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The Structure of Sprawl: Identifying and Characterizing Employment Centers in Polycentric Metropolitan Areas

Nathan Anderson and William T. Bogart

American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 2001, vol. 60, issue 1, 147-169

Abstract: This paper applies a consistent framework to four comparably sized metropolitan areas to identify and characterize their employment centers. Employment centers are identified as places that exceed a threshold employment density and a threshold employment level. They are also characterized as specializing on the basis of location quotient analysis. We find clear evidence of specialization in every employment center in the four metropolitan areas studied. Our interpretation is that what we are observing is a systematic change in metropolitan structure rather than a random sprawling of firms. We also find some evidence that the size distribution of employment centers follows the rank-size rule. This suggests that there is structure not only in the distribution of economic activity among the employment centers but also in their size distribution. Because less than 50 percent of metropolitan employment is within employment centers, future research should focus on understanding the more diffuse employment patterns. The rank-size rule gives some guidance as to the expected size distribution of employment throughout the metropolitan area. Copyright 2001 The American Journal of Economics and Sociology.

Date: 2001
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