Industries and Urban Form: categorizing businesses by proximity and speed

With the growth of form-based and performance-based zoning, specific land use restrictions are beginning to fall to the wayside, and this is becoming especially relevant for urban industrial areas. As technology continues to improve and existing performance standards are met or bettered, it seems increasingly less relevant to plan for a specific industrial use. The problem with existing land use categorizations is that they are turning stale at exponential rates. While New York City still has a land use category for coal storage yards, it does not have a category for rice slurry extrusion.

This is not an image of speed in China. Photo from Bert van Dijk’s flickr stream

Which brings up the following question: as planners and urban designers, how are we supposed to not only predict advancements in industrial technology, but also be able to correctly project where these advanced industrial businesses should be located?

Perhaps we no longer need industrial land use descriptions. Rather, we could organize industries based on their need for proximity and transportation speeds? Like planning for Accessibility Zones?

One of the articles in the latest Journal of the American Planning Association (JAPA) got me thinking about this, and how the density of interactions is related to the urban form. The study, Does Accessibility Require Density or Speed: A Comparison of Fast Versus Close in Getting Where You Want to Go in U.S. Metropolitan Regions (Spring 2012 v78, n2), looked at the definition of transportation accessibility through speed and density metrics (the article can be found at various libraries or downloaded here).

The study’s goal was to develop a process which compares accessibility measures across multiple metropolitan areas. Their methodology utilized the gravity model which accounts for both the transportation network and the surrounding land use conditions. Study areas are then ranked based on an accessibility index: the greater the score, the greater the advantage a person has in reaching a destination. A high score on the index is a result of a person either having many destinations nearby, or being capable of reaching distant destinations quickly, or a combination of both measures of proximity and speed.  The resulting study not only developed an accessibility index, but also measured the advantages certain cities have over one another in terms of speed or proximity.

So this got me thinking: couldn’t this also be done with an industry or an entire economic sector? Would it be possible to determine a sector’s required speed and proximity needs, and then compare them to a city’s accessibility index? Perhaps it could help explain one of the reasons certain sectors locate in certain cities, or even in certain neighborhoods within cities, and why certain cities and regions have industry advantages. Perhaps this could help determine the best geographical locations for sectors or, where there are already clusters, what accessibility improvements would be needed to help them thrive.


Do you know of any studies similar to this? If not, are you interested in working on something like this?

Note: Transportation policy is generally grounded in two major schools of thought: mobility and, to a lesser-extent, accessibility. Mobility tends to focus on increasing vehicle operating speed, often resulting in policies whose main purpose is to reduce traffic congestion. Accessibility on the other hand, sees transportation as a means to an end. Accessibility sees the point of travel as getting someone to their destination, and will look at land use patterns to increase proximity and connectivity.

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  1. So, you want to build a new civilization? 50 DIY tools to help you build your perfect [insert place/thing here] | PlaNYourCity - September 24, 2012

    […] Unfortunately, New York City land use regulations are somewhat outdated and many of the new materials needed or produced by these digital fabrication tools are not recognized. Production and industrial activities have changed greatly since the 1960’s and will most likely continue to evolve exponentially, forcing land use planners to adapt and envision a future with extreme specificity. For example, New York City has no use group for extruded, slip-cast, and molded rice slurry production (a potential rapid fabrication material), yet we have a use group for open coal storage. Even if we added all the materials we know of today to our zoning resolution’s list of allowable use groups, the list would probably be out of date by the time of their adoption and publication. And this does not even consider the role of Performance Standards in measuring and regulating urban production. For another option in planning for industry, check out this previous blog entry on proximity vs. speed. […]


  2. Grammar of Habitat: Muir Webs & Urban Planning | PlaNYourCity - December 7, 2012

    […] the real question is, if we can develop a Muir Web and a reference ecosystem, do we have the tools to encourage the implementation on the ground? How do we account for anthropogenic change and agency, especially if a reference ecosystem is only […]


  3. It’s not you, it’s me: a breakup letter to Brookings | PlaNYourCity - August 21, 2013

    […] I have to admit, I am usually an enthusiast of Brookings’ work. I gobble up their research and infographics tirelessly as I like to think of myself as a closeted academic who just don’t read good. For some examples, just check out my posts on John Muir and Economic Ecosystems or about how we could be evolving our industrial zones into Accessibility Districts.  […]


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