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Strengthening Urban Industry

The Importance of Infrastructure and Location

Nancey Green Leigh

May 2013, English

Within urban policy development and planning practice, a little acknowledged conflict exists: efforts to increase population density and promote more effective use of grey infrastructure—built systems and structures like roads, sewer, and utilities—to support residential density contribute to industrial sprawl and the need to extend grey infrastructure further out in metropolitan areas. In this paper presented by Nancey Green Leigh at Lincoln Institute’s 2012 Conference on Infrastructure and Land Policy the author argues the case for strengthening urban manufacturing. She highlights five premises that support the argument in favor of strengthening urban industry.

In advancing this position the author acknowledges that efforts to preserve industrial land use in urban centers buck the trend of the majority that seemingly accept the view of a postindustrial economy in which supply-side and demand-side economic development strategies focus on service industries and housing development and are largely framed by the views of the smart growth movement. She postulates that by buying into this postindustrial worldview, many cities allowed themselves to become deindustrialized with the influential smart growth movement playing a significant role in this process. She argues that policy makers need to avoid treating smart growth and sustainable urban industrial development as conflicting goals. She points out that the return of manufacture-to-order or just-in-time modes of production has countered the perceived obsolescence of central city industrial facilities and their proximity to major urban universities, which are a principal source of technological and R&D advances, make brownfields viable for reuse in this advanced economy for new types of industrial activity.

In conclusion the author points out that urban manufacturing and the economy overall are faced with looming problems to their productivity and competiveness due to cities’ failure to re-invest in and maintain critical infrastructure. She highlights local government efforts that make better use of existing infrastructure, promote new low-impact, sustainable infrastructure policies, take advantage of sources of renewable energy and energy-sharing inter-grids, and promote a “sustainable techno-eco-cycle approach” to infrastructure development. She suggests that efforts to strengthen urban industry and maintain industrial land use in central cities can help achieve the goal of increasing the United States’ level of exports and maintaining its manufacturing leadership in the advanced global economy.

This paper was presented at the Lincoln Institute’s annual Land Policy Conference in 2012 and is Chapter 12 of the book Infrastructure and Land Policies.