UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Intra-metropolitan office location and technological change Hyde, Jacqueline Ann


It has been speculated that recent technological advances may lead to more extensive office decentralization within the urban region. To better understand the intra-metropolitan implications of technological changes applicable to office activity, the purposes of this thesis are: (1) to determine how technological change may impact upon office location within the urban region, and (2) to suggest how metropolitan policies might respond to changes in the spatial distribution of offices. The premise taken in this thesis is that technological developments will increase the locational flexibility of office activities with standardized linkages, making it possible for more offices to decentralize; however, economic and social forces are such that office activities with unstandardized linkages will continue to favour a central location. Literature on office automation and office location is reviewed, critically analyzed, and synthesized to produce observations and judgements regarding the validity of the premise. The primary office location determinant is the nature of the activity's information input and output flows. Innovations in telecommunications and computing technologies are broadening the range of channels available for communications and increasing their capacities and flexiblity. These channels may substitute for face-to-face contact in less sensitive, simple, predictable, and regularly occurring information exchanges but, technology is generally perceived of as inferior to face-to-face contact for more complex and variable communications. Obstacles to the implementation of technological change in the office, specifically, technical problems, lack of evidence of clear financial benefits, difficulty in applying technology to high level office functions, and resistance to change by office workers, may be impeding realization of the potential for organizational change and locational flexibility offered by technological innovations. Support for the thesis' premise is provided by findings indicating that offices taking advantage of the increased locational flexibility offered by technological advances to move from the core to the suburbs, are primarily the routine information processing activities of large corporations which have standardized inputs and outputs. Offices with unstandardized linkages, primarily corporate head offices, financial, and professional firms engaged in analytical, decision-making, and administrative activities, remain predominantly concentrated in the core in spite of technological change. Factors behind the continued strength of central office locations are the economic advantages available, primarily opportunities for face-to-face communications, as well as non-economic or social attractions. The main conclusions of the thesis are first, that while technology may in theory increase the possibilities for locational decentralization of offices, there are a broad range of economic and social frictions opposing such movement. The intra-metropolitan spatial distribution of offices is becoming more specialized in response to both centripetal and centrifugal forces. Technology is not a causal factor; it enables or limits a firm's locational strategy. Second, it is suggested that metropolitan office policy and goals should be more explicitly stated, be sensitive to local characteristics and experience of general trends, adopt a long term perspective, and incorporate more realistic strategies which coordinate a range of government policies relating to land use, economic development, transportation, and public servicing to guide the location and timing of office development in order to ensure efficient resource use.

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