The expansion of warehouses in sprawling locations

While the example here is from Georgia, this describes a lot of development in the United States today:

An announcement this week says that the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company will anchor a new industrial park being developed on the property. The company will occupy 1.5 million square feet of warehouse space, in what the Atlanta Business Chronicle calls the “largest build-to-suit industrial space under construction in metro Atlanta.” Goodyear is expected to employ about 150 Georgians in the facility.

Individually, headlines like this represent wins. Jobs are created, and local tax bases are fortified. Warehouses, in particular, tend to bring in significantly more in property taxes than the businesses that occupy them demand in county services such as public safety. Their byproduct, however, is traffic. Specifically, truck traffic…

The middle stage of both manufacturing and distribution requires warehouses, and Georgia’s geographic position and our ports and airport logistics hubs make the warehousing industry a logical fit for the state. This extends from the Port of Savannah all the way down I-16, up I-75 into metro Atlanta, and all the way around the metro area and into North Georgia. It’s truly a statewide issue.

And much like the projected cascade of new residents, new warehouses are coming. There is a proposal to build out 1,400 acres with 18 million square feet of warehouse space in Butts county, about half way between Atlanta and Macon. Seven hundred acres adjacent to the Budweiser brewery in Cartersville, northwest of Atlanta, have also been sold to be developed as warehouse space.

To make a world of Amazons, Walmarts, and Walgreens possible, trucks are needed. Lots of trucks. The warehouses need to be in strategic locations near growing populations so that the time between warehouse and store or delivery is reduced. To make one or two day delivery possible or have real-time inventory, there need to be locations that have a lot of goods ready to go. Black Friday or the Christmas retail season cannot happen as easily without warehouses.

As noted above, warehouses provide jobs and property taxes. They are not often aesthetically pleasing as the primary goal is to store goods, not interact with the public. They often occupy key sites in and around intersections and highways. They contribute truck traffic. I would guess few people would want to live right next to one given the noise and lights involved.

All of this connects to sprawling development in the United States. American communities tend to be spread out as people seek out single-family homes of a certain size and with enough distance from communities they might find problematic. Decades of sprawl fueled by the American Dream, the federal government, and numerous other actors means that warehouses are a common part of the landscape. Outside any major metropolitan area, there are rows upon rows of warehouses.

For another example of how this all plays out, see the rise of intermodal facilities (and the negative effects these can have on communities).

Inside Amazon’s fulfillment centers

If Walmart is where normal America gathers, then here is where much of the stuff Americans order online comes from: Amazon fulfillment centers.

For its “Amazon Unpacked” series, UK’s The Financial Times Weekend Magazine got photographer Ben Roberts a pass into the hyper-systematized environs of one of Amazon.com’s ginormous—roughly the length of nine football fields—fulfillment warehouses. The facility in Rugeley, England, is an expansive structure flooded with natural light and imbued with the sterility and efficiency of a major hospital. Here, employees can walk between seven and 15 miles a day, and they don’t meander; the warehouse gets 35 orders a second and worker productivity is measured via handheld device. Architizer calls it “a warehouse employee’s worst nightmare,” but with all the organization, light, and crisp colors, the space seems pretty ideal for a warehouse—particularly if an employee were training for a 10K or something.

When looking at these pictures, they seem like they could either represent the possibilities of our future (think of what is on all those shelves!) or represent cold, calculating buildings that are all about feeding a consumerist economy in the most efficient way. Either way, their scale alone is impressive.

Combined with my post over the weekend about subway facades, these images could be part of a larger series on the infrastructure behind the 2013 world. When people order from Amazon, they are not likely to think about all that it takes to get the product from a factory to a distribution center and then to their door/mailbox. Yet, they know it all works and like the results. Or, think about the data centers built in places like Iowa to handle all of the information flowing through the Internet. Or, the distribution centers behind Walmart or that helped Netflix quickly ship out DVDs years ago. All of this is relatively hidden in faceless warehouses away from the consumer.