions to that one) out in Hillsboro, Wilsonville, Gresham, or Vancouver, just lemme know. If folks from the 'burbs wanna come into town on a Friday or Saturday night to experience some of that, great! If they wanna stay out there and go to Applebee's, that's cool too.

The average life span of a job is about two years unless you are a public employee. One never knows whether the next job is across the street or across town.

Also one of the advantages, as its permanence tends to attract development, unlike bus routes which can be moved overnight.

The only thing fixed rail has documentably attracted without subsidies (and I'm not counting free rides as a subsidies, although one should) is crime. Good ideas sell themselves, bad ideas require either bribes or coercion, or both. Mass transit should follow the jobs, like busses can. The amateur social engineering that the TOD fiction embodies is a huge waste of money, energy and doomed to failure.

Fuel prices are just the first shoe to drop. Wait until people see the cost of heating their homes rise next winter - and NWN has already announced a 30% increase, so it's not just heating oil that will rise - and figure out that their 5,000 square foot suburban lifestyle home has a lot to do with that cost.

Locating jobs in the suburbs, adding mass transit, or producing a more efficient vehicle fleet, will do nothing to mitigate this problem, other than to reduce competing demand for oil. And China's demand will quickly grab up any surplus produced, so even that is questionable.

The lifestyle of living on the fringes in suburbia is quickly unraveling, and the changes we will be seeing over the next 10-20 years will make the changes of the postwar suburban boom pale in comparison.

Funny, I was talking with a CPA this morning that is doing brisk business helping small businesses relocate out of the COP to the suburbs. This was especially true of service firms that get hit by all of business license taxes. Generally speaking, service firms are the "creative class" the city has been trying to attract.

@Nate You are probably right about Portland remaining the cultural center of the region. Of course, the Cleveland symphony and ballet are outstanding but a sizeable percentage of the businesses in the region are based in the suburbs. I don't hear too many people talking about how great a place Cleveland is to live. To a lesser extent the same thing has happened to St. Louis where a sizeable portion of the businesses have located to Clayton Missouri.

I moved to downtown to be near my job, and then my job moved out to the suburbs. And to one of the less desirable suburbs at that. Now I'm commuting 20 minutes each way TO the an outer suburb. The whole thing would be funny if it weren't so irritating.

Being that I much prefer living downtown, I'll probably keep it up, rather than going through the buy/sell process again to be near work. Oh, and for those who will tell me to ride the Max -- there are no stops within a mile of my employer, and the nearest stop has been the site of several well-publicized criminal events. Now that's reassuring!

If only the city would stop driving away jobs with their anti-business policies, I'd still be walking to work and not polluting in my car.

"Downtown has been losing jobs for years."

Wait a sec, the 3 biggest employers downtown are CoP, the State and Mult County. They are growing like crazy.

I think spreading jobs out is not a bad idea. After all, the recipe for congestion is putting a high concentration of people in any one place. Besides, CoP has no clue of how to attract jobs, so it doesn't matter. When your eco dev person (for Sam Adams) last job was writing grants for farmers in Africa, there is a bit of disconnect.

"...and figure out that their 5,000 square foot suburban lifestyle home has a lot to do with that cost"

So what percentage of "suburban" homes do you think are this size? My 2004 vintage, 1900sf "suburban" home, 8 miles from downtown, is far more energy efficient than the houses I have lived in in Portland (including ones where I insulated and replaced windows).

"The lifestyle of living on the fringes in suburbia is quickly unraveling..."

Can you define "unraveling" and then document where this is occuring?

Can you define "unraveling" and then document where this is occuring?

Between his left and right ears.

It's the result of the dissonance created when "planners", who plan for some race other that the human one, discover that little is going according to plan. Exacerbated by the realization that all your assumptions* are wrong.

*see "...5,000 square foot suburban lifestyle home..."

With how business-surly Portland has become, it's not a shock that businesses choose to not put up with the city's crap when they are worried about economic factors.

What kind of crap? Ask Columbia Sportswear why the relocated to Beaverton, rather than where they wanted to be - next to OMSI.

Again with the Columbia Sportswear. How long ago did that happen? For some businesses it probably makes sense for them to move out to the 'Couv or Wilsonville if that's where their workforce is coming from. It seem like there's been a quite a few tech firms move their HQs to downtown b/c it was the best location logistically for their workers. I know I'd quit if my job moved out of Portland. The vacancy rates downtown are round 5%, Kruse Way or Sunset seem much higher than that. Downtown has location on its side, it might not be the sole center anymore but it'll always be the number one business center for the region.

"The vacancy rates downtown are round 5%, Kruse Way or Sunset seem much higher than that."

Tha vacancy rates downtown are pushign 10%, Kruse Way is lower and if you notice they are filling the last office building space available.

