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Q&A with Steven Webber on the state of industrial land use planning in North American Cities


Recently we touched base with Dr. Steven Webber, professor at Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning, expert on land use planning and strong advocate for retaining industrial land in cities. While currently based out of his hometown, his work with the Land Economic Foundation has landed him in Chicago, New York, Boston, and his native Toronto- reviewing the urban manufacturing preservation approaches in each city. He shared with us some surprising findings from his research, some insights on what works for keeping manufacturing in cities, and the last locally-manufactured product that he purchased.



Let’s jump in:


Can you quickly introduce yourself and summarize the research that you have been doing with the Land Economics Foundation?


I'm a faculty member in the School of Urban and Regional Planning at Ryerson University.  My interests focus on smart growth planning, land use planning policy and housing issues,  I've taught a variety of planning courses including the feasibility analysis of development, housing, client-based studio and quantitative methods. My current research includes work on urban manufacturing, retail development, and affordable housing.


My work for the Land Economics Foundation is reviewing urban manufacturing preservation approaches in Boston, Chicago, New York City and Toronto.  I'm examining the planning tools used in each city to identify common themes.  I'm also interviewing planners, manufacturing stakeholders, real estate professionals and consultants to gain insights into the effectiveness of each city's strategy.


How did you come to be interested in this topic?  


My initial interest was driven by an overall focus on land use planning policy. I wanted to examine the causes of the conflicts associated industrial land use planning  in Toronto, in particular the apparent disconnect between planning policies, economic development and real estate markets.  


What surprised you most during your research?


There have been several surprises. One is the level of commitment and enthusiasm demonstrated by manufacturing proponents in each city.  There is a genuineness associated with the desire to protect and grow urban manufacturing jobs as part of a broader commitment to promoting diverse and equitable employment options.


Though not unexpected, the extent of the the disconnect between planning and economic development is surprising as it relates to urban manufacturing.


The situation in Brooklyn is very surprising, particularly the ability of developers to build residential projects in close proximity to active manufacturers.  Even more surprising is the willingness of residents to live in these expensive units and endure the noise, odours and truck traffic. It's clearly a New York City thing.


Can you pull out a couple examples where a city's industrial land policy has been particularly effective in managing pressures on industrial land?  Notice any differences in US and Canadian context?  


The City of Toronto has managed development pressures on industrial land through its Official Plan directives and province of Ontario policies.  The conversion process includes very detailed criteria that attempts to move away from incremental decisions.  The other notable example is the Planned Manufacturing District zoning in Chicago.  This is often mentioned as an excellent example because it has defined boundaries that cannot be altered and only permits uses that are compatible with manufacturing activity.  


The biggest difference between the Canadian and US context involves policy.  In Canada, municipalities have citywide official plan policies in place that provide both a vision and specific requirements.  However in the US, urban manufacturing is addressed through zoning codes, there's a lack of citywide policies to provide additional support.


What are some of the planning & policy challenges that have not been resolved in these cities?


One of the biggest challenges is determining what constitutes a viable industrial site. Real estate interests use the highest and best use approach while manufacturing proponents argue that employment is an important part of the equation that's not captured by land values.  A consensus would be useful.


Another challenge is attempting to integrate urban manufacturing into mixed use developments.  All the cities in my study are attempting to find solutions through design and regulations but developers and manufacturing interests remain skeptical due to concerns with compatibility, density and economics.


What are some of the take aways from your research that might be applicable to almost any large city in North America?


There are several preliminary takeaways from the research.  First is that as intensification continues in North American cities the competition for land will become more intense.  A balance needs to be struck that will preserve urban manufacturing from development pressures through land use tools such as buffers and protected districts.  


Another takeaway is that industrial land use planning requires a long range vision that adds legitimacy to protecting manufacturing in the city.  This in part requires an understanding of what manufacturing may look like in the future, the argument that vacant manufacturing sites should be protected due to potential reuse has to be backed up with a sense of how the lands could accommodate jobs.


Can you fill us in a bit on your experience working with Toronto Made on a studio?


The Ryerson School of Urban and Regional Planning offers client-based studio courses that provide students an opportunity to examine and advise on real world issues.  This semester the Toronto Made undergraduate studio group is identifying the challenges faced by small and medium sized manufacturers in the city of Toronto.  Since this is a planning studio the group is focusing on the challenges related to development pressures, conflicts with surrounding residential uses, affordable space, transportation accessibility issues, etc.  The group is completing background research on urban manufacturing in Toronto, identifying best practices and conducting interviews with Toronto Made members and manufacturers that aren't members, planners, economic development officials and real estate professionals. The group is expected to produce a report that will help Toronto planners better understand the needs of local manufacturers.


A locally-manufactured product that you have purchased recently?


Tortillas from La Tortilleria.



A big thanks to Dr. Steven for his time. Stay tuned for more information on the 2016 Montreal Urban Manufacturing Summit hosted by Made in Montreal coming this June 2 and 3rd. Dr. Steven Webber will present as a keynote speaker as we explore the theme of Places & Spaces for Urban Manufacturing.


Steven Ricciardi, one of Made in Montreal's followers, himself having worked in furniture making, agreed to share with us his thoughts on local manufacturing, and the potential for further developing a 'Made in Quebec' brand.  What do you think?

We are thrilled to share the recent publication from Toronto-based Distl's journal on urban issues entitled "Make This City - The State of Urban Manufacturing". This insightful and beautifully-designed report explores a wide range of topics related to manufacturing in the modern city - from the impact of new technologies to the preservation of industrial space to the importance of place-based branding.

The ICIC – Initiative for a Competitive Inner City recently published this fun and informative info-graphic on the advantages of having manufacturing and industrial jobs in an inner city.

Local manufacturers face many obstacles to stay open: competition, finding specialized labour, material costs, and outsourcing, among others. When talking about supporting and promoting local manufacturing, sometimes something as obvious as the issue of affordable workspace can be overlooked.

En 2011, l'arrondissement Ville-Marie a dévoilé son programme particulier d'urbanisme (PPU) pour le quartier Sainte-Marie. Cette modification au plan d'urbanisme visait le redéveloppement et l'amélioration de ce faubourg industriel montréalais.  Dans cette PPU, l'arrondissement a considéré une usine de tabac JTI-MacDonald comme étant en voie de fermeture. Pourtant, cette usine qui a été le moteur de développement du quartier fonctionne toujours...

In May 2013, Steve had the pleasure of visiting the Boston Redevelopment Authority (BRA) at Boston City Hall. He was on a reconnaissance mission for Made in Montreal to learn more about that city's Back Streets Program. Back Streets, an initiative of the City of Boston, is a leading model in North America for supporting urban industrial and manufacturing activity. Steve met with Sal DiStefano, Manager of the City's Back Streets program, and with Ted Schwartzberg, Urban Planner with the City of Boston. Here is some insight that he brought home: