Tuesday, June 23, 2015

"Balance" is too vague and too simple

I have just spent a few days attending a large meeting (this time in China) of people (researchers and officials) interested in cities. I don’t do many of these but it is always disappointing to see that bad old ideas don’t go away. One of these is the idea of “jobs-housing balance” – and that top-down planners can somehow achieve it by arranging/re-arranging land uses. Advocates claim they are addressing the problem of job access, lengthy commutes, and highway congestion.  But not all jobs are the same; matching problems are considerable; job search is not trivial. It’s the knowledge problem again – this time ignored by embracing a stunningly naive view of labor markets.

I asked whether the problem of finding a mate was simple or complex, whether a matching problem of this difficulty could usefully be addressed by well-meaning but crude spatial policies
Google scholar shows 2349 papers (yes, some that do ask question) in the "jobs-housing balance" sub-field and (I can now say) many more on the way. Students are seemingly encouraged to conduct another and then another pointless study.

People attached to this view also have to face up to the fact that there are many locations that households may be attracted to; they may select residences based on a variety of factors, including spouse’s workplace, children’s schools, friends, shopping and entertainment, assorted amenities, and many more. "Balance" is too vague and too simple.