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define cbd geography

A central business district is exactly what it sounds like—the area of densely concentrated commercial activity that forms a core of economic and population density in a city or region. In some cities, the central business district will also be called the financial district, but that’s usually true in cities where the financial industry has a large footprint in the downtown office market. Central business districts usually include numerous kinds of business and commercial ventures—all of which are likely paying a premium to set up shop at the center of the economic action.

Learn and explore the fundamental concepts of urban planning.

The central business district, referred to frequently by its abbreviation, CBD, is a key term in planning because of its importance to so many intersecting issues of the city—the success of the local and regional economy, the movement of goods and people, the life and culture of cities, and more. CBDs will vary greatly between cities, with the transit oriented bustle of New York and San Francisco at one extreme, the more auto-oriented sprawl of Jacksonville and Riverside at the other, and many variations in between. The unique characteristics of different central business districts are influenced by development history, economic history, local and national politics, and culture, among other factors.

Other distinctions lend more variation and subtlety to the definition of a CBD. In many cities, the CBD is distinct from the cultural or historic core. In some cities these other kind of urban cores overlap partially or completely with the CBD. Other cities have more than one CDB. Regions will often include more than one CBD, and in some regions, the CBD will cross multiple jurisdictions. The technicalities of these distinctions are why central business districts are generally considered distinct from the broader term “downtown,” which might include more historically residential neighborhoods or CBD-adjacent historic and cultural centers of the city.

What Is a Central Business District (CBD)?

The heart of an urban area, usually located at the meeting point of the city’s transport systems, containing a high percentage of shops and offices. High accessibility leads to high land values, and therefore intensive land use. Consquently, development is often upwards. Within the CBD, specialist areas, such as a jewellery quarter, benefit from external economies. Vertical land-use zoning is also common, so that retail outlets may be on the ground floor, with commercial users above them and residential users higher up. See Chang (2007) Urb. Plan. & Dev. 133, 2 on measuring and assessing the economic activities of CBDs. The CBD is under threat from traffic restrictions, and out-of-town developments, such as superstores. ‘Arguments on the future [of the CBD] range from a speculated centre-less form to one of centrality’ (Wong (2004) Land Use Policy 21).

Methods of delimiting the CBD include the central business height index, recording the percentage of floor space given over to CBD functions, charting high level pedestrian flows, and surveying pavement chewing gum.