Urbanism Next
University of OregonUniversity of Oregon

Land Use Changes

Emerging transportation technologies, developments in e-commerce and urban delivery, and the COVID-19 pandemic are creating opportunities to rethink how communities approach land use.

New mobility and e-commerce are changing how we move around cities. The potential to reduce the amount of land dedicated to parking allows communities to put homes closer to work, shopping, recreation and other destinations . Planners can use land use policies to control how the land is used so its usage is compatible with community goals, including those related to GHG reduction, increasing equitable outcomes, and improving economic activity.

Issues & approaches

  • Suburb desirability: During the COVID-19 pandemic, many jobs shifted to remote work. The ability to work from home granted many Americans flexibility in where they could work. As a result, some people left dense, urban areas (especially New York City, San Francisco) in favor of more affordable ones with more space (such as surrounding suburbs or rural locations). Transportation technologies, especially AVs, will further make suburbs and exurbs more desirable by making it easier for people to commute longer distances as they can complete other tasks while commuting. Cities can use road usage charges and other strategies to incentivise people to live closer to the urban core. For more strategies to mitigate urban sprawl, read the NEXUS What to Do page on Urban Density and Sprawl.
  • Reduce or eliminate minimum parking requirements: Autonomous vehicles may reduce the demand for parking in residential areas. Planners should consider reducing (or eliminating) minimum parking requirements to allow for more housing units or more retail spaces. The City of Chandler, Arizona was the first city to propose amendments to zoning code in preparation for the arrival of AVs.
  • Infill and redevelopment: Especially in suburban locations, infill and redevelopment are two strategies for the availability of housing without having to build “out.” While infill will likely happen first in denser, high-demand areas in urban cores, there are many examples of multi-use infill and redevelopment strategies having great success in American suburbs.
  • Build 15-minute neighborhoods: A 15-minute neighborhood is a neighborhood where residents have access to schools, grocery stores, restaurants, and parks within 15-minutes travel time without using a car. Micromobility technologies, including e-scooters and bikeshare, are making these neighborhoods more achievable, by increasing the distance achievable within 15-minutes. The City of Paris, France is committed to increasing 15-minute neighborhoods and increasing bike lanes has been identified as critical infrastructure needed to make this happen. Portland, Oregon and Detroit, Michigan are examples of two US cities working to achieve 20 minute neighborhoods as well.

Employment uses:

  • Commercial and retail: Vacant commercial and employment spaces can be zoned for new uses that may be in demand. These spaces often have desirable locations, close to major roads and transportation lines. This makes these spaces desirable for two actors: retailers looking for distribution and warehouse spaces and for housing developers. Cities need to think critically about the site and consider the equity, environmental, and congestion potential when deciding to rezone the land for light industrial (warehousing) or housing.
  • Industrial and warehousing: There will be demand for warehouse and distribution uses to be located as close as possible to residents ordering goods. Cities will need to determine where to put these uses and how to integrate them in or adjacent to commercial and residential land uses.

Changes in the ROW: During the COVID-19 pandemic, changes in the right of way were a common tool to facilitate and increase business activity while working within the framework of local, state, and private guidance on safety measures regarding the virus. For example, there were many examples of restaurants taking over parking spaces for on-street, outdoor dining. These temporary changes to the right of way introduce a possibility of permanently programming the space differently. Cities should engage with local businesses in the form of surveys and community outreach to decide if permanent changes to land use and the ROW should stick.

Examples/case studies

Reimagining Spaces: A Post-Pandemic Design Report

View - Omgivning

This report created by Omgivning how to reuse strip malls, big box stores, and light industrial to build housing and mixed-use buildings in Los Angeles.

Zoning Practice

View - American Planning Association

Rick Stein’s "Zoning Practice" further explores the implications of retail and e-commerce on land use and zoning. Stein specifically explores major retailer's, including Amazon's and Walmart's, impacts on land use and zoning.

Twenty-minute neighborhoods

View - City of Portland

The City of Portland published this status update on their 20-minute neighborhood initiative. In the report, the city poses key questions for planners to consider when designing walkable neighborhoods.

Related topics

Auto-Oriented Land Uses

How will land use patterns shift if land previously dedicated to auto-oriented uses becomes available for redevelopment?

Industrial & Warehousing

How will e-commerce impact distribution warehousing? How will autonomous vehicles affect the location of industrial districts?

COVID-19 Impacts: Land Use & Real Estate

An unprecedented number of business closures has led to a lot of uncertainty regarding the future of retail and office space.

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