What you are missing about businesses are the ones that choose not to locate to Portland due to few manufacturing sites, poor infrastucture to move goods around, high taxes/fees.

The grail has been creative class jobs, but most of these are collaborative. This means the employees can really be anywhere or move at any time, so targeting these is tough.

Rettig: the last statistics I read had the average Portland Metro home being built at around 2200 sq. ft. based on building permit info-not your 5000 sq. ft. If you averaged in all the existing suburban housing to this figure the sq. footage would be even less. Central City housing sq/footage in new construction has actually been increasing. Those large two, three bedroom condos are spacious.

Suburbia isn't unraveling even with the changes that are necessary with energy prices. There are so many examples that I have been associated with where companies have asked their employees, "where do you want to relocate if we decide to move the company". It hasn't been in the inner city. Albina Fuel moved to Vancouver with that kind of question, and so many others.

What is "unraveling" as noted by several of these posts is the untested, misinformed, biased comments from those that have been feeding too long from the "planners feed trough".

"Permanence" of light rail hasn't demonstrated attracting development in Portland. Almost all development that has occurred has been with over five tax subsidies. That is another planners myth.

I'm not being an advocate for suburbia, but their is a recent interesting study that demonstrates that suburbia in the US actually has less of a carbon footprint than inner city density.

When we have city bureaus with several media, public relations personnel PRing agendas, then we really don't have a good faith effort to discuss issues.

PMG: So what percentage of "suburban" homes do you think are this [5,000 sf]size?

Not large - perhaps less less than 5%. The mean in the Portland-Vancouver MSA is about 2,200 sf, but going by zoning maps, available here, central Portland is dominated by R5 lots, whereas the outskirts near edge of the UGB have R20 to RR2 in a lot of areas. And generally, larger lots mean larger structures.

PMG: My 2004 vintage, 1900sf "suburban" home, 8 miles from downtown, is far more energy efficient than the houses I have lived in in Portland (including ones where I insulated and replaced windows).

Come on. That has a lot more to do with the fact that it was built with 2004-vintage construction techniques, than with the fact that it's located in the suburbs. Everything else equal, a smaller home costs less to heat.

PMG: Can you define "unraveling" and then document where this is occuring?

Glad you asked. I would define the unraveling as a significantly lowered quality of life and/or economic status due only to one's home and work location, and mode of transport available. Signs of it are:
- Developments unserved (or underserved) by essential services (grocery, medical, financial, schools etc.) because the low density renders them not viable
- A street layout that emphasizes major boulevards and attempts to block all thoroughfare through cul-de-sacs or similar features within a housing area - as opposed to a grid - leaving residents auto-dependent for 100% of their transportation
- Job commute times >30 minutes, one-way
- Long response times for police / fire / medical emergency services
- Fewer parks and other public spaces

Where? Beaverton, Hillsboro, Gresham, ...

cc: Between his left and right ears.

Hit too close to home, did I?


Jerry: the last statistics I read had the average Portland Metro home being built at around 2200 sq. ft. based on building permit info-not your 5000 sq. ft.

I never meant to imply the average was 5,000 - it certainly isn't.

Central City housing sq/footage in new construction has actually been increasing.

But not to levels greater than suburbia.

Those large two, three bedroom condos are spacious.

There's not much available above 2,500-3,000 sf, but it is true that some large units have moved recently (an odd thing about this real estate crisis is that the very high end has been relatively immune so far). But I would still argue that a 3,000 sf condo beats a 3,000 sf house for heating efficiency, for the simple reason that it shares some common walls, floors, and ceilings.

I'm not being an advocate for suburbia, but their is a recent interesting study that demonstrates that suburbia in the US actually has less of a carbon footprint than inner city density.

Got a source on that?

If there are mass transit options, I can't see people moving in unless they don't like the transit time. Commute from Vancouver via express bus and connections to MAX have gone way up. This is confirmed numerically for C-Tran's express bus to downtown (ridership up 23% this year) and anecdotally (the MAX Parkrose stop is getting much busier with Washington commuters who catch the train and ride downtown).

Hit too close to home, did I?

Home, you mean that 1850 sq. ft. heavily insulated building about 30 ft. away from my office? You mean the place with the solar panels and passive solar orientation. The one near the compost heap and rain-collection storage tank?

No, I don't think you hit anything. I just think you're parroting talking points from the "planners". No matter how many times they're repeated, they still don't reflect reality.

