What is Land-use Planning?
Land is one of our fundamental natural resources and the way it is used or managed directly shapes our quality of life. In light of the landscape changes sweeping rural Pennsylvania since the beginning of the current natural gas boom, citizens increasingly find themselves confronted with the need to think about the future and anticipate the implications of future landscape changes for themselves and their communities.
Land-use planning aims to find solutions to complex land use issues for the good of landowners and communities as a whole. Planning is often misunderstood as a process in which planners tell people what to do with their land. Instead, good planning reveals the many different ways that the future might unfold, and their outcomes and implications for the environment and for communities, thus providing citizens with the help they need to make the best choices for themselves.
Planning is an inherently participatory process involving both citizens and local governments working together to create and implement mutually beneficial plans--for their communities, environments, and natural resources, now and into the future. To this end, planning systematically assesses the potential of land and water, evaluates land use options in the context of economic and social conditions, and communities finally adopt the best of those options to prevent land use conflict and ensure lasting community welfare (Young 1993, APA 2011).
Geodesign, emerging from landscape ecological planning, offers a new opportunity to blend design and planning with science and community engagement. To learn more about geodesign, please review this material.
Check Your Understanding
Geodesign in the Marcellus Region.
In light of the intensive energy development occurring in Pennsylvania, land use planning has taken on renewed importance. It is important to recognize that the scale of development in relation to land area, physical geography, ownership, and population density in small towns in Pennsylvania results in energy development scenarios that are very different than the energy industry has faced in places like Oklahoma and Texas. In contrast to the wide-open spaces in the western United States, Marcellus gas development for us is occurring in the backyards and forests of rural Pennsylvania. Communities and individuals should plan strategically in order to safeguard their water, woodlands, and way of life while also reaping the benefits of this new resource.
While state law assures citizens of access to clean air and water, land planning and development are guided by decisions made by individuals and local authorities. The rural Pennsylvania landscape of Marcellus gas development is being shaped by an aggregation of individual transactions between landowners and energy companies. The decisions each one makes when negotiating lease agreements regarding the placement of wells, pipelines, water impoundments, and access roads in relation to residential areas, streams, and areas of core forest have widespread impacts to the local and regional landscape.
Landowners who want to have a greater measure of control over natural gas development on their property can negotiate lease details such as road construction, repair or compensation for timber stand damage, effective restoration of impacted farmland, and other site specific factors in a private gas lease (Penn State Cooperative Extension 2008). For example, a landowner may negotiate for:
- Protection of agriculture soils during exploration and well operations, so farmland may be restored to full productivity afterwards.
- Protection of farm infrastructure, such as roadways, drainage features, and fences that may be damaged during operations.
- Road location and construction to be reviewed by the landowner and a qualified engineer or forester in order to minimize cropland or forest fragmentation.
- The site of the well relative to other property uses, such as housing and farming
- Possible timing of surface operations to allow for livestock pasturing, hunting, or other rural land activities that have restricted seasons (Penn State Cooperative Extension 2008).
Between 2011 and 2016, Penn State faculty and students used a geodesign approach to study land use planning in the Marcellus region. The research was supported by the National Science Foundation. The following video describes this work.
Engaged Geodesign in the Forgotten Quarter of Pennsylvania (8:25)
American Planning Association (2011). Chicago, Il.
Young, Anthony (1993). Guidelines for Land Use Planning, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Rome, Italy.
- Write a brief essay about Geodesign. Define geodesign and explain how it is and/or can be used to plan under complex circumstances.
- Write a list of five priorities that can be addressed through land use planning and design.
- Describe a typical land use planning process.