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Work-residence relations in Vancouver Wolforth, John Raymond

Abstract

Among the literature on work-residence relations two perspectives contribute to a potential geographical point of view. Of these, the demographic approach has been largely descriptive in its attempt to distinguish areas which are deficient in labour from those which have a labour surplus. The ecological approach is considered to be more promising but in its present form has certain inadequacies. In essence, this approach proposes a theory of urban spatial structure in terms of a priori assumptions. The major assumption with respect to the journey to work is that the frictional effect of distance results in the residential concentration of workers about their place of work. It then follows that the residential distribution of urban populations will be determined by the dominance of the central district relative to peripheral workplaces. The major thesis of this study is that the efforts of workers to minimize the costs of work-travel operates within the context of an existing urban spatial structure, which is itself uniquely determined by the conditions of site and the sequence of growth. The ecologist's argument is that workers of high socioeconomic standing will travel further to work than those of low socioeconomic standing because of their enhanced ability to bear the cost of work-travel. In Vancouver, variation in the length of the journey to work is shown to be a function of the relative concentration of workplaces and residences for each occupational group, rather than of the socioeconomic standing of the worker. A model is developed to describe the orientations of commuting patterns in Vancouver for each major occupational group. This suggests that these are the results of the varying quality of residential space rather than a crude distance determinism. Downtown Vancouver employs a growing proportion of the city's labour force as Vancouver increasingly assumes the role of regional capital. Although the residential distribution of the labour force embraces the entire city as ecological theory suggests, each occupational group is drawn from a distinct residential area. More rigorously, a high correlation is found between the income of workers and costs of housing in the residential area from which they come. In contrast, the correlation between the worker's income and the distance he travels to work downtown is not clear. These findings throw some light on the variation in automobile work-trips generated to downtown from each residential zone. A greater proportion of automobile work-trips originate in those high-cost residential areas in which the majority of the high-income downtown workers live. Not only are the origins of these trips locally concentrated, but they are generated more strongly to certain parts of downtown than others. The residential distribution of the workers of peripherally located workplaces is clustered in the way suggested by ecological theory. However, clustering occurs only in areas of uniformly low housing costs and only for industrial workers. Office workers of peripheral workplaces are drawn from a generally city-wide residential distribution. In Vancouver, it would appear that distance from the workplace is a less important determinant of residential location than the costs of housing. The concentrative effects of the cost-minimization process have less relevance than has been supposed, and even where they are applicable, operate only where housing costs are uniform. In brief, commuting patterns are superimposed upon a pre-existing, uniquely-determined urban spatial structure. Further research should indicate the extent to which this is true for other cities.

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