The rise of economic development overlay districts in response to industrial land loss: insights from survey and case study research

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White, Raymond Rodney
Leigh, Nancey Greene
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This research considered overlay districts as one technique to supersede Euclidian zoning, broaden its application to regulate land use, promote retention of industrial space and improve job development. Since the 1950s America has been losing industrial or manufacturing jobs and space in cities throughout the country. Moreover economic indicators following the great recession of 2007 reflected an aggregate loss of 8 million jobs, and an increase in national and regional industrial vacancy rates, which have recently, began to decline. Some researchers and local officials argue that industrial space, market and job losses were affected in part by less-protective, inflexible and/or inadequate Euclidian zoning regulations. In addition, it is argued that inadequate industrial zoning has contributed to the loss of investment of financial and human capital in local communities. Traditional zoning known as Euclidian zoning is a predominant form of land use control in the U.S. Today, it is a technique designed to separate and protect adjacent uses from encroachment, incompatibility and nuisances. The primary goal of this study was to explore and describe how overlay districts (located in inner urban/inner-ring suburbs) supersede Euclidean zoning, promote economic development and affect the creation of jobs through industrial development and\or urban redevelopment. Theoretical constructs informing this research included zoning, land use, local economic development and location theories. The fundamental research question asked is: "Do overlays protect industrial land and jobs better than Euclidian zoning and does the protection facilitate greater confidence in industrial investment? To address the research question of this dissertation and analyze data, a mixed methods research design was employed. The design consisted of Internet research, a qualitative multiple (six) case-study analysis, interviews of agency personnel, field reconnaissance, and a sample survey of implementing agencies (which used a data base of over 2700 ordinances from the Municipal Code Corporation). The conclusion of this study is that overlays protect industrial land and jobs better than Euclidian zoning and the protection does facilitate greater confidence in industrial investment. Manufacturers and other industrial oriented-users have located in EDODs and have in some cases lobbied the local governments for continuation of the district. Jobs have also been added in consecutive years within key EDODs. Moreover, newly established EDODs have been used to target investments in infrastructure and incentives to underwrite the cost of industrial development. Policy implications of this study will inform planners regarding the need for industry and manufacturing uses to create sustainable employment within their communities.
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