Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


london-taxi

A black London taxi, also known as a hackney carriage. (PHOTO: JIMMY BARRETT/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

City as Suburb

• August 31, 2013 • 7:48 AM

A black London taxi, also known as a hackney carriage. (PHOTO: JIMMY BARRETT/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Who are the world’s mega commuters and what effect are they having on the cities they live and work in?

What’s the most affordable part of London? Paris, of course. The commute:

Luckily, it’s no longer necessary to choose between Paris and London. They have never been so close. Indeed, viewed from Shanghai or San Francisco, they are virtually in the same place (except if you are a foreigner who needs two different visas to visit them). Now that the Eurostar journey takes just two hours 15 minutes, I often drop my kids off at school in Paris, and later that morning have coffee with someone in London. I get most of London’s joys without the pain. The wonderful new London is better visited than lived in.

The geographic view is perverse. Cost does not concern the mega commuter. For true London residents, they get most of London’s pain without the joys. Greater geographic mobility equals greater prosperity.

London is the downtown of Europe. New York is the downtown of the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. A U.S. Census report about mega commuting:

• Mega commuters are more likely to depart for work before 6 a.m., be male, older, married, make a higher salary, and have a spouse that does not work.
• Mega commuters are more likely to travel to another metro or micro area for work, as opposed to the one in which they reside.
• Mega receiving flows are geographically concentrated in populous cities, while sending flows are more geographically dispersed.

Mega commuters benefit from employment density as indicated by the higher salary. They also don’t deal with the downsides of greater residential density, using geographic arbitrage to considerable advantage. As for the folks living closer in, they aren’t reaping the benefits while absorbing a lot of the costs. The boutique city caters to people who don’t have to live there.

An emerging pattern is one of mega gentrification. New York City real estate refugees drive up rents in the urban neighborhoods of Philadelphia:

It’s not news that New Yorkers have been infiltrating Philly for more than a decade. There was an understandable migratory spike after 9/11, and then, about six years ago, a flurry of articles about how New Yorkers in their 20s were descending on neighborhoods like Fishtown and Northern Liberties in the insultingly termed “Sixth Borough.” While the scope of the New York influx may have been unduly glamorized, the numbers aren’t laughable.

Those who can afford to do so are revitalizing cities such as Philadelphia, Scranton, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland. It’s return migration:

“Neighborhoods change a lot more slowly in Philadelphia than they do in New York,” Christopher Plant, a realtor at Elfant Wissahickon, tells me. “But once New Yorkers hit Philadelphia, they tend to have this renewed optimism. And besides, they’re networkers, and they’re used to working really hard. A lot of them are pulling it off.”

It turns out that a lot of those who are pulling it off—in real estate and beyond—are originally from here. Indeed, the trend has accrued such critical mass that at least in the Department of Commerce’s Office of Business Attraction and Retention, some officials have cooled their long-held efforts to stymie Philly’s braindrain. “Let them go and do time in New York or Los Angeles, let them gain business and life experience,” director Karen Randal explains. “When they’re ready, they come back and realize what a great city Philadelphia is, and they bring their expertise, business and enthusiasm back here and help pump in new life.”

Christopher Plant is himself an NY-Delphian. After attending Temple in the late 1980s, he moved to New York and, as a partner in the successful art and performance space Galapagos, helped revive Williamsburg, then a dangerous mix of addicts and Hasidic families. Upon moving back to Philly in 2002, Plant recast himself as a civic booster, launching guerrilla campaigns to lure Brooklynites here and becoming an active board member of local non-profits, including the Franklin’s Paine Skatepark, which breaks ground this month near the Art Museum and will purportedly be the largest in the country.

Being a New York-Delphian is similar to transnationalism, straddling two places. A metro doesn’t lose talent while another one gains. Migrants connect two cities. Geographically mobile talent is building Greater Greater New York with inner city neighborhoods throughout the megaregion serving as suburbs to Manhattan.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

More From Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

November 26 • 4:00 AM

The Geography of Real Estate Markets Is Shifting Under Our Feet

Policies aimed at unleashing supply in order to make housing more affordable are relying on outdated models.


November 25 • 4:00 PM

Is the Federal Reserve Bank of New York Doing Enough to Monitor Wall Street?

Bank President William Dudley says supervision is stronger than ever, but Democratic senators are unconvinced: “You need to fix it, Mr. Dudley, or we need to get someone who will.”


