Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How connected is Boston to the world?

I enjoyed today's article in Mass High Tech (link above) written by Doug Banks, entitled "Checking the Traffic Density Jobs Indicator." Doug was musing about the lightness of traffic over the past year and its correlation to employment in Boston. As a geographer and a broker, I realized that Doug had become a student of geography and specifically of aereal connections which is a significant subset of the field. I'm getting boring so here's a story.

On August 6, 2006, Madonna performed at the Stadio Olympico in Rome. This is the rather infamous concert in which she sang while on a cross. All cellphone usage was measured coming from the Stadio. The lines terminated at major cities around the world and the thickness of the line indicated the volume of flow. Interestingly, NYC did not have the thickest flow (nor did Miami!). The strongest flow was to Paris. There are several 3D maps of this cellphone phenomenon.
I’ve included one showing the flow right over Rome.

Mapping connections between places in a formal manner had its beginnings in maps of the railroads in the 1870's, which showed freight tonnage flows between cities. NYC was still the dominant hub but in 10 years, Chicago had claimed its position atop the freight world as shown by the thickness of the volume of freight of all kinds coming into the City of the Big Shoulders.

A more recent example of aereal conncection maps is this DOT map of the volume of vehicular freight movement among major US cities in 2002. It served as a guideline for anticipating major roadway repairs.

So what does this have to do with Boston and real estate? Everything. We are exporters of knowledge and technology. We don't send barges of wheat down the Mystic River nor do we load much coal to ship to China. And if we are exporting something you can't touch, how do we measure our impact?

There are numerous links showing Boston's connections as measured by number of flights and passengers on the FAA website and the Massport website. But the best site I have ever seen, because it is animated, can be found at What Aaron has done is cover flights on a continuous basis over the course of a day. And it is absolute artwork. Watch Boston and San Francisco. You will notice a particularly thick line between San Francisco and Boston? Ditto for internet traffic and ditto for cellphone traffic. There are not many flights between Boston and Toronto and not many between Boston and Dallas. And both of these cities are much larger than both Boston and San Francisco. NYC is the most connected city to Boston and, in fact to every other city in the US, but it is flow of all types of communication between two cities that determine the degree of their intreaction. And high tech, high knowledge cities tend to connect with other high tech, high knowledge cities. Boston is connected where it counts. And connections mean jobs which means demand for real estate. Boston's vacancy rate has been hovering between 9 and 10%. The vacancy rate for space in the the Dallas CBD is 30%. Connections are good.

So when you're cruising or crawling down 93, you can thank Doug Banks and be happy about the economy. Or you can just mutter under your breath.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Been away for a bit but nonsense is still nonsense

Yes, I know most of my posts deal with the Boston office market. And I appreciate all of your who have followed me, corrected me, encouraged me, and made this all fun. I've been in a bit of a pause--call it an extended start to the New Year. So forgive me if I start my going astray again. I had to.

Kerry Emanuel ("Climate Changes are proven fact," Boston Globe, February 15) is obviously passionate in his beliefs about climate change. But what are we to make of his statement that "We have never before dealt with a problem that threatens not us, but our distant descendants?" The statement is ludicrous and typical of single-issue thinkers.

Never before? What about the nuclear arms race? I would consider that a problem that might affect our descendants. What about the increasing discrepancy in incomes worldwide? What about families in our inner cities for whom the only "job" that keeps people fed is the drug trade? What of their descendants? What of the growing chasm between the Islamic and Western worlds? Are the Taliban not a threat to our descendants? What about the state of public education right here in Massachusetts? Shall we put climate change in front of ignorance as a future threat? What about AIDS, human rights, child slavery? We have limited resources to deal with the many, many threats to our descendants. Does Emanuel truly believe that we must put his climate change crisis first on the list when, as he admits in his own article, there are simply too many factors to state fact when it comes to climate change? Which makes me wonder where he came up with the title.

I apologize. I'll get back to real estate. But as I see it, people working, people learning, people that are healthy, people that feel secure and safe, all create the world in which people like me are incredibly fortunate to play a small role in. There wouldn't be much need for office space in any other kind of a world.