Economic geographers have come up with a number of sophisticated ways of measuring the "spatial mismatch" between jobs and housing that occurs in any city when those essential needs are spaced far apart (temporally or literally) for many workers. Virginia Parks, an urban geographer at the University of Chicago, still believes, though, that it's a powerful metric simply to ask people how much time they spend commuting.
"The analogy I use is that one of the best questions a doctor can ask a patient is 'how do you feel?'" she says. "The commute is still a really good indicator of 'how do you feel?' How does the city feel?"