Integrating logistics into urban planning: best practices from Paris and Rotterdam

Cities worldwide are rethinking their mobility policies in light of environmental and quality-of-life objectives. As space is one of cities’ scarcest resources, mobility’s spatial footprint is increasingly scrutinized as an externality to mitigate. Like passenger transport, goods transport will shift towards efficient and zero-emission mobilities.

Proximity logistics

The logistics sector requires space to unload, cross-dock, consolidate, and stock goods closer to destinations to achieve an urban logistics system that eliminates inefficiencies and fossil fuels. However, such a ‘proximity logistics’ is at odds with ‘logistics sprawl,’ the historic outward migration pattern of logistics facilities. With policies and planning, cities can support the (re)integration of logistics facilities in urban areas to facilitate and enable the shift to an efficient urban logistics system.

Logistics is still a neglected policy subject in many cities, so knowledge of approaching this integration is hardly available. Therefore, researchers compared two pioneering cities: Rotterdam and Paris. Both cities have an established track record in advancing urban logistics policies and are spearheading the practice of planning for logistics. Based on interviews and policy analyses, the researcher developed best practices for integrating urban logistics facilities for cities.

Both Paris and Rotterdam are developing policies that allow them to get urban logistics on the planning agenda. The main differences that shape the policies can be traced back to the national policy context and the geographical location of both cities.

Different reasons for starting to plan

The major difference is the primary reason for city logistics planning. In Rotterdam, this comes from the National Climate Agreement that states that major Dutch cities should implement zero-emission zones to reduce CO2 emissions. In Paris, the primary reason is a wider vision to move to a more sustainable and livable (15-minute) city. Both cities see logistics and urban planning as a means to establish a larger objective. Both reasons are not (solely) grounded in urban planning or urban logistics policy making. Staff capacity for the topic is important. The urban logistics team in Rotterdam is large compared to the Paris group. Consequently, Rotterdam coordinates logistics with other policy departments better.

Availability of space

Most importantly, the geographical context matters. Whereas densely populated other municipalities surround the municipal area of Paris, Rotterdam has vacant space (greenfield and brownfield) within its municipal borders but outside the zero emission zone. The city is actively trying to develop policies for logistics facilities that enable consolidation. The focus is primarily on larger consolidation centers around the city. This is not an option for Paris, resulting in a higher need to develop mixed-use facilities in the densely populated parts. Logistics hotels, micro-hubs, and location perimeters are instruments in this regard. Contrarily, the need to develop mixed-use facilities inside the densely populated parts of Rotterdam is currently lower but may become inevitable. Here Paris is guiding, and there is a higher degree of involvement of real estate developers in the logistics sector.

Approach to developing policies

Both cities share several similarities in the development of their vision and execution of their policies regarding space for urban logistics. These include a dedicated urban logistics team, a policy goal towards cleaner urban logistics, involvement in national and international research projects and pilots, practice what you preach (zero emission municipal vehicle fleets and sustainable procurement policies), and active stakeholder consultation. In both cases, the development of spatial policies is also primarily explorative. The appearance of logistics facilities inside cities, such as ‘dark stores’ is mainly being regulated, whereas (open access) micro-hubs are merely being facilitated.

Most urban logistics regulations manage the use of urban space through measures like vehicle restrictions (e.g., low emission zones) or time windows. Insights show that only regulating logistics vehicles in urban space hardly results in an efficient urban logistics system with mitigated negative externalities.

Space is scarce

Space is scarce, but also among the few things municipalities can manage. Both Paris and Rotterdam are starting to combine (long-term) urban planning and urban logistics as planning practices to determine the logistics boundary conditions and options for the coming years. Both cities are different due to the geographical context. But both cities show that the availability of logistics facilities for consolidation can support more efficient city logistics. Uncertainties on stimulating logistics in urban planning (in both brownfield and greenfield developments) are still merely answered.

Future research

This research leads to insights that give rise to several research and policy implications regarding allocating space to logistics. First, there is tension between the short-term market developments of the logistics system and long-term urban planning. The latter must consider the future presence of logistics (vehicles) in areas with a stronger focus on active mobility and less space for passenger cars. Eventually, cities require logistics to deliver goods, collect waste, and provide services. Second, diversity is an important aspect to consider when planning urban logistics.

Future research could focus on a typology of policy instruments and facilities per area type, including mixed-use development inside cities. In a typology, the diversity in logistics segments should be considered when allocating space to minimize the impact of vehicles. This is missing in current research.

Further research is required to examine the policy approach, which can be more prescriptive, facilitating, or coercive. Across municipalities, coordination and dedicated points of contact in different departments are essential to address spatial claims integrally, including logistics. Another vital aspect is stakeholder consultation. In the end, cities do not operate in a vacuum, which is one of the main challenges for urban logistics.

Source: Bram Kin, Heleen Buldeo Rai, Laetitia Dablanc & Hans Quak(2023) Integrating logistics into urban planning: best practices from Paris and Rotterdam, European Planning Studies, DOI: 10.1080/09654313.2023.2242400

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