Land Use in America

Past Experience and Future Goals
Ann LeRoyer, Marzo 1, 1996

In their new book, Land Use in America, copublished by the Lincoln Institute and Island Press, Henry L. Diamond and Patrick F. Noonan propose a 10-point agenda to help America’s communities accommodate future growth in more environmentally sound and fiscally responsible ways.

Diamond is a partner in the law firm of Beveridge & Diamond in Washington, D.C., and Noonan is founder and chairman of The Conservation Fund in Arlington, Virginia. Together they founded the Sustainable Use of Land Project, from which the book is derived. Their research examined land use practices and trends over the past two decades. They report that while substantial gains have been made in many environmental areas, such as air and water quality, land use remains a highly emotional and complex topic.

The first part of the book presents Diamond and Noonan’s synthesis of the issues, numerous case studies and their agenda for community action. The second part includes the following papers contributed by leading figures in government, business, academia and the nongovernmental arena:

“Growth Management Plans”

Howard Dean, Governor of Vermont

“Ecosystem Management: An Organizing Principle for Land Use” Douglas P. Wheeler, Secretary, California Resources Agency

“Transportation: A Key Element in Sustainable Communities” James Lighthizer, Former Secretary, Maryland Department of Transportation

“Across the Barricades” William K. Reilly, Former Administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

“Metropolitan Development Trends of the Late 1990s: Social and Environmental Implications” Christopher B. Leinberger, Managing Partner, Robert Charles Lesser & Company

“Our Critical Forest Resources” John A. Georges, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, International Paper Company

“Land Use Planning: A Farmer’s Perspective” Kenneth Buelt, Past President, Washington County Farm Bureau

“Patience, Problem Solving and Private Initiative: Local Groups Chart a New Course for Land Conservation” Jean W. Hocker, President/Executive Director, Land Trust Alliance

“Sustainability and Social Justice: The Changing Face of Land Use and Environmentalism” Charles Jordan, Director, Bureau of Parks and Recreation, Portland, Oregon

“Science and the Sustainable Use of Land” Norman L. Christensen, Jr., Dean, School of the Environment, Duke University

“Private Property Rights, Government Regulation and the Constitution: Searching for Balance” Jerold S. Kayden, Professor, Graduate School of Design, Harvard University

“An Economic Perspective on the Sustainable Use of Land” John A. Baden, Chairman, Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment

Conference to Explore the Sustainable Use of Land

In conjunction with publication of this book, the Lincoln Institute is presenting a conference on June 12 in Washington, D.C. Participants will discuss varied perspectives on the important political and jurisdictional issues raised by the authors and contributors. Some of these questions may be addressed:

How might the 10 agenda recommendations be implemented in the current climate of popular reaction against federal and state government regulation of local policymaking?

What is the political feasibility of developing broad-based and long-term land use plans, especially in pro-property rights states in the South and West?

Given the likelihood of decreased federal financial support, how can states and localities be encouraged to take the initiative in future land use planning?

How can private landowners and corporate entities with large holdings be motivated to engage in regional conservation plans and provide environmentally sensitive stewardship in the face of economic pressures for development of their land?

A Land Use Agenda for 21st Century America

Item 1.

Local governments must take the lead role in securing good land use. Initiatives in land use planning and growth management need to be anchored in a community-based process that develops a vision for the future.

Item 2.

State governments must help local governments by establishing reasonable ground rules and planning requirements, assisting small and rural areas, and providing leadership on matters that affect more than one local jurisdiction.

Item 3.

The rules governing land development need to be overhauled. They need to be more efficient and more flexible, encouraging–not hindering–new approaches to land development and conservation.

Item 4.

Landowners must be treated fairly and oppressive regulations fixed. But making government pay in order to apply environmental safeguards for the common good is a bad idea.

Item 5.

Many government policies and actions–agricultural, highway, and environmental programs–impact land use. If they are not better coordinated, they will continue to result in land use policy by accident.

Item 6.

In selective situations, public land acquisition is needed, and a reliable source of funds must be available to pay for it.

Item 7.

Older areas in cities and suburbs must become a focus for renewal. Government policies should help fill in vacant land in already built-up areas and renew older properties rather than promote unplanned expansion at the urban fringe.

Item 8. As most land is privately held, private landowners must be galvanized to assure a healthy land base. Corporate and individual stewardship must be encouraged by providing education, tax incentives and other benefits.

Item 9. A constituency for better land use is needed based on new partnerships that reach beyond traditional alliances to bring together conservationists, social justice advocates and economic development interests. These partnerships can be mobilized around natural and cultural resources that people value.

Item 10. New tools are required to meet the new challenges of land use. Land use disputes should be solved through negotiation or mediation rather than through confrontation and litigation. Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and other advances in technology also offer new opportunities for improving land use decision making.