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IV. Qualifications and Concluding Reflections

We must note that a number of studies conclude that 9/11 will not significantly affect the longer-term economic prospects of U.S. cities and metro areas (Glaeser and Shapiro, 2002; Dittmar and Campbell, 2002; Rivlin and Berube, 2002). Based in large part on historical examples of wars and urban terrorism, which did not trigger either wholesale commercial or population deconcentration, Glaeser and Shapiro (2002) argue that 9/11 probably will not have the detrimental impacts on cities suggested herein. Dittmar and Campbell (2002) also assert that, "[t]he events of September 11 are unlikely to encourage sprawl, or migration between dense metro areas and other parts of the country." Based primarily on mass transit ridership data and commercial real estate trends prior to and immediately after 9/11, they go on to argue that, "[i]n fact, many trend lines are beginning to point the other direction, and if anything the uncertain economy may lead to a slowing of sprawl and a renewed emphasis on reinvestment in existing places." Rivlin and Berube (2002) posit that, "[t]he growth and development of cities will continue to be shaped by complex economic, social and technological forces, among which terrorism plays a very minor role." A report by Jones Lang LaSalle (2002) concludes that, "wholesale changes in corporate business locations do not seem likely. The benefits of urban areas (employee base, transportation support services, etc.) will continue to attract corporate tenants. "

We believe that past instances of warfare (WW II, in particular) and urban terrorism (IRA bombings in London and terrorists incidents in Israel) offer useful but incomplete insights into the likely impact of 9/11 on major U.S. cities. U.S. transportation and communications infrastructures now allow immense freedom in location, especially in administrative, financial, information-processing and business service functions that now constitute the bulk of major city employment bases. The 9/11 aftermath, which inhibited people and product flows to large cities, raised security and insurance costs of downtown locations, and heightened employee perceived vulnerability of working in or near large central city properties, we believe, will combine to accelerate employment deconcentration that has characterized the U.S. urban system for over a half century.

Fear of terrorism in U.S. cities is certainly much different in the post 9/11 era, and legitimately so. Despite substantial efforts to upgrade building security and emergency preparedness in cities, vulnerability to terrorist attacks is perceived to be as great as ever and unlikely to diminish in the foreseeable future (Dao, 2002). It is broadly recognized that today, terrorists (at least the leaders or brain trust of these organizations) are better educated, better financed, and better organized than ever. Contemporary terrorists also have access to better information and communications technologies and non-conventional weapons of mass destruction than their counterparts in the past, which provides them considerable flexibility in delivery options and targets. Given this state of affairs, defending U.S. urban centers and the nation more generally becomes a far more difficult -- some have argued futile -- undertaking (Carr, 2002). 3

Writing in The New York Times, Mitchell (2002) captured the essence of the homeland defense challenge when she posed the following question: "How...does one secure a target-rich nation entered by roughly 1.3 million people, over 340,000 vehicles, and close to 59,000 cargo shipments every day?" The current strategy involves instituting tougher airport and border security measures (Jencks, 2001, 2002). But, as a Council on Foreign Relations study reveals (Hart and Rudman, 2002), America remains dangerously unprepared to prevent and respond to a catastrophic terrorist attack on U.S. soil." 4

We suggest that this low level of preparedness together with rising business costs and the continuing fears of future attacks on the U.S. urban centers will have a significant impact on both the nature and the level of employment and business activity in U.S. cities. More specifically, we propose that:

  1. Corporate leaders will make strategic decisions not to concentrate all or most of their assets in a single large city location, be they operational infrastructure, products, or people.
  2. The increasing costs of major downtown locations due to substantially rising insurance and security-related expenses will further encourage corporate decisions to disperse business functions.
  3. Employee fears of working in high-rise office properties as well as the increased hassle associated with gaining access to them due to the heightened security will play a significant role in lease renewal, site selection, and overall corporate spatial planning.
  4. Safety, once associated with highly visible locations with large concentrations of people and workers, will, in the post-9/11 environment, be increasingly associated with smaller, dispersed, lower density, more anonymous settings.

It is highly unlikely that large U.S. cities will lose their position as the premier administrative, financial, logistical, and commercial nodes in the global economic system. Yet, we believe that the rationale for forces underlying decentralization have never been greater. Post 9/11 impediments to efficient movement of people and products to and from cities, employee fears and hassles of working in downtown high-rises and large, dense settings, and rising downtown location costs should weaken the competitiveness of large cities and accelerate employment deconcentration trends manifested in two ways: (1) greater business relocation and employment redistribution down the urban hierarchy from large to small and medium-sized cities (Bagchi-Sen, 1997; Glasmeier and Kibler, 1996); and (2) increased employment shifts within metro areas from central cities to the low density outer suburbs and the exurbs (Beauregard, 1995; Ding and Bingham, 2000; Glaeser and Kahn, 2001; Mills, 2002; Kasarda, 1995; Flint, 2002: Hughes and Nelson, 2002). 5 Given many of the industries that were indirectly affected by the attacks, it is likely that the urban blue-collar workforce will continue to bear a major brunt of the job losses associated with the resulting business relocation and employment shifts (Neff, 2002; MLR, 2002; Kornblum, et. al., 2002). 6 Combined, these developments could exacerbate--in both racial/ethnic and geographical terms--inequality in U.S. cities and metro areas. 7

Of course, no one has a crystal ball, so results will have to play out during the coming decade before solid conclusions can be drawn. But, as previously noted, longitudinal establishment-level data bases do exist in the private and public sectors (e.g., Dun and Bradstreet and State ES-202 files) that will enable detailed monitoring and documentation of post-9/11 spatial impacts. Such geospatial monitoring will provide important information on post-9/11 urban employment and commercial location trends, which should be of considerable value to planners, policy-makers, social science researchers, and business analysts alike.

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