New York's Decentralized Economy?

Even before the Wall Street meltdown, the New York area was going through its own de-clustering. No it hasn't - and probably never will - become a multi polar area in the style of Los Angeles, Houston or Phoenix, but the trend to deconcentrate jobs has been inexorable over the last thirty years, according to a new report by our friends at the Center for an Urban Future.

The report states:

"In 1975, New York City accounted for 53.1 percent of all private sector jobs in the 17-county metro region. But by 2005, the five boroughs’ share was just 47.2. Most of the ci ty’s losses occurred in Manhattan, which had 33.9 percent of the region’s private sector jobs in 1975 but only 28.8 percent in 2005."

None of this is particularly worrisome in that the shrinkage of the city's jobs slowed considerably in the past decade up to 2005. The whole region showed some growth. But what happens now with an estimated 150,000 or more jobs expected to be wiped out due to the financial crisis? This may prove the biggest crisis faced by the city since the "Ford to City: Drop Dead" days of the 1970s.

Both the Giuliani and the Bloomberg legacies surely will now be tested.


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Even More Decentralization

The report understates the case. The NYC metropolitan area is 23 counties (MSA not CSA), not 17. The decentralization has been even greater. Overall, Manhattan accounts for about 20 percent of employment. With under 2m jobs, there is less employment in Manhattan than there was in the middle 1950s - though the skyscrapers are surely more impressive.

Wendell Cox

Urban future?

The Center for an Urban Future is merely reiterating a societal shift that has been observed for many years. The "centrists" out there who would have Manhattan and other older urban cores recover their employment levels should provide more detail on what has happened:

Many of the jobs lost since the 1950s were in manufacturing, which began to move south and then abroad from around the country. They were also lost right at the time that suburbanization took off, leading to a loss of population as well as a later scattering of employment and a shift towards the service economy.

Today, many of the jobs remaining in the central cities are either low-paid service jobs or "creative class" jobs in the F/I/RE sectors, advertising, or other such fields. While some of their employees have the money to live in Manhattan and contribute to a 24-hour urban community, a great many are commuters, burdening our transportation networks and consuming vast resources.

Robert Lang's 2003 book "Edgeless Cities" has been the best description I've found yet of the current decentralized condition. Although Manhattan remains dominant, and thankfully serves its 3.7m inbound travelers primarily by transit (, we should acknowledge this decentralization, appreciate that it brings diverse economic opportunities to closer to the population base, and begin to hook it up to nearby housing and transit.

This would improve quality of life in the region and reduce both congestion and the associated evils of one-person car commuting.

Adam Schildge
Hunter College MUP '09