About 22 years ago I wrote a paper* about the impact, if any, of telecommuting on urban sprawl: that steady creep of suburbs outward around large cities. The paper was based on our measurements, over a period of two years, of residence location changes made by telecommuters. The idea was to test whether telecommuting acted to increase urban sprawl by making it easier to live farther from one’s workplace.
The answer was negative: although the median per-telecommuter annual mileage saving was 2046 miles, the household move distances were essentially a wash—some moved a bit farther away, some nearer to work. So our conclusion was that telecommuting doesn’t affect urban sprawl. Case closed.
Now comes an Op Ed piece by Paul Krugman in the 29 July 2013 edition of the New York Times. Titled Stranded by sprawl, the article explores the relation between urban sprawl and joblessness. Krugman concludes that part of the reason for persistent joblessness among lower income families is that their homes are not where the jobs are and the transportation system, such as it is, doesn’t make it easy to get to jobs. The greater the urban sprawl the worse the problem gets.
This brings us to part 2 of the urban sprawl conundrum: use telecommuting to alleviate the impact of urban sprawl! Successfully send the work to the workers instead of failing to get the workers to the workplace.