Ecological Land-Use

Cities and towns, rural areas, and wildlands each suffer unless land-use planning is performed in a sufficiently coordinated way at a large enough scale to reflect the inherent needs of each.

A section of the map High Volume Stands in Comparison to Site Classification, from The Kowesas Watershed Assessment.

As cities and towns sprawl into the countryside, they create strong development pressures on surrounding farmland and open spaces, making it increasingly difficult for farmers, ranchers, and small woodlot owners to hold onto their land. This gradually erodes the health of agrarian communities.

The costs of sprawl are enormous: infrastructure; new roads; congestion; ecosystem degradation and fragmentation; and dispersed services. Myron Orfield, a geographer at the University of Minnesota, has shown that the costs for suburban development are disproportionately carried by those in the inner city. Numerous studies have shown that the costs of suburban development greatly outweigh benefits from the increased tax base, prompting many municipalities and counties to charge development impact fees to help defray the costs.

The alternative to sprawl is to establish Compact Towns and Cities using Urban Growth Boundaries and other planning and zoning measures. Such cities and towns have Resource Efficiency energy, water, and transportation infrastructures which become increasingly cost-effective as density increases. This makes it possible for Productive Rural Areas to be maintained right to the urban edge with future development pressures largely removed.

By controlling the size of urban developments and maintaining working landscapes up to their boundaries, it is possible to gradually restore a vast system of Connected Wildlands. Such a system, composed of Core Reserves, Buffer Zones, and Wildlife Corridors for connectivity, will maintain biodiversity by allowing all species to move freely throughout the bioregion.

Ecological land-use, by treating urban, rural, and wild areas as a continuum, leads us to a very simple geometry: compact cities and towns, encircled by working rural landscapes, leaving a connected matrix of wildlands stretching across the continent. With this geometry, relatively high population densities can exist side-by-side with productive rural areas and fully functional wildlands.

Using urban growth boundaries, zoning laws, and other techniques, ensure that cities and towns are compact, which allows for a highly efficient infrastructure. Protect diverse working rural landscapes right up to the urban edge. Over time, weave remaining lands into a connected matrix of wildlands that connects outward to neighboring bioregions.