South Florida's office sprawl is nation's worst, study shows
By Frank Norton
South Florida is suffering from the nation's worst case of office-development sprawl, according to a new study by the Brookings Institution in Washington.
As of 1999, 13% of metropolitan South Florida's total office space was in one downtown area - in this case Miami's. According to the report, that's the lowest percentage of office clustering in the nation's metropolitan areas.
In contrast to South Florida, downtowns in Chicago and New York offer 57% and 54% of the area's metro office space, while Boston and San Francisco had 37% and 34%. The US median showed 30% of office space was based in the regions' central business district, according to the report which analyzed data gathered from 1987 to 2002 in 13 large US markets.
The figures are not surprising, land-use experts say, since nearly all office growth in Miami-Dade County during the past 15 years has occurred outside of downtown Miami, and Broward and Palm Beach counties are experiencing similar decentralizations.
"Like a lot of Sunbelt cities, you just never had those big central downtowns or large edge cities with mixed uses, said Robert E. Lang, author of the report released last week, "Beyond Edge City: Office Sprawl in South Florida."
"It's not that far off from L.A., where you have an almost uniform urbanization far out from the city in the region's inland empire," said Mr. Lang, also director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.
"Every time you put a place of employment somewhere, it generates trips from work to home and home to work, which puts the biggest demands on the transportation system, said Clark Turner," a transportation planner for the City of Miami.
Mr. Lang said the business-decentralization phenomenon in South Florida is a serious urban challenge. Office sprawl ties directly to general urban sprawl, which negatively affects the environment, public and private transportation, public costs, and fairness in the distribution of public services, he said last week in a telephone interview.
Between 1987 and 2002, Miami-Dade's non-downtown growth in office space jumped 60%, or 30 million square feet, according to the study.
The report, paid for by the Brookings Institution, a public policy think tank, includes analyses of office-development data from real estate and consulting firms, real estate and building associations and office guide publishers.
The City of Miami's Coral Way and Coconut Grove markets, which have lost office space since 1997, are local examples of the office decentralization trend. During the same time period, the Kendall and South Dade office areas have boomed, according to the study's data from real estate firm Cushman and Wakefield.
Sprawling metro areas provide little prospect for integrating people and businesses into bus and light rail transit systems, Mr. Lang said, especially in Miami-Dade, where the county rail system consists of one line.
The Waterford at Blue Lagoon office park near Miami International underscores some other challenges posed by decentralization. The 250-acre park is home to 14 office buildings totaling 2.2 million square feet of office space that is not accessible by the county's Metrorail line.
Most office parks in South Florida are accessible only by car, Mr. Lang said, as opposed to those in Washington, DC, and some other metropolitan areas, which tend to cluster around mass transit stops.
In a 2000 study by the Washington-based Surface Transportation Policy Project, South Florida ranked fourth in the nation among regions with the largest percentage (19%) of household incomes spent on transportation.
According to Carey "Lee" Rawlinson, Miami-Dade County planning director, smart growth should involve dense and mixed-use development along existing or planned transit hubs.
"You've got to make use of the investments in infrastructure that have already been made he said," pointing to a long-range, public-private effort to build Downtown Kendall, a mixed-used urban center along the Metrorail commuter line in the county's Dadeland area.
That area's first mixed-use developments are under way, although build-out could take 30 years.
As for the balance between the distribution of public costs and services, experts say office sprawl is destabilizing, since entire regions must often subsidize the creation of edgeless city infrastructure and road-building projects that underpin sprawl.
"The reason you have terrible traffic is because everybody is going in every direction every morning," Mr. Lang said, emphasizing how most of South Florida developed for use of the automobile rather than neighborhood centers where people work and live.
"On your 40-mile commute every morning somebody who lives where you work will drive right past you because you're going to their edgeless city while they're going to yours."
Details: The 12-page study can be downloaded at www.brookings.edu/urban.