What will city logistics look like in 20 years?

Developments in city logistics follow each other at a rapid pace: new vehicles are introduced, flash delivery companies are emerging and being banned, and new legislation forces cleaner mobility. The hardware of the city, on the other hand, develops at a much slower pace, often resulting in conflicts between the physical space and its use. This conflict between different development rates forces us to think ahead: what will city logistics look like in 20 years? Because the direction of this development is not yet clear, this requires different future scenarios. Instead of designing solutions for today, we need to provide insight into the impact of tomorrow's logistics. In this way, future-proof choices can be made.

Commissioned by the Creative Industries Fund NL and in collaboration with the Municipality of Rotterdam and TNO, we have explored various future scenarios for city logistics. In this research we focus on the question of what space city logistics takes up in the urban environment, what the current trends are and what this could mean for the future of city logistics.

More or less space for city logistics?

City logistics shapes the metabolism of the city: the delivery and collection of goods, raw materials and services is a vital function for the urban metabolism. This function requires space: for traffic and infrastructure, and for transhipment and companies. The densification of the city necessitates the minimization of environmental impact, but also an increase in the efficiency of the use of space. At the same time, the demand for more logistics is growing. Like other urban functions, logistics will therefore have to adapt, and be stacked and shared with other functions.

In this research, we focus on the spatial impact of logistics in the inner-city context: this is the place where logistics space use increasingly comes into conflict with other functions. We use the Oude Westen district in Rotterdam as a case location for this. This focus on the existing urban environment enables us to explore the possibilities for the integration of city logistics within the preconditions of the existing city. This focus on the existing urban environment enables us to explore the possibilities for the integration of city logistics within the preconditions of the existing city.

A catalog of city logistics

To get a grip on the complexity of the logistics ecosystem, we make a distinction between three building blocks that jointly form this ecosystem: 1. Traffic, 2. Infrastructure, 3. Hubs. In addition, we have mapped out the most important typologies per building block: together they form a catalog of city logistics.

Future scenarios for city logistics

We use scenarios to map out how city logistics can develop in the future, based on extrapolation from current trends. In our research by design, we look at four specific scenarios that arise from two axes that focus on distinctive developments in the logistics and social/urban planning domain. The vertical axis looks at the logistics domain and distinguishes between an integrated and segregated logistics system, while the horizontal axis looks at the social/urban planning domain, distinguishing between urban-oriented urbanism and logistics-oriented urbanism.

Scenario study conclusions

The scenario study visualizes the relationship between logistics systems and spatial planning in the city. With the further densification of the city, the availability of goods and services increasingly comes into conflict with the quality of life in the city: not everything can be done everywhere at the same time. By smartly integrating various logistics services and making logistics hubs as accessible as possible, the number of vehicle movements can be reduced and city streets can remain vital.