OPINION

An Algorithmic Antidote To Sprawl

How could a new chamber of commerce algorithm drive decisions about employer locations, improve mobility of workers, while reducing pollution accruing from longer daily work trips?  The answer is simple, says the chief economist of the Greater Dallas Chamber, Lyssa Jenkens, "You change the data system to deliver information people never got before."

For a long time, Jenkens explains, if an employer – let's say it's a supplier to Texas Instruments that wants to be within easy delivery distance of TI, and they need 15 engineers and 10 people with specific technical skills, "We could tell them, county by county, a general occupational count. But we've always known that political jurisdictions are an artificial way of organizing data, and may even distort the picture of where people with different occupational skills are living."

Now, with a fresh black box for number-crunching, rooted in data from the U.S. census,  updated by the bureau's annual American Community Survey and combined with GIS technology at the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), Jenkens can tell a potential employer how many engineers live within a 5 or 10 or 15-mile radius of any site where an employer wants to locate.  The database sorts for 110 different occupations.  The next short step will tweak the NCTCOG's algorithm to show travel times, which, as congestion in the Dallas-Fort Worth region worsens (yes, it can still get worse), will enable employer to operate with a higher degree of confidence that their staff can get to work without exhausting their emotional energies.

There are two key things at work here.  First, Dallas, following the lead of Denver, was one of the earliest large metropolitan areas to put the traditional fractionating rivalries to the side and organize its economic development strategy around the real region.  And it is a big region.  The twelve-county Dallas Fort Worth "metroplex" has a population of more than six million people and occupies an area larger than New Hampshire. When DFW airport was built in the early 1970s, it quickly became the new epicenter, drawing the Dallas and Fort Worth communities together into a continuous stream of urban development.  Today, the Dallas Chamber serves as a single point of contact for employers considering the region and is as likely to refer them to Plano or Irving or Fort Worth, as Dallas

But this data-breakthrough isn't just about employers and their location decisions.  Think about the implications for public decisions about land use, about where roads should (and should not) be built, about potential for reducing miles driven to work every day. About where transit corridors – and Dallas is among the most aggressive regions in the U.S. in building a network of rail transit – can best provide an alternative to cars.

I asked Jenkens about the proprietary potential of her black box.  She quickly agreed that this was valuable intellectual property, and that with some work perhaps her chamber organization could nail down their rights and set up a stream of licensing revenue.  But, she said, it's a lot more important for this potential to spread around the country. Once she's worked out the kinks in the system, look for her to find ways to spread this data technology to chambers all over the country, most likely through the network of the Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (ACCE). Check out the mapping at http://maps.dallaschamber.org/map.asp.

Once planners get their hands on this data-set, and find ways to graft it into their fast-developing capabilities with Google Earth GIS layers, land-use and transportation planning will have graduated to the first and fast-evolving stages of 21st century potentials.

Comments

Comments

Transit influences almost nothing in North Texas

"About where transit corridors – and Dallas is among the most aggressive regions in the U.S. in building a network of rail transit – can best provide an alternative to cars."

One can tell just how important transit corridors are to employers and homebuyers by observing patterns of corporate locations and patterns of housing development.

By far the most explosive growth in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex has been in west Plano, Frisco, and the western half of McKinney. Large employers such as J.C. Penny, EDS, and Frito Lay have moved headquarters to be near the then-planned and now existing Dallas North Tollway. At the time of their move, the metroplex was funding and had extensive plans to develop rail transit along U.S. Highway 75 and along Interstate 35 north of Dallas. But the large employers rejected sites along those corridors to move many miles from either.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe was a downtown Fort Worth employer, very near the planned Trinity Railway Express linking Dallas and Fort Worth. Yet they relocated to far north Keller, many miles from mass transit lines.

Sabre Corporation was located a few blocks from the TRE commuter rail line, but recently relocated to a far suburban location, many miles from existing transit.

Exxon-Mobil could have chosen several attracive locations near existing or funded north Texas rail lines for its world headquarters. They, too, rejected existing transit.

In 1985, Kimberly-Clark chose Irving for its corporate headquarters, rejecting sites along the planned Dallas light rail lines.

Dallas-Fort Worth housing has developed the same way. Though some preference surveys say otherwise, buyers revealed preferences - through actual purchases - show that mass transit has had little influence on the location of new housing. DART misleads the public, pointing to small high density housing developments near its northern lines, which just happen to parallel expanded major freeways. DART fails to inform the public that such "transit-oriented" development is within walking distance of major employers and universities, and always alongside expanded freeways. DART never mentions the non-existent development along its blue line to Garland and along the TRE commuter line to Fort Worth, both of which lie miles from existing freeways.

The reality of Dallas-Fort Worth is the same as that that for other modern, post-automobile city. Development follows highways. Homebuyers overwhelmingly choose sprawled suburbs. Yes, a few exceptions exist. But transit has made very little difference in the development patterns of this mega-city.

Freudian Slip?

"The reality of Dallas-Fort Worth is the same as that that for other modern, post-automobile city."

Yep, we should be moving toward the modern, post-automobile city. I am glad you finally understand that.

More seriously, note that, one hundred years ago, someone could have made points similar to the ones you make about choice of location to prove that businesses will always locate near transit stops.

The elementary logical fallacy this time: if a trend existed in the recent past, that same trend will continue in the future.

