Social appeal of cities makes commutes worthwhile

Workers likely to reject smaller centres in favour of the positive effects of cities

People prefer to work in large business districts and are willing to travel further to get to them, according to a new study.

The study, published in Urban Geography, used research from Statistics Canada's 2001 census and focused exclusively on commuting in Montreal.

Among workers who lived and worked in the census metropolitan area of Montreal, 36 per cent worked at an employment pole — a central business area — either in the city centre or in one of five large suburban business districts.

Their average round trip between home and work was 23 kilometres. This was almost five kilometres a day further than the average distance traveled by those working outside employment poles.

The study found that income and job status play a relatively minor role in explaining why people are willing to travel the extra distance to work in these business districts. Even when occupation and income level of the jobs are equal, the distance traveled to employment poles remains higher than the distance traveled to other job locations.

Therefore, the study concludes there is something about the social environment found in these employment poles that attracts people from further away.

Thus moving businesses to smaller centres closer to residential areas isn't an effective solution to the problems associated with long-distance commutes, such as urban sprawl, air pollution, congestion and stress. Workers are likely to reject smaller centres in favour of the positive non-monetary effects that employment poles have to offer.

Instead, improving access to employment poles by alternative means of transport may be a more realistic goal than trying to reduce commuting distance.

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