By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – I was struck by a question offered up by Matt Williams yesterday in my Monday column.
He wrote: “Here is a question for Tim Keller … If the Vision for Davis is to be a bedroom community for people who work outside the City Limits, then why does Davis need more R&D / Commercial space? “
I would argue this is a miscast question. Davis really is not a bedroom community and I don’t think most people really would envision it becoming one.
The dictionary definition of bedroom community: “A primarily residential town where most residents commute to work in a larger city. For example, many industrial workers may live in a small town outside the city in which the factory is located; they must either drive or take public transportation to go to work each day. Bedroom communities generally have little economy of their own beyond retail shops for use by residents. They are often, but not always, suburbs.”
There is a segment of Davis that does indeed commute to larger communities. Some will commute to Sacramento for sure and some to the Bay Area.
But there is a big problem for the bedroom community notion—the biggest employer for people who live in Davis by far is UC Davis. And most of those people do not commute out of town. even if UC Davis is technically outside of the city limits.
Matt Williams argues that UC Davis is outside of the city. It is.
But there is a separate concept of a bedroom community that is not embodied within the formal definition. A lack of community identity.
If you live most of your life when you commute out of town, work a ten-hour day, commute back and then eat your dinner and go to sleep, you are generally not engaged in your community. That’s not really what Davis is.
Davis has a vital downtown and community identity. Residents are actively engaged in local activities, whether it’s the schools, Farmer’s Market, the downtown, and civic engagement.
Moreover, while it is true a sizable portion of the population does commute out of town during the day to go to work (not including UC Davis), on the other hand, a bigger population actually commutes into Davis or UC Davis to work during the day.
I would argue instead of Davis as a bedroom community, Davis is a classic college town. It is a small to medium size town. It doesn’t have a huge secondary employer, but instead, the major employer in the area is the university.
To illustrate why this is not a bedroom community set up, let us take an extreme example. A college professor on Rice Lane gets on his bike or walks on foot across A Street onto campus, works there and then at the end of the day, walks or bikes home. He technically leaves the city limits to work, but he is perhaps traveling a block or two. That’s not really what they have in mind for a bedroom community.
Rather than being a bedroom community, it seems to me that Davis suffers from two primary problems—both of which are within its realm to address.
First, the real problem isn’t that people commute out of Davis to work, the real problem is that, according to the State of the City report and University Travel Survey, something on the order of 24,000 commute outside of Davis to work while another 28,000 people commute into Davis (and UC Davis) each day to work.
It’s not that people are commuting, the problem is the fundamental mismatch between housing and jobs that means that people who work in town are not living in town, and vice versa.
Again, that’s not a bedroom community. It is not a one-way migration—it is a two-way migration.
Also embedded in Matt Williams’ question is a second point—why does Davis need more R&D and commercial space?
Is Matt Williams really giving up on the notion of technology transfer?
Several years ago, then-Chancellor Linda Katehi came up with idea of placing the World Food Center at the Railyards in Sacramento. Ultimately the idea was shelved and probably scrapped. One reason for that was backlash from university faculty and staff who lived in Davis who didn’t want to move or commute to Sacramento.
But that concept is something that would be a good fit for Davis—taking the experimental and research-based technologies of food production and generating market-based products and technology that can help feed the world.
When Barry Broome gives his presentation, he likes to show the STEM potential of UC Davis, but also demonstrate how it lags behind some of its research counterparts like the University of Wisconsin.
Many see UC Davis as a multi-billion dollar economic force that has the potential to spin off into private markets that can generate jobs and new technology which can benefit the community.
But only if we have the labs and infrastructure to support it.
Ironically, Matt Williams’ question ponders a self-reinforcing prophesy. If you assume that Davis is a bedroom community and thus move tech transfer to places like Woodland or Sacramento, it becomes a reinforcing prophesy where people are forced to commute out of town for jobs. Students who graduate from UC Davis end up settling in places like Woodland and Sacramento and taking their immense talent with them.
By doing that you create something that much more closely does represent a bedroom community.
But is that the ideal? At a regional level or even a local level, is there anything actually gained by moving jobs away from UC Davis and toward Woodland and Sacramento?
—David M. Greenwald reporting
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