Thursday, September 11, 2014

Will sustainable metropolitan growth patterns aid rural economies?

With growing concerns of climate change and heightened awareness of human impact on the environment, municipal and county metropolitan governments have begun formulating more sustainable regional growth and transportation patterns. At the same time, rural areas continue to see lower income rates,higher poverty rates, and a lag in employment growth, compared to their urban counterparts. The issue I will examine below is whether there is an intersection between the shift in metropolitan development patterns and the various economic plights of rural communities. I will, also, speculate on the potential affect the shift in metropolitan growth patterns will have on outlying rural areas.

In northern California, the Sacramento AreaCouncil of Governments (“SACOG”), a governmental body of elected officials from the six counties and 22 cities in the Sacramento area, has developed a sustainable metropolitan growth and transportation plan. In effort to curve the environmental harm of Sacramento Area residents, SACOG’s sustainable strategy seeks to create regional job centers (verses one, large, central job center), improve the efficiency of rural-urban public transportation, and move some manufacturing and other industry outside of urban cores.

Recognizing that more than half of commuters to Sacramento’s urban core are coming from adjacent areas, SACOG has included in its plan a way to ensure that an increased percentage of new jobs, in adjacent areas, are filled by residents of those areas. For example, in neighboring Rancho Cordova, CA, 43% of new jobs are expected to be filled by residents of Rancho Cordova. This aspect of SACOG'a plan is focused on increasing the number of regional job centers to decrease the amount of regional commuting and increase the amount of job creation within close proximity to existing housing.

SACOG’s plan, also, includes improving publictransportation by—among other things—increasing the number of rapid transit bus lines to areas outside of the urban core. Additionally, the growth strategy encourages moving manufacturing, processing plants, suppliers, distributors, and other industry further outside of the urban core to minimize inefficient shipping trave

Despite the fact that the counties surrounding the urban core of Sacramento are technically “metropolitan” and not “rural”, by the US Census standard, this encouraged trend of multiple regional job centers, improved rural-urban pubic transit, and movement of industry outside of urban cores could still, potentially, benefit even those areas officially dubbed “rural.” I say this because if sustainable growth—like the growth SACOG promulgates—increases, then more regional job centers will spread outward from urban cores, across the county. Thus, more and more rural communities will be closer to some semblance of an economic hub that is well connected to transit. There is, also, the potential that industry may move away from these less-metropolitan regional job centers and into US Census classified, rural communities.

There may be a loose crossroads between the development of transit-efficient regional job centers and the economic improvement of rural communities. However, I am, merely, predicting that as sustainable growth encourage regional job centers, improved transit, and the voyage of bits of industry away from urban cores, rural areas will have increased access to nearby jobs and transportation resources; thus, rural economies might very well improve.


Kate Hanley said...

Digging into the text of that plan makes it hard for me to believe their talk of improving rural transportation services. I'm convinced they want to implement vanpooling for rural agricultural workers, which is excellent. But otherwise, some of their rural strategies seem really sparse compared to the rest of the document.

Chapter 6, p. 145:

21. Policy: SACOG should develop guidelines for rural transit services, as a lifeline for non-drivers and park-and-ride service for commuters.
21.1. Strategy: Preserve existing rural transit and paratransit service levels, but examine them periodically to ensure effectiveness for transit-dependent residents.
21.2. Strategy: Consider specialty transit services for agricultural areas seasonally and for tourist attractions and events.

David Gomez said...

I am glad to see the issue of transportation take a central role. Access to transportation is one problem associated with higher levels of poverty in rural areas. I am optimistic that plans such as these will help alleviate poverty. Access to transportation could not only stimulate the economy, but could also allow easier access to services available only in larger metro areas.

Kate said...

Enrique, great post! It is like a law review article. It is very apparent that you have a lot of insight into how the government interacts with the local rural development. I grew up around here and know that many of the Rancho districts are extremely impoverished and rural by anyones standards. Great post.

Enrique Fernandez said...

You make a valid point Kate Hanley. But the material I used to support the my statement that improved rural transit is to be integrated into the plan was from Chapter 9 of SACOG's plan.