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7.3: Stories and Voices

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    Resources and communities are linked across the landscape. The planning decisions of individual landowners and municipalities matter, especially in the wake of Pennsylvania Act 13. Laws and regulations are just one way communities can be involved in complex decisions like those observed in the Marcellus Region. Landowners and municipalities can frequently regulate oil and gas activities in their communities through zoning ordinances. Examples of such activities include pipe storage yard placement, the location of equipment storage areas, chemical and wastewater storage, water withdrawal facilities, housing for gas workers, etc., as well as gas wells and pipelines. In its original form the Act would have exempted municipalities with such ordinances from receiving impact fee revenue, hence discouraging protective zoning. Such approaches following in a long tradition of land use planning.

    Brief History of Land-use Planning in America

    Ever since the American Revolution in 1781, the American people have favored individual property rights and the freedom of individuals to plan their land as they please (Corey and Krissoff 2010). As a result, local governments have had limited power to direct city development. In early days, cities and settlements developed often piece-meal, with little attention paid to the interaction of adjacent land uses and the larger picture of land uses as a system (APA 2011).

    During the 19th century, cities began to urbanize quickly, becoming very dense and full of disease. As a response to chaotic conditions, planning became a major focus of state governments. As early as the 1840s, it had become increasingly clear that there was a strong relationship between prevalence of disease, land use, and the absence of reliable sewer systems. This realization and the subsequent actions taken to holistically improve the sanitary conditions in infected parts of cities is known as the Sanitary Reform Movement. It is generally considered to be the first attempt at comprehensive land-use planning in America. Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Central Park in 1857, was a firm believer in the relationship between the environment and sanitation. His parks and open spaces were intended to bring not only recreational benefits to urban communities, but also improve public health (Corey and Krissoff 2010).

    In 1898, landscape architect Ebenezer Howard published “Garden Cities of Tomorrow,” which presented the notion of planned communities with different yet harmonious land uses and community services. Around the turn of the 20th century, state governments began to see the need for more local development and growth plans, extending into suburban and rural areas (Corey and Krissoff 2010, Juergensmeyer and Roberts 2003). Planning tools were developed and adopted, most notably, the process of comprehensive planning and zoning.

    Comprehensive Planning

    Comprehensive planning is a process that determines community goals and aspirations in terms of community development. The outcome of comprehensive planning is a Comprehensive Plan, which dictates public policy in terms of transportation, utilities, land use, recreation, and housing (APA 2011, Young 1993). Comprehensive plans typically encompass large geographical areas, include a broad range of topics, cover a long-term time horizon, and aim to balance the rights of property owners with holistic long-term community planning.

    A comprehensive plan is not a permanent document, nor is it legally binding. It can be changed and rewritten over time as community needs change. Local township, borough, and city governments in Pennsylvania are not required by law to engage in comprehensive planning. However, county governments in PA are required to have an officially adopted County Comprehensive Plan and to update it at least every 10 years (Walls 2012, personal communication). The legal provision for comprehensive planning comes from the Standard State Enabling Act written by the US Department of Commerce in the 1920s, which provides a legal framework for local governments choosing to engage in land-use planning (Juergensmeyer and Roberts 2003).

    Unfortunately, in Pennsylvania many of those plans are over 10 years old and therefore contain no provisions for managing and planning for Marcellus Shale natural gas development at the local level.


    Closely tied with the process of comprehensive planning is the practice of land use zoning. The Standard State Zoning Enabling Act gave states the authority to regulate land use at local levels through this practice (Corey and Krissoff 2010). In Pennsylvania, the PA Municipalities Planning Code (PA MPC) is the enabling act authorizing local governments to enact land use control ordinances (Walls 2012, personal communication). As a tool for implementing land-use plans, zoning regulates the types of activities that can be accommodated on a given piece of land, the amount of space devoted to those activities, and the ways that buildings may be placed in relation to other land uses (Bassett 1940). However, the practice remains controversial today due to misconceptions about its purpose. Many municipalities, including most townships in rural Pennsylvania, do not implement zoning ordinances to regulate land use.

    Stories and Voices

    The key factors in any planning process, whether it involves formal land use plannings or legislation like Act 13, are the stories and narratives in communities facing complex decisions.


    Dozens of stories relate to the decisions facing communities in the Marcellus region. Story maps are one way to begin to contextualize important questions facing communities. Please review the following storymaps on the Marcellus By Design website.


    Individual voices are also critical to listen to when initiating any large scale landscape ecological planning process. Review the videos on the Marcellus By Design website.

    This page titled 7.3: Stories and Voices is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Marcellus Matters (John A. Dutton: e-Education Institute) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.