... The single greatest waste of time and money in the game is travel. It takes YEARS for people to get all the way across a big island. You can't make them sleep less, but in most games, the amount of time they spend sleeping simply doesn't compare to the amount of time they spend going here, going there.
Pollution: obviously, put polluting things on the downwind side of farming and housing.
It is not obvious at all because it is not true. Pollution is an aura radiated from buildings and people. Farms and housing also pollute. It permanently changes the ground tile by tile. It become visible first on the downwind side, but eventually effects all sides. It is more useful to screen high polluting buildings with vegetation. The issue is covered more extensively in other threads.
Transporting goods: put factories in a direct line between source and dock. Put teamsters offices on the same line.
Put Teamster's Offices near pickup points.
Tourism: Put ALL your tourist attractions between your hotels and the port or airport. That way, all tourists will walk near all attractions at least twice. I have several islands where almost every tourist visits four or more attractions.
Do NOT cluster the hotels (bungalows, etc. are different); keep them at least 50 tiles apart. Cluster three, four or five attractions next to each one according to its class level. These "Pods" operate as separate rating areas. Check the other threads for more information.
Human services: put them in between jobs and houses.
It's certainly not so simple as that. They have to be distributed considering the entire population. People are not just walking to work when they make a snap decision to stop in at a service building. Look for thread on life modes which are connected with needs meters.
I have heard people say to put guard posts far away from military housing so the soldiers will walk more, making more squares green. ... Put housing and guard posts near what you want to guard. ... For police, this strategy might work, police don't actually need to be present at the scene of a crime, as it were. But who is going to build a police station in the middle of nowhere with no housing around it?
So sad! When in work mode, soldiers (& generals) and policemen do NOT sit in the building; they walk a fixed patrol route - making a pattern of tiles temporarily green. Unfortunately, we have no reports mapping out the routes; I speculate they are within a zone of 20\25 tiles (just beyond its aura) of the employment building. That patrol zone plus the radiated effect of the building are the important placement criteria.
Universities and schools. I used to think it mattered where they were placed, ... But it doesn't seem to matter.
Once again, it's a matter of the total using population. Better they be close in and not out in the wilderness.
Radio stations: height is absolutely crucial for radio stations. TV goes so far, height doesn't matter as much, but for radio, building on mountain tops [altitude] can make a big difference in transmission range.
Army bases: Build a guard post near them. ...
Good point. A good plan for the distribution of the army is essential.
Sports stadium. There is no single building in the game for which location is more important. ...
In spite of all the guesses, the real problem with the building is that its Service Quality Rating
is way underpowered. Modify the bldg.dat file and it works fine from just a reasonable location -- you don't have to fine-tune it.