Spatial and Regional Economics Research Centre - Doctoral Theses

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    Urban sprawl: land-use, travel behaviours, and emissions in Ireland
    (University College Cork, 2023) O'Driscoll, Conor; Doran, Justin; Crowley, Frank; McCarthy, Noirin
    Land-use configurations determine the distribution and intensities of human activities across space while transport infrastructure determines the ability of goods, services, and people to travel across this space. Considering this relationship, it is important to understand how these mechanisms interact, but also how they can contribute to efforts to achieve sustainability in regional development while also positively benefitting local economies and social fabrics. By directly influencing regional time-space geographies, land-use configurations influence the efficiency with which finite resources, like land, are used while also defining local and regional connectivity, considerations which are directly related to economic, environmental, and social outcomes. In this regard, land-use developments in the Republic of Ireland have historically been characterised by urban sprawl, a developmental form which creates spatially segregated human settlements characterised by car-centric transport networks. Evidence suggests that these patterns inefficiently (and therefore unsustainably) use natural resources, like land, but also increase regional time-space geographies, characteristics known to influence economic, environmental, and social outcomes for individuals, households, and regions. Using Geographical Information Systems (GIS), econometric techniques, and network analysis methods, this research investigates the economic, social, and environmental dimensions of regional development across Ireland and Europe. Using refined built and social environment data, nationally comprehensive Census data, and highly disaggregated spatial scales, this thesis provides substantial contributions to regional science by undertaking six empirical analyses. These investigations focus on four principal research questions, namely: 1) How do land-use configurations contribute to efforts to achieve sustainability in regional development across Ireland and Europe? 2) Can the incorporation of opensource data improve our understanding of land-use configurations and their ability to contribute to sustainability efforts? 3) What is the relationship between built and social environments, individual socio-demographics, trip-specific concerns, and travel mode choices when commuting and during school-runs? 4) How do land-use configurations and transport infrastructure provision impact the environmental degradation attributable to travelling when shopping? From a land-use perspective, I show that regions which minimise time-space geographies and incorporate higher levels of land-use mixing utilise land, infrastructure, and natural resources, like space, more efficiently than alternative regions. This is because more people and human activities are accommodated within smaller spatial scales, thereby reducing the spatial extents of developments, and by extension, the levels of natural landscape destruction attributable to human settlements. In addition to this, more compact developmental forms face lower development costs, increased market/amenity accessibility, and strengthened social fabrics – producing positive economic and social outcomes. From a transport perspective, these areas reduce the implicit costs associated with regular public and active transport use by reducing required travel times and distances, heightening the competitiveness and convenience associated with these modes. I argue that these characteristics positively contribute to altering regional transport hierarchies away from excessive car-use, and therefore prompt reductions in travel-related environmental degradation. I conclude this research by highlighting how land-use and transport policies can be coordinated around environmental goals whilst not compromising economic and social objectives within regional development. In this regard, I provide specific policymaking recommendations surrounding the use of these instruments to increase the efficiency and sustainability of land-use configurations while also catalysing shifts away from excessive car-use in favour of more sustainable alternatives. Of these, the principal recommendation is that future developmental proposals should prioritise maximizing the efficiency of existing man-made settlements and infrastructure prior to outward expansion. In urban areas, this relates to prioritising greater land-use mixing and vertical expansion, while in rural areas, this more so relates to reducing time-space geographies through multi-modal transport investment, initiatives which may stimulate the emergence of polycentric developmental patterns. Similarly, initiatives which alter regional transport hierarchies by reducing the implicit costs of public and active transport relative to cars are recommended. I end by highlighting the limitations of this work while also providing directions for future research.