Charles Siegel

Transit doesn't matter to large employers

"one hundred years ago, someone could have made points similar to the ones you make about choice of location to prove that businesses will always locate near transit stops. "

Well, the difference was that one hundred years ago only transit stops and not freeways were available. My point was that both freeways and rail lines exist in the Dallas metro area today, and freeways are winning big. New workplaces and houses continue to be built away from the rail lines. But even more telling, the headquarters of important employers that were once adjacent to rail lines - EDS, Burlington Northern, Frito Lay, Dr. Pepper, Sabre, TGI Fridays, among others - have been moved far away.

Transit just does not influence site selection in non-dense cities. Such cities are becoming less dense, despite the hype about a tiny handful of so-called "transit oriented" developments.

Elementary Logical Fallacy

"My point was that both freeways and rail lines exist in the Dallas metro area today, and freeways are winning big."

To repeat myself:
"The elementary logical fallacy this time: if a trend existed in the recent past, that same trend will continue in the future."

One hundred years ago, most people were shortsighted enough that they couldn't have imagined freeways being built, and they assumed that transit would remain dominant forever.

Today, some people are shortsighted enough that they can't imagine that changes will happen in the next few decades, and they assume that freeways will remain dominant forever.

Charles Siegel

Our assumptions about energy and GHG are probably different

"some people are shortsighted enough that they can't imagine that changes will happen in the next few decades, and they assume that freeways will remain dominant forever."

Oh, I think I see, Mr. Siegel. You are suggesting that single passenger automobile transport - which started 100 years ago and has dominated for longer than did mass transit's dominance - will not continue. Because I believe differently, then you feel that I am shortsighted. Is that correct?

So what is the basis for your belief that single passenger vehicle transport - and freeways - will not continue to grow? that energy will not be available to power them? that the public will finally agree mass transit and transit-oriented development are necessary for the survival of the planet?

There is a difference between "elementary logical fallacy" and "disagreement on assumptions". Please consider that our different opinions may result from the latter and not the former.

Focus On The Simple Fallacy

I didn't say what the changes would be - maybe a shift to new transportation technologies that we are not thinking about, maybe a desire to cut driving to save money and live more simply, maybe greenhouse gas emissions, maybe a desire to live in more interesting and vibrant neighborhoods.

Here, I am not making predictions. I am just saying that it is an obvious mistake to assume that trends of the present and recent past will continue in the future, and it is an elementary logical fallacy to say that people should do something because they are doing it.

That mistake and fallacy are the basis of everything I have ever read by Wendell Cox, and of most things I have read by you.

Eg, earlier you cited Cox's claim that sprawl is happening in Europe. Like sprawl, obesity is increasing in Europe, though not as rapidly as in the United States. That doesn't mean that obesity will continue to increase in the future, and it doesn't mean that obesity is a good thing.

Maybe the trends you cite will continue, and maybe they won't. Just saying that a trend exists now doesn't tell us whether the trend will continue - and it certainly doesn't tell us anything about whether the trend should continue.

This is the elementary logical fallacy I am talking about: you are constantly citing statistics about WHAT IS and using them to imply conclusions about WHAT SHOULD BE. (The philosopher John Dewey would not have had any problem understanding that this is a fallacy.)

Charles Siegel

Logical fallacy? No, just common sense

Mr. Siegel,

I don't think any previous statement in any of my comments on this thread was either a prediction or a statement of what should be. I fail to see the "elementary logical fallacy" you "uncovered" in my posts.

Of course, if I were a betting man, I'd certainly place my bets with a trend that has continued unabated for a century. You may refer to that as a "logical fallacy". To which I respond, "Who cares?"

Acknowledging long term trends and adapting to them makes more sense to me than arguing for culture change for decades without significant success.

Logical Fallacy, Yes

Please read again this statements from my last post:

"This is the elementary logical fallacy I am talking about: you are constantly citing statistics about WHAT IS and using them to imply conclusions about WHAT SHOULD BE."

Your elementary logical fallacy is the IS/SHOULD fallacy.

The fact that there is a long-term trend toward obesity doesn't say anything about whether that trend should continue. The fact that there is a long-term trend toward sprawl doesn't say anything about whether it should continue.

If you just talk about the IS and refuse to talk about the SHOULD, that guarantees a bad result.

Imagine if someone refused to talk about whether obesity is healthy and instead said: "I don't care whether or not obesity is healthy. If I were a betting man, I would bet that the trend would continue."

If everyone accepted that point of view, then everyone would keep getting more obese.

In reality, there have been trends that have lasted much longer then the trend toward sprawl and that reversed in a relatively short time when people began to ask whether they were right or wrong. For example, slavery existed since the beginnings of civilization, and it increased dramatically after the discovery of America. But after the abolitionists criticized it for 50 years or so, it was abolished.

I expect that if you had lived in 1825 and met a Quaker abolitionist, you would have quoted statistics about the historical trends toward increased slavery, and then you would have told him: "If I were a betting man, I would bet that slavery would keep increasing. Acknowledging long term trends and adapting to them makes more sense to me than arguing for culture change for decades without significant success."

Charles Siegel

Not a logical fallacy

Charles Siegel,

You may somehow believe that what you refer to as sprawl is somehow comparable to slavery, but I certainly do not.

Having a different opinion about the benefits and dangers of sprawl is not a logical fallacy. I firmly believe that geographic dispersion of housing and workplaces reduces commute times and reduces congestion. For me, sprawl is very positive.

Acknowledging a long term trend is also not a logical fallacy. I didn't argue that sprawl must continue because it has been increasing for at least 200 years. I argued that it is more likely to increase, simply because sprawl is what homebuyers have shown to be their preference. Despite arguments against sprawl for at least four decades, sprawl remains as strong as ever.

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