To Map the City’s Retail Health You Need to Walk the Streets

Barcelona and Manhattan, two municipalities with the same population and retail model, share many similarities and a couple of things they can learn from each other.

Municipalities, facing the need to understand the real economic activity of the city, and its retail composition, can’t rely on registration data, they need to do fieldwork and keep updating it.

Eixos, a Catalan firm specialized in retail mapping, has recently published a report on Manhattan and Barcelona. 

According to Eixos’ CEO David Nogué, both municipalities share a standard grid model for commercial space and have almost the same population. While Manhattan and Barcelona show a similar healthy occupancy rate, there are a few differences and a couple of lessons that both can learn from each other.

To better understand the way commercial space distributes in Manhattan and Barcelona, and the opportunities for improving it, we sat down with David Nogué, founder and CEO of Eixos.

You can watch Nogué’s interview below, and a full transcription follows the clip.

Q: David, can you tell us how Eixos started, and what is your approach when mapping the retail composition of a city?

Well, I’ve been working with maps, digital maps for almost 20 years. We started Eixos ten years ago. The reason we started was that we detected an opportunity in the lack of reliable information on economic activities all over cities.  The public administration didn’t have the right information; it’s less than 15% accurate on geographical reality. 

So we discovered an opportunity to do mapping by fieldwork. 

Most of our work is geographical work, collecting data on the field. We have a crowdsourcing system with an international network of geographers that walk the streets and collect the data for us. 

And this information is more than 95% reliable, which is a huge leap if we take into consideration that the alternative sources provide less than 15% accuracy. 

From here, once we had this better map, we discovered a whole world of possibilities by exploiting these data by creating indicators.

Actually, we have more than 300 indicators that we can exploit. That helps us to read any situation and any scenario.  

It helps to define very well any scenario in any city, neighborhood, or street where we collect the data. 

And to tell us quite fast if there are retail health issues in some areas. For example, if there is a lack of occupancy, we can detect the presence of areas of specialization like clusters. And this is the base of our work today. 

Q: Can you be a little bit more specific about the need for doing fieldwork?

Yes, definitely, as I said, there is a massive leap of quality [depending on] if you do fieldwork or you don’t.

 For example, if instead of fieldwork, you use any other thing that you can imagine. For example, scraping the net googling it, or going into public data sources. Whatever you can imagine that is not walking the street gives you less than 15% correspondence with geographical reality. 

This is very important to keep in mind because if then you do fieldwork, then you have more than 95%, almost 100% correspondence with reality. There is a huge leap that explains the need for doing this work.

Q: Recently, you talked about the differences and similarities between Barcelona and Manhattan and the work you’ve done in both cities. Can you tell us a little bit about that? 

In the last ten years, we’ve been mapping cities all over the world,  observing that there are different retail models. We can simplify those as two main prototype models. 

One, we call it retail in a row, which is the chorus. For example, the one used on the British High Street: you have a row, a corridor, full of stores, and then a vast residential area without any shop in it. 

People in this vast area, they need to shop on this row of stores that is concentrated around a road.

Two, you have the Mediterranean model, which is based on an orthogonal grid of streets, which has its origins on Roman or Greek cities, that they have stores at any street at any direction. So, you have more like a carpet of stores in a vast area.

Using these two models, you can interpolate any situation that you can find in the world between these two models. 

What we observed made us realize the possibility of comparing Manhattan and Barcelona directly, as both are based on the grid  Mediterranean model of the city. We found as we made some comparisons, that any indicator we compared showed similarities and encouraged us to go farther. 

So we finally mapped the whole of Manhattan, the whole of Barcelona, and did this report. From this report, we can derive many similarities, many parallels between both cities. 

For example, we have more than 30,000 stores in Manhattan, and we have more than 50,000 stores in Barcelona. The shops in Barcelona are generally smaller than the ones in Manhattan. So, we can say that both cities have almost the same amount of commercial area. These parallels go further.  It doesn’t stop here. For example, we have nearly 3000 restaurants in Manhattan and almost 3000 restaurants in Barcelona. We have a quarter of the retail area of Manhattan dedicated to professional services and general commercial services, just as it is in Barcelona.

