The trend of rapid urban sprawl has been in decline over the past few years, while job growth in city centers like New Haven has been on the rise, according to a new study by Urban Observatory, a think tank that presents statistics on international cities’ economies.
The Urban Observatory report, released last week, finds that job growth rates have historically been higher in suburban than in urban areas. However, the trend has reversed in recent years. Although Urban Observatory did not include New Haven in its analysis of 41 metropolitan areas, additional analysis by DataHaven — a local nonprofit that collects, analyzes and disseminates public data — showed that New Haven is experiencing a similar change. From 2007 to 2011, job growth within New Haven’s “city center,” defined as a three-mile radius around City Hall, has increased by 6.5 percent, while job growth in areas between three and 15 miles outside of City Hall has decreased by 4.7 percent, DataHaven found.
Ben Berkowitz, CEO and founder of SeeClickFix, a platform allowing citizens to communicate with their governments about non-emergency issues, said that although urban job growth is a net positive, it presents challenges.
“It’s great that the jobs are returning to the city, [but] it’s not great that jobs are going down overall in the region,” he said, in reference to the 9,000 job net increase in New Haven’s center matched by the 10,000 job net decrease in its suburban areas between 2000 and 2011.
Berkowitz pointed to lack of available housing and a qualified workforce as challenges to businesses interested in moving to downtown New Haven. He added that the city should build new infrastructure, such as modern office spaces and housing, to accommodate growing companies.
Still, Berkowitz noted that there has recently been development of office spaces. For example, Higher One, a financial advising company, is revitalizing the old Winchester Repeating Arms factory.
Like Berkowitz, Dwight Hall Executive Director Peter Crumlish DIV ’09 said new job growth is a positive development, but he warned that New Haven residents may not be the ones benefitting from the growth. Instead, he said, the new jobs may attract people who would have otherwise worked in other metropolitan areas.
Crumlish added that the jobs created by the overall economic growth may reinforce existing disparities between low-income and high-income workers rather than creating a middle class.
“This new growth is great, but I don’t know if it’s addressing the core needs of the city,” he said. “A job is better than no job, but I think underemployment is just as bad as unemployment in the city.”
Still, Berkowitz pointed out that even if the primary job growth is not among New Haven residents, eventually there will be more jobs for residents as communities develop around the new office and residential spaces.
Mark Abraham ’04, executive director of DataHaven, said he is also concerned about the accessibility of the jobs, noting that some of the jobs might not be accessible to those without college degrees.
“The jobs come in but they may not be accessible, so [inner city residents] might still be commuting out to suburban retailers and warehouses for low-income jobs,” Abraham said. He added, however, that there are some organizations, such as New Haven Works, that aim to connect New Haven residents to jobs that do not involve long commutes.
According to Urban Observatory, the city center growth is tied to the growing appeal of urban living and the development of technological industries that do not require as much land as the manufacturing and construction sectors.