City logistics innovations: how do we value space?

Genuine innovations in city logistics are about sharing. Sharing capacities, vehicles, data, energy, and people. That should start happening in zero-emission city hubs, local neighborhood hubs, and with waterborne transport. Simple, right?

But, those innovations often stumble over the distribution of joys and burdens. The public-private revenue models behind them are not obvious (and profitable). Housing wins if a municipality chooses between building housing or a city hub. They are worth more.

Cleaner, quieter, and safer

Policymakers then like to point out their plans’ social benefits and external cost impact: better air quality, fewer traffic injuries, less damage to infrastructure, and better traffic flow. Nice hypothetical calculations, with endless discussions about the starting points. But, as long as it is unclear who gets the benefits (and who has to pay for the investments), that argumentation will not work.

Those external benefits invariably fall short. This was shown in research on construction logistics in Brussels, for example. The social benefits aren’t going to make the difference apart from the fact that they are uncertain.

What is the value of space?

The relevant question is, what is the value of space? A modern city hub is space-efficient, and combining services delivers more value per square meter for the developer and owner. That’s what we’re talking about at Provada this week.

A smart city hub, neighborhood hubs, and waterborne transportation also provide space in the city: fewer loading and unloading bays, less inventory space, and enables car-free inner cities and residential areas (with more space for housing). And real estate value in those car-free inner cities and residential areas is higher. Would then residential development win out over a plan for a city hub?

This is a challenging question for policymakers. How do we make the “business case” for urban logistics innovations for municipalities? And how can we fairly distribute those joys and burdens public-private?

The new space we create in cities with city logistics innovations could be the deciding factor in the trade-off between housing construction and space for city logistics.

Walther Ploos van Amstel.

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