Oklahoma metro areas following trends of decentralization

Published: Tuesday, April 7, 2009 7:00 am By: Laurie Winslow - Tulsa World

The Oklahoman

As with most major metropolitan areas in the country, the Tulsa and Oklahoma City areas saw a drop in the share of jobs downtown between 1998 and 2006, according to a report released Monday by the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The report -- "Job Sprawl Revisited: The Changing Geography of Metropolitan Employment" -- analyzes trends in location of jobs in metro regions large and small.

The report says job sprawl has increased as almost every major American metropolitan area has seen employment move away from downtown areas and into farther-out suburbs since 1998.

Only 21 percent of employees in the top 98 metropolitan areas work within three miles of downtown, and 45 percent work more than 10 miles away from the city center.

More than half of the metro areas in the study experienced "rapid decentralization." Those include the Oklahoma City area, which is listed among the study's small metro areas, described as those that have from 165,000 to 500,000 jobs.

The Tulsa area, which also is listed as a small metro area, was among 30 places that experienced moderate decentralization.

The study says the Tulsa area had 372,840 jobs within 35 miles of downtown in 2006. That represented an increase of 19,807 jobs from 1998.

Whereas 19.1 percent of Tulsa's jobs were in the urban core, defined as within three miles of downtown, 26.7 percent of Oklahoma City's jobs fell within that same range in 2006.

Tulsa's share of jobs 10 miles or farther from downtown increased from 19.4 percent in 1998 to 23.1 percent in 2006. The area's share of jobs located three to 10 miles from downtown also increased during that same period, to 57.7 percent.

Cities see shift The Oklahoma City also area saw its share of jobs at least 10 miles from downtown increase 4.6 percent within that time from 19.3 percent in 1998 to 23.9 percent in 2006. Its share of jobs within three miles of downtown shrunk 4.1 percent.

The shift of jobs from a city's core to outerlying areas raises questions and can have implications for a range of areas, said Elizabeth Kneebone, a research analyst at the Metropolitan Policy Program who wrote the report.

She noted that the trend toward decentralization among the metro areas in the study occurred during different points of the economic cycle.

"It also happened in areas that were growing as well as areas that were losing jobs. . .While the recession that we're in at the moment might slow some of the trend, without policy intervention these trends are likely to persist," Kneebone said. "Once the economy has started growing again, policy makers and local leadership should be asking questions about where the jobs are going to be added."

The job shift raises questions about housing options where jobs are being added, she said, such as whether housing is available and affordable.

Adequate public transportation also is a factor when workers are having to commute long distances. The report says that decentralization can isolate low-income and minority workers in the urban center from job opportunities in outlying areas.

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