The venerable old Regional Plan Association has been around for nearly a hundred years. But as part of its fourth ever, once-in-a-generation plan for the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area begun last year, the group is trying something new. In a conjunction with a report to be released on Friday called Fragile Success: Taking Stock of the Tri-State Region, RPA has just gone live with a compelling interactive map that reveals which filled jobs, by both industry and education-level, are where in the region — and given today’s transportation choices, how long it really takes to get to them.
The “Access to Jobs Map” is an appreciation of the fact that a job’s value is closely tied to the trouble it takes to travel there and back each day, and that people’s commuting preferences are changing. That means that everything from the boredom-relieving possibilities of the smart phone to the cost of parking can impact how, say, a tech company job in the New Jersey town of Bloomfield stacks up against one in downtown Brooklyn. RPA’s goal, says Juliette Michaelson, vice president for strategy there, is to paint “a realistic picture of the opportunities people have now.”
And that’s a perfect job for a digital map. Here are some fun things to try out:
- Comparing opportunities in a 10-block radius by industry. A 20-minute walkshed in lower Manhattan, for example, means two jobs in the financial sector for every one in health care, but a 30-minute one evens out the number of possible jobs.
- How long it really takes to reach specific transit points from the ’burbs. A 70-minute commute by public transit from the town of Paramus opens up much of northern New Jersey but just a small pocket in the area around Penn Station.
- Looking at access to opportunity based on level of education. A college graduate and a high school graduate both living in Ozone Park, Queens who are willing to put in 30 minutes of walking to get to work have access to about an equal number of appropriate jobs. Same goes for a half-hour spent on public transportation. But add a car into the mix and the college graduate’s options swell to about a third more than that of his or her neighbor with just a high school diploma.
The plan is to layer more and more information onto the map in the months and years to come. First up will be a look the employment landscape from the employer’s perspective, giving a sense of where a new software startup, or clothing shop, or even elementary school could choose to locate themselves to tap into the largest pool of trained information specialists, retail workers, or teachers. Then they’ll be adding something to the map that may very well make planners drool: the ability to test new transportation options — bike paths and greenways, ferries across the Hudson River from New Jersey to New York, the Second Avenue subway — to see which job possibilities those new choices open up even before they’re built.
Nancy Scola is a Washington, DC-based journalist whose work tends to focus on the intersections of technology, politics, and public policy. Shortly after returning from Havana she started as a tech reporter at POLITICO.