Reconceptualizing Land in the Context of Sustainability

As a result of our current conceptualization of land, multiple functions of land are ignored, space and place are assumed to be substitutes, and we parcel out different functional uses of the land to different locations: wild lands are in different locations from human settlements; agricultural production does not coexist with forest areas. This human-nature duality occurs across multiple spatial scales. At the local scale, for example, zoning ensures that residential areas are separate from industrial areas, which are separate from parks. The single label approach implies that each land unit can be used for one purpose: urban, agriculture, or forest. However, land is inherently multidimensional. Land can be used to "grow" or provide different things that humans use. In addition, humans use land in different ways. As such, land is multifunctional with respect to its relationship with the environment, economy, and society.

We suggest that an improved characterization of land at all spatial levels can be provided by using a three-dimensional characterization, where the three axes represent the three legs of the "sustainability stool": environment (or ecology), economy (or commercial), and society (Figure 5.2). The ecology axis (E) is a measure of the quality of the land, its context within adjacent land parcels, and its ability to provide ecosystem services. The commercial axis (C) measures the investment on the land over time and the economic return that is obtained. The social axis (S) measures attributes such as demography, institutional capacity, and level of education among those living on the land parcel. A parcel of land is thus characterized by three points in E-C-S space, with each axis normalized to the same scale (Figure 5.2a). For convenience, we imagine that each axis has values on a 0-10 scale.

A parcel of land that is primarily a commercial urban area will therefore have larger S and C values than E (Figure 5.2b). Likewise, a vegetated region that is comprised more of forest than of agriculture would have a high E value,

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