There is also a fourth area, 25% dedicated to hospitality and restoration, which is almost the same amount in Barcelona. We have 16% of personal equipment stores (shoes, clothes) in Barcelona, and in Manhattan, they have 13% of the same stores.

We also observed that in Barcelona and Manhattan, they have a polycentric business model. 

They have several poles, commercial poles of attraction all over the city, which is very common in a retail grid model. 

And, there is also another structural parallelism comparing the blocks in Manhattan and the blocks, or “illas” in Barcelona. 

So we went, we thought of that, and it took us at least 100 pages of the report to explain and show all the parallelisms that we found, with a very simple comparison by previously  mapped the whole cities.

Q: What would be the recommendations to both Manhattan in Barcelona? What can they learn from each other?

Well, what we do for a city is: first, telling if there is any retail health issue, okay. For example, when we went to New York, we talked to the small businesses department director, and he was concerned about a piece of information that was published by the New York Times, that there was a problem of lack of occupancy, or excessive retail vacancy in Manhattan.

When we did the report, the first thing we checked was the occupancy [level], and we saw that the average occupancy in all the neighborhoods in Manhattan is 90%.

As far as we know, from all the cities we have analyzed, this is an excellent occupancy rate.

We know that, if you’re in a commercial grid model, you don’t have problems of occupancy, you don’t have desertification until you are dropping below 80% occupancy rate. So 90% of occupancy is quite good. This is something we detected in New York. Then, for example, we discovered that in New York, there is only one Municipal Market.

A Municipal market is a cluster of very specialized food stores. We detected a lack of food stores, very specialized food stores in Manhattan.

What you don’t have in Manhattan are specialized shops. There you have delis and supermarkets, and then you have Whole Foods, and the shop assistants there are not experts. So they are not allowed to recommend specific things about the food you are about to buy. 

This is something that the [municipal] market provides, and the only market in Manhattan is the Essex market. But in Barcelona, we have 42 municipal markets all over the city. So this is a model that Barcelona could export to New York to make Manhattan more food-friendly and have more quality food available.

Then there is a model from Manhattan that we consider can be exported to Barcelona, which is the Business Improvement District (BID) scheme. One of the reasons that brought us to New York, was observing and analyzing the Business Improvement districts there.

They have at least 76 BIDs. So, there is a wide range of experiences of different cases that you can analyze. In Barcelona, they are considering the possibility of bringing this model here. 

In fact, there are two experimental BIDs in Barcelona. This is a model that would be interesting to help boost retail in Barcelona, the specialization, and many other things that the BIDs can provide. So, comparing both cities is interesting because you have several crossed opportunities.

Q:What would you recommend to a city that wants to start from scratch creating these maps and start analyzing their commercial footprint?

I would recommend that they hire us, because we can do it very fast and affordable.

For example, we did the complete mapping of New York and the whole report in only eight weeks. 

Because we know what we’re doing, we have optimized our system over the years. And we are very fast. But it’s not only this, the most important thing, the most exciting thing is once you have the data, you need to be able to understand the right indicators. 

And if you only have data from one city, it’s very difficult that the indicators tell you anything, because you cannot compare it with other cities.

Of course, you can start from scratch and reinvent the wheel, or you can hire us and do it well from the start.


2 responses to “To Map the City’s Retail Health You Need to Walk the Streets”

  1. Steve Broache Avatar
    Steve Broache

    How do you deal with a model where there is no retail health, because almost all the retail that once existed in the City (Baltimore) has relocated to areas outside the city?

    Can the model be applied to residential? Few neighborhoods here would score well because of high vacancy rates.

  2. David Nogué Avatar

    Hi Steve, that’s a good point.
    The retail scenario that you describe in Baltimore could match the retail-in-a-row scenario as there’re vast urban areas with only few stores in them, concentrated in one point.
    In order to understand and diagnose the retail health we would need to collect some data.
    We should definitely talk, so here goes my contact email:
    I also sent an invitation to you on Linkedin.

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