November 25 • 3:30 PM

Cultural Activities Help Seniors Retain Health Literacy

New research finds a link between the ability to process health-related information and regular attendance at movies, plays, and concerts.


November 25 • 12:00 PM

Why Did Doctors Stop Giving Women Orgasms?

You can thank the rise of the vibrator for that, according to technology historian Rachel Maines.


November 25 • 10:08 AM

Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.


November 25 • 10:00 AM

If It’s Yellow, Seriously, Let It Mellow

If you actually care about water and the future of the species, you’ll think twice about flushing.


November 25 • 8:00 AM

Sometimes You Should Just Say No to Surgery

The introduction of national thyroid cancer screening in South Korea led to a 15-fold increase in diagnoses and a corresponding explosion of operations—but no difference in mortality rates. This is a prime example of over-diagnosis that’s contributing to bloated health care costs.



November 25 • 6:00 AM

The Long War Between Highbrow and Lowbrow

Despise The Avengers? Loathe the snobs who despise The Avengers? You’re not the first.


November 25 • 4:00 AM

Are Women More Open to Sex Than They Admit?

New research questions the conventional wisdom that men overestimate women’s level of sexual interest in them.


November 25 • 2:00 AM

The Geography of Innovation, or, Why Almost All Japanese People Hate Root Beer

Innovation is not a product of population density, but of something else entirely.


November 24 • 4:00 PM

Federal Reserve Announces Sweeping Review of Its Big Bank Oversight

The Federal Reserve Board wants to look at whether the views of examiners are being heard by higher-ups.



November 24 • 2:00 PM

That Catcalling Video Is a Reminder of Why Research Methods Are So Important

If your methods aren’t sound then neither are your findings.


November 24 • 12:00 PM

Yes, Republicans Can Still Win the White House

If the economy in 2016 is where it was in 2012 or better, Democrats will likely retain the White House. If not, well….


November 24 • 11:36 AM

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it’s relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.


November 24 • 10:00 AM

Why Are Patients Drawn to Certain Doctors?

We look for an emotional fit between our physicians and ourselves—and right now, that’s the best we can do.


November 24 • 8:00 AM

Why Do We Elect Corrupt Politicians?

Voters, it seems, are willing to forgive—over and over again—dishonest yet beloved politicians if they think the job is still getting done.



November 24 • 6:00 AM

They Steal Babies, Don’t They?

Ethiopia, the Hague, and the rise and fall of international adoption. An exclusive investigation of internal U.S. State Department documents describing how humanitarian adoptions metastasized into a mini-industry shot through with fraud, becoming a source of income for unscrupulous orphanages, government officials, and shady operators—and was then reined back in through diplomacy, regulation, and a brand-new federal law.


November 24 • 4:00 AM

Nudging Drivers, and Pedestrians, Into Better Behavior

Daniel Pink’s new series, Crowd Control, premieres tonight on the National Geographic Channel.


November 21 • 4:00 PM

Why Are America’s Poorest Toddlers Being Over-Prescribed ADHD Drugs?

Against all medical guidelines, children who are two and three years old are getting diagnosed with ADHD and treated with Adderall and other stimulants. It may be shocking, but it’s perfectly legal.



November 21 • 2:00 PM

The Best Moms Let Mess Happen

That’s the message of a Bounty commercial that reminds this sociologist of Sharon Hays’ work on “the ideology of intensive motherhood.”


November 21 • 12:00 PM

Eating Disorders Are Not Just for Women

Men, like women, are affected by our cultural preoccupation with thinness. And refusing to recognize that only makes things worse.


Follow us


Geography, Race, and LOLs

The online lexicon spreads through racial and ethnic groups as much as it does through geography and other traditional linguistic measures.

Feeling—Not Being—Wealthy Cuts Support for Economic Redistribution

A new study suggests it's relative wealth that leads people to oppose taxing the rich and giving to the poor.

Sufferers of Social Anxiety Disorder, Your Friends Like You

The first study of friends' perceptions suggest they know something's off with their pals but like them just the same.

Standing Up for My Group by Kicking Yours

Members of a minority ethnic group are less likely to express support for gay equality if they believe their own group suffers from discrimination.

How Old Brains Learn New Tricks

A new study shows that the neural plasticity needed for learning doesn't vanish as we age—it just moves.

The Big One

One in two United States senators and two in five House members who left office between 1998 and 2004 became lobbyists. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.