The central research question for this project explores the distributional impacts of ecommerce and its implications for equity and justice.
The research aims to investigate how commercial land use affects people and communities. In 2018, U.S. warehouses surpassed office buildings as the primary form of commercial and industrial land use, now accounting for 18 billion square feet of floor space. Warehouses have experienced significant growth in both number and square footage, becoming the predominant land use in the U.S. Warehouse expansion has strategically sprawled from port areas to suburbs in order to get closer to populations and transportation access.
The research findings reveal a correlation between warehouse locations and lower-income communities, resulting in increased exposure to air pollution and triple the traffic associated with ecommerce. Conversely, higher-income populations experience the least exposure, despite making more than half of their purchases online compared to their lower-income counterparts.
Factors such as race and proximity to highways and warehouse locations emerge as stronger predictors of the volume of freight activity through ecommerce than individuals’ income levels or the number of orders placed. Going forward, there is an opportunity for retailers and distributors to take into account the health implications of warehouse placement, and governments can provide best practices to facilitate municipal coordination, particularly where local authorities may be unaware of the impacts.