Land is at a premium in urban areas, and choices have to be made about how to use different parcels of city land. In this lesson, we'll look at different factors that affect city land use, including government, physical, social, and economic factors.
Imagine two kids who are standing in a backyard. One of the kids thinks that they should use the yard to build forts and playhouses. He can picture an entire city of tents and cardboard buildings.
The other kid doesn't agree. He thinks it would be better to use the yard to play games on. From Red Rover to baseball, he can picture hours of fun using the open space for sports and games.
How should the children use the backyard? This is exactly the sort of conundrum many adults face. Land use is the major way a plot of land is used. From residential to commercial to transportation and beyond, there are many different land uses. Like children in the backyard, people have to make decisions about how to use land.
Let's look at some of the ways in which people decide how to use city land.
Let's say that you and I decide to build a city. We have only a specific amount of land for the city and there are a lot of people who want to live there. How do we decide what use each piece of land should have?
Government restrictions on land use dictate how some parts of cities are developed. For example, let's say that you and I decide to put a park in the middle of our city. There are so many people and businesses, but we want to make sure that there's some nature there, too. So the city government can put a restriction on the land and say, 'This land will be a park, and no one can build on it.'
There are two major ways that governments can restrict the type of land use.
1. Land Use Codes - Sometimes, a government might say that a specific plot of land should be used in a certain way. For example, when our government said, 'This land will be a park,' it was specifying that that particular parcel of land would be used in a specific way. This is an example of a land use code.
In cities, land use codes are often put into play when talking about residential and commercial zoning laws. A specific parcel of land might be zoned to be residential and therefore, it cannot become a commercial building.
2. Land Use Percentages and Boundaries - What if, instead of saying that a specific piece of land should be a park, our local government said that a certain percentage - say, 10% - of the land be parks? In this way, the government is not restricting which plots of land are used for parkland but just that a certain percentage of it has to be used in a certain way.
A good example of a land use boundary is in Portland, Oregon, where the city has a specific preset land area. Land outside of that area must be used as farmland, so only the land within the boundary can be used for urban development.
Government restrictions can play a major role in the way a city develops, but it is not the only factor affecting land use in cities. Physical factors can also dictate how land gets used. For example, imagine that part of our city lies along a river. Whenever it rains a lot, the river overflows its banks and the land near the river floods. It doesn't make sense for us to build a bunch of houses on that land. If we did, the people in the houses would be flooded every time it rained!
But we could use that land for something else, like as a nature preserve or to grow food that's resilient to flooding. In this way, the physical factor (the flooding) has influenced the way that land is used.
Another factor influencing city land use is economics. Some land is more valuable than others. For example, in our city, the downtown area is not very nice. There's a lot of crime and not very much in the way of nice housing. Because of that, most people choose to live in other neighborhoods, which makes land and buildings there cheaper. And because the price of buildings is so cheap, many businesses choose to make that where their business is. The economics of the downtown area has made it a mostly commercial district.
Finally, social factors, too, can influence city land use. When a neighborhood has a high crime rate or bad schools, the value of that land can go down. As a result, and as we saw with our downtown area, the land may become more attractive for non-residential use.
Land use is the way that a particular parcel of land is used. There are many factors that can influence city land use. Government restrictions, including land use codes, percentages, and boundaries; physical factors; economics; and social factors can all influence the way land in a city is used.
After you've completed this lesson, you'll have the ability to:
- Define land use
- Describe the two main ways that governments can restrict land use
- Explain how physical factors, economics, and social factors can influence land use