New Orleans is among the top cities where jobs are shifting closer to downtown, study finds

Another life for The Little Gem Saloon
The area around South Rampart Street and Poydras Street in the Central Business District of New Orleans. A Brookings Institution study found the city among the leading locations in the country for an increasing concentration of jobs close to central business districts. (David Grunfeld, | The Times-Picayune)
By Mark Waller, | The Times-Picayune 
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on April 18, 2013 at 1:30 PM, updated April 18, 2013 at 8:51 PM

Examining how the Great Recession influenced the way jobs spread across cities and surrounding areas, the Brookings Institutionon Thursday ranked New Orleans second out of 100 metropolitan areas for an increase in its share of jobs located within three miles of downtown.

The Washington-based research and policy group found a 1.8 percent uptick in the concentration of jobs close to the Central Business District in New Orleans from 2007 to 2010, tying Louisville, Ky., but falling short of the 2.5 percent increase in Chattanooga, Tenn. The New Orleans job centralization rose from 29.8 percent to 31.6 percent of all the jobs in a 35-mile radius.

While the percentages do not necessarily mean downtowns gained jobs — they just didn’t lose as many as outlying locations — New Orleans was one of only four metropolitan areas the study cited for achieving an absolute rise in the number of jobs at the urban core, from 129,393 in 2007 to 134,154 in 2010.

The other cities were Austin, Texas, Cincinnati and Charleston, S.C. Of the four, Austin was the only metropolitan area that didn’t suffer some level of overall drop in jobs during the recession, the study said. In the 35-mile sweep, the report says, the total job count for the New Orleans area dropped from 434,206 to 424,539 over the three years ending in 2010.

Nationwide the study found high unemployment during recessionary times stalled what had been a trend toward greater “job sprawl” away from core cities.

“The outer ring — more than 10 miles away from a CBD — lost jobs at a faster rate than the middle (between three and 10 miles) and inner (within three miles) rings,” the report says, referring to central business districts nationally. “In fact, owing in part to the suburban-led nature of the housing market collapse and the downturn that followed, 45 percent of employment losses from 2007 to 2010 occurred more than 10 miles away from downtown.”

The report doesn’t take a position on the merits of concentrating jobs in urban centers or spreading them wider, but it discusses the ramifications.

“A number of factors can drive the decentralization of employ­ment, which is neither an inherently positive nor negative trend,” the study says. “Suburban development can take place in ways that foster dense, mixed-use, and regionally-connected job centers. Or it may occur in less dense and less accessible ways, raising challenges like strained infrastructure, increased energy consumption, greater spatial mismatches between the location of jobs and low-income and minority residents. In addition, because low-density job development can be difficult to effectively serve with transit, job sprawl can limit transportation options, increasing commute times and congestion.”