The accessibility paradox Everyday geographies of proximity, distance and mobility
Sammanfattning: This thesis aims to explore the importance of proximity and mobility, respectively, for individuals’ accessibility, as well as the relationship between these two key spatial dimensions of accessibility in the context of everyday life. The thesis is based upon three empirical research papers which focus on accessibility-related preferences, actual accessibility conditions, and travel patterns. Focus is directed towards the spatial relationships between individuals’ residential location vis-à-vis the location of a selection of different amenities including work, education, service and leisure functions as well as social relations. The analyses are based on a wide range of quantitative data, including questionnaire surveys as well as official register data for the Swedish population. The first paper shows that residential proximity to amenities was most valued by individuals in the case of social relations and basic daily activities. The level of satisfaction with current accessibility conditions was generally high, with the exception of social relations where the findings suggest the existence of a ‘proximity deficit’. The second paper shows that observed average distances to most amenities have decreased over time (1995–2005). Concerning service amenities, the increases in proximity over the period were primarily due to a restructuring of the localization patterns within the service sector. A comparison of potential accessibility conditions and actual travel patterns revealed that people tend to travel farther than to the nearest amenity options, presumably to a large extent because of selective individual preferences, which may downplay the importance of distance in destination choice. The third paper shows that although the numerical supply of amenities within different spatial ranges has a significant influence on how far individuals travel for service errands, supply size alone is not sufficient for explaining travel length. The findings also suggest that although people tend to utilize the supply of amenities available locally, they are also willing to extend their travel distance in order to reach the amenity supply available within the region. Thus, even when there is a local supply, a rich regional supply may induce longer trips. A juxtaposition of the findings of the three empirical studies suggests the existence of an ‘accessibility paradox’ with several facets. First, although people express an affinity for residential proximity to many amenities, this is not necessarily reflected in actual destination choices, since minimization of travel distance is apparently not always a key criterion. This is also suggested by the conclusion that the spatial structure of the amenity supply alone accounts for only a relatively small part of the explanation of travel length, which is influenced by many other factors. In addition, actual travel distances show an increasing trend over time despite the concurrent reductions in potential distances. Second, the development over time indicates that the proximity deficit regarding social relations may be increasing in the sense that average distances have increased to many of the amenities considered important to have nearby, for instance adult children, but have decreased to those where proximity is not considered particularly important. Third, there is a discrepancy between the observed trend towards increased proximity to many amenities and much of the general discourse on accessibility, which tends to emphasize deteriorating conditions.
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