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Environmental Tools - Land Use

Aerial Shot of Crowded Suburb

Along with population projections, projected land use forms the basis for many of the planning decisions which are made in the community. Usually the process starts with mapping existing land use to get a picture of current land use patterns and how land uses are distributed. This should also include a calculation of the number of acres in each of the land use categories. Land use categories may include residential, commercial, industrial, public/semi-public, agricultural and woodland/vacant.

Current land use information is usually available from local governments. If the existing land use maps are old and do not reflect current conditions, they should be updated using either aerial photography or the more effective "windshield survey". This survey technique requires that every road and street in the community be covered. Typically this is a two person operation with one person driving and the other making map notations. If an existing land use map is available, then any changes will be marked, or the information will be used to create a new land use map.

Future land use mapping is created by a review of existing land use patterns, environmental constraints, utility availability, growth projections, community goals and objectives, and sound planning principles. The attached table provides a typical comparison of current and future land uses from 1995 to 2010 and by land use category. Some of the specific factors to consider include:

Existing land use map- If you are lucky, the map has been updated recently.

Environmental constraints - Identify sensitive environmental areas that will constrain future development. These constraints can include: prime agricultural soils, wetlands areas, aquifer recharge area, floodplains, unique natural areas or geologically sensitive areas, scenic vistas, habitats of rare and endangered species, forested areas, coastal critical areas, historic areas, and recreation areas.

Utility availability - This factor can influence future land use as much as any other. Obtain information from water and sewer utilities/agencies mapping and information on current service areas and projected service areas.

Mapping - GIS mapping is the perfect tool for land use mapping. Changes can be made quickly and the GIS mapping generates a database of land use data. Hand-drawn mapping can be very effective also.

Web Sites

CITYgreen is innovative software for mapping urban ecology and measuring the economic benefits of trees, soils, and other natural resources.Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer

The EPA Landscape Atlas lets you compare your watershed to other watersheds.

Pace University School of Law: Land Use Law Center

Using sophisticated computer graphics and simulation technologies, the Environmental Simulation Center can simulate highly realistic images and experiences of hypothetical situations and projects such as alterations to historic districts, zoning amendments, and proposed transportation schemes.Exit EPA Click for Disclaimer


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