Is Land Use Like Your Family?


We are captivated by examples of dysfunctions and our observations of imperfections in social systems.  We do this with families (just take a look at television programs that highlight family dysfunctions).  And we do it with land use regulation.  However, just as the family remains a functional, adaptive, dynamic, and resilient institution in society, so does the land use regulatory system.


“The Structure of the Land Use Regulatory System in the United States,” which I recently published in the Journal of Land Use and Environmental Law, studies land use planning, regulation, and decision making from a systematic perspective, noting the functionality, adaptability, dynamism, and resilience of this system in mediating between people and their environments.  The article can be downloaded in PDF for free from SSRN at  Below is the abstract:


The land use regulatory system has been criticized for causing or failing to solve social problems and for perceived inherent defects, such as inefficiency, inequality, and environmental harm. These criticisms fail to understand the land use regulatory system in the United States as a dynamic, functional, adaptive system.

This paper systematically analyzes the: 1) functions; 2) location and scale; 3) components; 4) processes; and 5) values of the land use regulatory system in the United States. If we are to improve our land use practices to be fairer, more efficient, and more ecologically responsible, we must understand how land use planning and regulation function and change over time.

Particular attention is given to the role of land use regulation as a mediator between people and places, between communities and power, and between freedom and boundaries. Additional attention is given to the broad array of forces shaping land use decisions, the “thinness” of land use law as a set of rules and limits (contrasted with its role as a source of tools, authority, and discretion), and the “patchiness” of land use regulatory authority in the United States.

This paper also examines a specific issue of law and policy: the extent to which the land use regulatory system can value and conserve ecosystem services – the humanly beneficial services that nature provides. The paper explores both barriers to and opportunities for accounting for ecosystem services in land use planning and regulation.