De Montis, Andrea and Reggiani, Aura (2012) JTG special section on accessibility and socio-economic activities: methodological and empirical aspects. Journal of Transport Geography, Vol. 25 , p. 95-97. eISSN 1873-1236. Article.
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In recent years there has been an increasing interest in analysis of accessibility and related studies. The concept of accessibility is multifaceted, since it is investigated in a variety of disciplines, such as transportation planning, spatial planning, transport geography, urban and environmental planning, spatial economics and transport economics. Accessibility is an important theme of research, because it concerns the benefits to people of accessing a certain location, by using a particular transportation system. In this respect, the level of accessibility can be considered to be a relevant indicator of the efficiency of the transportation system under analysis.
Individuals adapt their movements and activities, often albeit unconsciously, to the possibilities provided by a given transportation system. Broadly speaking, this should enable them to reach as many desired goods or places as possible at the lowest possible cost. While this general definition can be outlined, policy makers must be more specific when they tackle particular case studies. Many varying definitions are found in the literature. However, in methodological terms, most of these boil down to the concept and measurement of potential accessibility (Martín and Reggiani, 2007). In this context, accessibility embeds – in a compound way – simple indicators of the economic activities together with the cost/utility of reaching such activities. Consequently accessibility can be seen as one of the driving forces for producing desired economic activities (Levinson and Xie, 2011).
Accessibility is also strictly linked to the network concept (Levinson and Krizek, 2008), as well as to the inherent complex configurations. From a modeling viewpoint, accessibility, in the formulation presented in Hansen’s (1959) and Weibull’s (1976) works, can be considered as a simple – although very powerful – indicator, capable of ‘decoding’ complex systems. On one hand, accessibility can be linked to spatial interaction models, and thus to the related theories on which statistical information principles and entropy maximization are founded. On the other, accessibility can be linked to logit models and thus to micro-economic theory (stochastic utility maximization). To sum up, all the theories to which accessibility can be linked show that – when dealing with a complex network – a ‘hidden’ order/simplicity has governed the scientific arena in spatial economic science in the past few decades. Accessibility is one of the strong theoretical instruments in this complex framework (for a review, see Reggiani, 2012).
In this context, an intriguing research issue is the interpretation and measurement of the fundamental (potential) accessibility indicator, given the social and economic variables involved. Thus attention has recently been paid to the associated distance/travel time/travel costs, as well as to the related functional forms and network structures, seen from both a theoretical and an empirical viewpoint (see Reggiani et al., 2011). In this vein, researchers have experimented with a variety of measurements of or proxies for the accessibility indicator. There have been a long series of methodological and empirical contributions in recent decades: for example, Bruinsma and Rietveld, 1998, Hillman and Pool, 1997, Litman, 2007 and Weber and Kwan, 2003, and Yamaguchi (2007). Reviews of accessibility measurements can be found, among others, in Baradaran and Ramjerdi, 2001, Geurs and van Wee, 2004, Geurs et al., in press, Handy and Niemeier, 1997, Jones, 1981 and Reggiani and Martín, 2011, and Wu and Hine (2003). All these works bear witness to the popularity of the accessibility approach, which has evolved from the fundamental definition by Weibull (1976), where accessibility refers to the ‘properties of the configuration of opportunities for spatial interaction’, becoming enriched with economic and social contents that include relevant aspects of the new patterns of transport, economic networks and land use.
Recent developments in our globalized era, which is characterized by very-high connectivity in transport and socio-economic fields, mean that an interesting area which is worth exploring are methodological reflections on the feedback relationships between the new patterns of economic activities and the new transport networks, identified by individuals or groups, in different areas of studies, from the point of view of accessibility. This is also the rationale behind the articles included in this Special Section.
As a result the authors in this Special Section have been invited to discuss the impact of accessibility on social and economic activities connected to: population growth (Koopmans et al.), the emerging mobility patterns in the presence of a new high speed train (Martínez Sánchez-Mateos and Givoni), employment and commuting (de Graaff et al.), services provision (Neutens et al.), public care facilities (Paez et al.) and land value finance (Medda). These contributions were originally selected from among the papers presented in a NECTAR Cluster 6 Workshop on Accessibility and Spatial Planning held in Cagliari (Italy), on 17–18 October 2009. We would like to thank Andrea de Montis and his collaborators for their excellent organization in this respect.
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