- Developments unserved (or underserved) by essential services (grocery, medical, financial, schools etc.) because the low density renders them not viable
- A street layout that emphasizes major boulevards and attempts to block all thoroughfare through cul-de-sacs or similar features within a housing area - as opposed to a grid - leaving residents auto-dependent for 100% of their transportation
- Job commute times >30 minutes, one-way
- Long response times for police / fire / medical emergency services
- Fewer parks and other public spaces

Yeah, I guess it's just hell living in a place that is
• private, with space for children and pets to play safely, contained within your property
• has limited access so that you don't have to deal with traffic noise from people that cut through neighborhoods in order to dodge the "traffic calming" that has been done to streets designed to carry the traffic - or have we moved onto another hogwash term such as "green streets" or "livable streets" or "boulevarding" which ostensibly equal removing capacity from roads
• areas to do what you wish, such as landscaping, gardening, erect a swingset, or create a quiet place for you and your family to enjoy

I can't imagine why anyone would want to live under those hellish conditions presented in a cul de sac...

According to Cushman and Wakefield vacancy rates downtown are around 5%, while in the region it's around 11%.

I've always hated cul de sacs because I'm always the idiot who gets lost trying to get to cousin Hilda's house.

cc: [Y]ou mean that 1850 sq. ft. heavily insulated building about 30 ft. away from my office? You mean the place with the solar panels and passive solar orientation. The one near the compost heap and rain-collection storage tank?

You continue to surprise me. Good for you.

I just think you're parroting talking points from the "planners".

Nope. I've just lived both ways, and I much prefer urban living over suburban.

[Planners] still don't reflect reality.

Maybe not yours. You don't commute to a job, apparently.

MachineShedFred: Has it perhaps occurred to you that your privacy is afforded only at the expense of those who live along the routes that have had to have the calming measures taken, and that the street you live on is probably contributing to that problem by not allowing reciprocity of the situation?

Rettig: here's a source on carbon footprint of suburbia vs inner city www.afordablehome.com-au/files/pdf/research-pdfRDC ACF Grenhouse-Report.pdf
Interesting, huh?

Did you know that emergency response time in the inner city and close in neighborhoods is longer than in suburbia?

Did you know that there is more park deficiencies in the inner city than suburbia according to Portland Parks? Like three small parks for 20,000 people in the Pearl area.

You state that 3000 sq/ft condos beat 3000 sq/ft homes in energy use. That generally isn't true if one consider the carbon footprint-energy use over a long period of time. Maintaining, replacing all the systems of a space in a 30 story tower over time plus all the other energy uses exceeds the same needs of a low rise building. This has been studied and reported in many publications, studies for decades and very recently updated with carbon footprint analysis.

Jerry: here's a source on carbon footprint of suburbia vs inner city...

This link appears to be broken, much like the concept you propose.

Did you know that emergency response time in the inner city and close in neighborhoods is longer than in suburbia?

Source?

Did you know that there is more park deficiencies in the inner city than suburbia according to Portland Parks? Like three small parks for 20,000 people in the Pearl area.

Per person, yes. Per distance travelled to reach a park, definitely not. And if we could find item to agree upon here, it's that we probably don't need to fund more parks for Homer in the Pearl.

You state that 3000 sq/ft condos beat 3000 sq/ft homes in energy use. .... Maintaining, replacing all the systems of a space in a 30 story tower over time plus all the other energy uses exceeds the same needs of a low rise building.

The average condo unit in Portland isn't 30 stories, at least today it isn't. Look here, for example. In my own case, we're in a 1700 sq ft unit that's part of 2 units on an R5 lot, and I can rightfully argue that there's no heat loss through the common wall between the two units.

I'll acknowledge that for high-rise, all bets are off. But I'm not sure where the threshold is crossed - perhaps 5-6 stories, where construction techniques require a lot of beefing up on the frame.


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F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Great Gatsby
William Shakespeare - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Ivan Doig - Bucking the Sun
Penda Diakité - I Lost My Tooth in Africa
Grace Lin - The Year of the Rat
Oscar Hijuelos - Mr. Ives' Christmas
Madeline L'Engle - A Wrinkle in Time
Steven Hart - The Last Three Miles
David Sedaris - Me Talk Pretty One Day
Karen Armstrong - The Spiral Staircase
Charles Larson - The Portland Murders
Adrian Wojnarowski - The Miracle of St. Anthony
William H. Colby - Long Goodbye
Steven D. Stark - Meet the Beatles
Phil Stanford - Portland Confidential
Rick Moody - Garden State
Jonathan Schwartz - All in Good Time
David Sedaris - Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim
Anthony Holden - Big Deal
Robert J. Spitzer - The Spirit of Leadership
James McManus - Positively Fifth Street
Jeff Noon - Vurt

Road Work

Miles run year to date: 96
At this date last year: 144
Total run in 2016: 155
In 2015: 271
In 2014: 401
In 2013: 257
In 2012: 129
In 2011: 113
In 2010: 125
In 2009: 67
In 2008: 28
In 2007: 113
In 2006: 100
In 2005: 149
In 2004: 204
In 2003: 269


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