Is Better Urban Planning the Answer to the Jobs Crunch?

It only makes sense that major cities like New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston have more job opportunities than a small town in a rural state. A greater concentration of people means more businesses, which means more jobs and more money.

However, what many people do not realize is many jobs in urban areas go unfilled, even when the economy is sluggish. It’s not that the jobs themselves are necessarily undesirable, but there aren’t enough workers to fill them. This is in large part because those workers who would be willing to move from rural areas to urban areas are unable to find adequate, affordable housing that would allow them to reside in the city and take on those roles. The result is the dreaded “urban sprawl,” unplanned low-income housing areas and, ultimately, stagnation in terms of creativity and entrepreneurship.

In some cases, cities themselves are to blame for this problem. Many cities, in their quest to maintain the aspects that set them apart from other cities, inadvertently create an environment that is inhospitable to growth. They want to maintain the best aspects of their city, such as green spaces, distinct neighborhoods, cultural environments and sometimes a sense of exclusivity that sets them apart from other cities. However, as a result these cities fail to create the infrastructure that encourages business development — or even fills the already available jobs.

The solution is a greater commitment to urban management and allowing officials with training in public administration and planning to develop growth plans that will meet the needs of city residents while also opening up additional job opportunities.

Cities and the “Creative Class”

Gentrified JobsAuthor Richard Florida launched an ongoing debate with the publication of his book “The Rise of the Creative Class.” In the book, Florida argued that cities were vital to the “creative class.” In the past, the economy has relied on agriculture and then industry, however, the future economy will be based more on ideas than on physical products, and thus there is a need for more creative thinkers and entrepreneurs. Urban environments, Florida argues, are the breeding grounds for such creativity.

However, he cautions the most effective urbanization is not simply in building skyscrapers and packing as many people as possible into a few square miles. Instead, he argues for “walkable cities,” with neighborhoods and communities designed for multiple uses with adequate services and easy access to transportation. Such communities encourage the exchange of ideas and the fostering of creativity, which will form the background of the new economy — while also creating jobs.

The Role of Urban Management

The term “urban management” often raises images of planners focused on preserving business, green and historical districts, or on developing open space into yet another strip mall. While in some cases, these tasks are part of the urban mangers role, when it comes to supporting the creative class and creating an urban environment that welcomes workers, urban management plays an even greater role.

More specifically, urban managers can encourage the jobs growth in their cities by:

  • Developing strategies and solutions for housing, both in the city limits and the surrounding suburban areas. Ideally, neighborhoods should be multi-use, meaning they mix housing and business, with accessible services nearby.
  • Maintaining green spaces and walkable areas. Surveys indicate both city dwellers and those considering a move to the city value open space, such as parks or preservation areas, and are more inclined to live in areas where there is adequate space for recreation. Some experts also argue creating such open, walkable areas also encourages the free exchange of ideas, as residents have a place where they can meet each other and share ideas.
  • Develop solutions to allow for more density without sacrificing quality of life. Studies show greater population density leads to greater productivity, higher wages and more jobs — all important aspects of the American economy. Experts argue by making cities easier to live in the economy would experience a much faster and healthier recovery.

Cities already account for more than 90 percent of America’s GDP; by 2054, experts predict more than 70 percent of Americans will live in urban environments. By taking steps now to make those urban environments more livable, the future will be more creative, innovative and fulfilling.