Urban redevelopment and transport infrastructure

Stanilov, K. and Jin, J.

While the broad economic principles underlying the logic of land redevelopment are well established in urban theory, our understanding of the spatial parameters of this phenomenon remains quite murky. We have very little empirical evidence to answer basic questions about urban redevelopment such as: Where does it take place? What type of land-use transitions occur and with what frequencies? What are the dynamics of the process and the trends overtime? What are the critical locational characteristics facilitating urban redevelopment?

Our lack of understanding of the ways in which cities reorganise themselves internally is brought into focus by the growing importance of urban redevelopment as a key aspect in the evolution of cities at the beginning of the twenty-first century. The need for efficient utilization of land has brought to the fore public policies that emphasise urban densification and land recycling. This observation is supported by the findings of our study of land use changes in West London, where the share of urban redevelopment has been continuously increasing since the end of the nineteenth century.

Our study is focused on improving our understanding of urban redevelopment by exploring specifically the relationship between transport infrastructure and urban land redevelopment using empirical evidence extracted from historic records. In pursuit of this goal, we utilised Ordnance Survey maps to reconstruct the expansion of the transport networks (road, rail and water) and to trace land-use changes within a 200 sq km area of West London, spanning a period from 1880 to the present. The high spatial resolution of the data, the extensive longitudinal coverage and the geographic extent of the study area allow us to explore the spatial and temporal dynamics of the relationships between infrastructure and land redevelopment, identifying long-term historical trends.

Our analysis reveals a surprising level of stability in those relationships maintained over the course of the momentous societal and technological changes. Perhaps the most interesting finding is the consistent relationship between urban land redevelopment and distance to railway stations, with the overwhelming majority of redeveloped land located within 1 km of a railway or underground station. This stands in stark contrast to the trends of development on new (non-urban) land where the share of land within 1 km from a railway or underground station dropped from 90% in the late nineteenth century to 40% at the turn of the millennium.

The findings from the paper provide new insights into possible tipping points in the development process, which may have strong policy implications for planning transport infrastructure, housing and urban business centres. We consider this study to be an initial step in establishing an evidence-based knowledge for smart growth planning policies in the realm of urban redevelopment. We believe that the insights derived from this line of empirical research could serve to develop better land use models, standards for infrastructure provision, and facilitate a more efficient approach to the use of urban land resources.

Urban redevelopment and transport infrastructure (pdf, 16.3 MB). The future of national infrastructure systems & economic prosperity conference, Cambridge, UK, March 27–28, 2014.