NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Edgeless Cities Hard To Pinpoint, Control

October 31, 2000

Office space has been moving from downtowns to the suburbs for years, but experts now note a different workplace shift: jobs are creeping out even farther into semi-rural areas called "edgeless cities."

  • More than one-third of office space in the 13 largest metropolitan areas is in low-rise buildings spread throughout semi-rural areas.
  • The edgeless cities don't have names, because they're spread across several municipalities.
  • The office space is in low-rise buildings and warehouses that house shipping operations, phone centers, back offices of larger companies and medical laboratories.

Office sprawl is likely to frustrate the growth control movement, because they have no core and infinite boundaries. In a study commissioned by the Brookings Institution's Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, Robert Lang reports:

  • In 1999, 66 percent of Miami's office space was spread well beyond the edge of the city, while for Philadelphia it was 54 percent.
  • Boston, Washington, Denver, Los Angeles and San Francisco had about half their office space in edgeless cities.
  • In Dallas, Houston, Atlanta and Detroit, edgeless cities accounted for as much as 41 percent of office space.
  • Only New York and Chicago had the majority of office space downtown, primarily because of their financial centers -- but even New York had 30 percent in edgeless cities.

This fluidity makes the jobs of transportation and housing authorities difficult, because they never know where an office cluster will appear.

Source: Haya El Nasser, "'Edgeless Cities Confound Efforts to Control Growth," USA Today, October 31, 2000.


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