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Land Use

Land-use Conflicts, Planning, And Regulation

Land-use planning is an important activity of many geographers and planners. Land-use planning is usually pursued at the larger spatial scale, for example, by local or regional municipalities, counties, and states or provinces. The goal of land-use planning is to ensure that uses of the land are appropriate and sustainable, and do not cause unacceptable social or economic disruptions, or serious environmental degradations of the site or landscape.

Of course, land-use planning cannot achieve this goal by itself. There must also be a political will to implement appropriate land-use plans through regulation and zoning of the activities of people, businesses, and government itself. Achievement of a successful and sustainable pattern of land use requires planning, regulation, and monitoring, as well as effective resolution of unanticipated conflicts as they arise.

One of the most useful tools available to land-use planners is known as geographic information systems, or GIS. GIS is a computer-based system for the storage, retrieval, analysis, and portrayal of data on the uses, characteristics, and ecological dynamics of areas of land. Examples of spatial information that GIS is extremely useful in analyzing, portraying, and overlaying include data on topography, landforms, surface waters, environmental chemistry, wildlife populations, ecological communities, floodplains, political boundaries, etc. Because of its powerful capabilities, GIS has proven to be an almost revolutionary tool for planners, who can use this computerized system to describe both existing and future land-use characteristics, and to effectively model the potential implications of various land-use scenarios.

Urban and suburban land-use planning generally focuses on designing an appropriate mixture of residential, retail, business, institutional, industrial, and recreational land uses and activities. Attention must be paid to the delivery of utilities such as water, electricity, telephone lines, and sewerage services to all of these user groups, while also ensuring that there is an appropriate network of transportation facilities, and that unacceptable conflicts do not occur among user groups.

Unfortunately, many cities and larger urban-suburban regions have developed without paying appropriate attention to planning and regulating the various sorts of uses of the land, and tremendous problems have subsequently occurred. These diverse predicaments include such problems as large numbers of people living beside heavily polluted industries, terrible traffic jams due to little coordination of the development of residential facilities and employment opportunities, and large numbers of people having inadequate access to clean water and other elements of a healthy life-support system.

Land-use planning in rural areas must also focus on identifying and avoiding unacceptable environmental damages and conflicts among resource users. For example, in planning agricultural land use, it is critical to consider land capability and whether particular agricultural systems might cause excessive erosion, resulting in degradation of the agricultural resource, and unacceptable damage to nearby aquatic ecosystems.

In addition, land used for agriculture, forestry, hydroelectric reservoirs, or mining is not available for other uses, and this can have great implications for regional economies and their sustainability. Therefore, wherever possible, it is desirable to have a balanced mixture of appropriate land-uses and activities on the landscape.

It is also critical that rural land-use planning accommodate the need to preserve some areas as natural, self-maintaining ecosystems, so that unacceptable damages to biodiversity resources are not caused. This is also a consideration in urban land-use planning, although the opportunities to accommodate natural, ecological values are more limited in urban areas.



Beatley, Thomas. Green Urbanism. Washington, DC: Island Press, 2000.

Coppock, J.T. Land Use. New York: Pergamon Press, 1978.

Freedman, B. Environmental Ecology. 2nd ed. San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1994.

Shortle, J. S., and Ronald C. Griffin, eds. Irrigated Agriculture and the Environment. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar, 2001.

Wright, W.R. Cases and Materials on Land Use. St. Paul, MN: West Pub., 1991.


"Managing Land Use And Land-Cover Change: The New Jersey Pinelands." Annals of The Association of American Geographers 89, no. 2 (1999): 220.

Bill Freedman


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Geographic information systems (GIS)

—A computer-based system for the storage, analysis, and portrayal of spatial data related to geography, ecology, and environmental science.


—An extensive area of terrain, encompassing many discrete ecological communities.

Additional topics

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