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Will Big Companies Really Be Able to Resist Sprawl’s Siren Song?

Grumman’s current offices in Virginia. (Photo: the monk via

The Harvard
Business Review
piece about forward-thinking businesses moving to
urban rather than suburban locations continues to attract hopeful
around the Streetsblog Network.

But as some bloggers are pointing out, the trend — if it is one — is
far from clear-cut.

First, FABB
(the blog of Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling) asks
whether the Virginia county’s recent withdrawal of support for bicycling
infrastructure funding will make it less appealing to businesses in the
future, in part because many young workers want to live and work in
less car-dependent communities:

We’ve seen this shift in the increase in people who are choosing
bikes for transportation. They are mostly younger people who are sick of
being stuck in traffic, of paying $3/gallon for gas, and who want
better bike facilities. Communities like DC, NYC, and Arlington County
understand this shift and are changing their environment in response.
Older, less progressive communities like Fairfax are finding it
difficult to move away from the older mindset
of moving more people in more cars on wider roads.

FABB Blog cites the example of a suburban office park that is vying
to be the new headquarters of Northrop Grumman. As discussed on Greater
Greater Washington
, the aerospace and defense technology firm’s
other option is in Ballston, a more transit-friendly community in
Arlington County, Virginia.

But GGW is skeptical that employee desire for the better commuting
options offered by the Ballston location will be a deciding factor — or
whether the old-school benefits offered by sprawl will prevail:

In the immediate sense, employers don’t directly benefit from
reducing car trips or pay for increasing them. Employees benefit through
better transit or pay through worse traffic on commutes, but the
traffic impact also gets spread out to all other users of the roadways.
The companies benefit in the long run, but often make choices based on
short-term costs and benefits.

As a result, large employers like Northrop have strong economic
incentives to choose sprawling areas with cheaper land, where they don’t
have to worry about sharing any space with pesky retail and only their
employees, the region, and the company’s long-term competitiveness lose

This dynamic often pits more walkable, inner jurisdictions like DC
and Arlington against sprawlier ones like Fairfax, but not always. As
Fairfax builds Tysons Corner into a real city, they’ll face similar
issues within the County. Will Metro be enough of an incentive for
corporations to headquarter in Tysons, or will they continue to lean
toward the easy yet harmful route of picking the sprawliest office

More from around the network: At Discovering
, an intriguing post about how walkable urbanism gives
retailers more ways to lure shoppers into their stores. Bike Skirt
is big-time not feeling the bike love in Birmingham, Alabama. And Hard
gives a listen to NPR’s new "Songs for the Urban Cyclist" —
and wonders whether the public radio folks think all city bicyclists
look like Kevin Bacon.

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