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The concept of land use (i.e., the way a particular piece of land is utilized by humans and other living organisms), seems at first glance a simple and straightforward subject on the surface. Humans use land to build cities where they live (residential land) and work (commercial land).....

Land

Introduction

The concept of land use (i.e., the way a particular piece of land is utilized by humans and other living organisms), seems at first glance a simple and straightforward subject on the surface. Humans use land to build cities where they live (residential land) and work (commercial land). They use land for growing crops and raising livestock (agricultural land) for food. Forestland provides fuel for energy and lumber for building. Humans use land for play (recreational land) and set some of it aside as exclusive wildlife habitat (wilderness land). But no matter how land is used by humans and other living species, humans ultimately decide how land is used. Given the nature of humans, land use involves a complex interplay of environmental parameters, economic needs and often politics.

Residential and commercial lands

About half of the earth's human inhabitants live in urban areas. These urban areas include residential land for homes and commercial land for businesses. The number of people living in urban areas continues to grow each year, and as a result, the amount of land used for residential and commercial use is also increasing. Cities in the United States usually require that residential land be separated from commercial land. This has been a factor in the development of urban sprawl, the low-density housing developments surrounding many cities and towns.

A city grows in three basic ways: concentric, sector and multiple nuclei. In the concentric city model , the city develops outward from a central business district in a set of concentric rings (i.e., New York City). Commercial areas are concentrated in the central district, while the outer rings are typically residential areas. A sector city develops outward in pie-shaped wedges or strips (i.e., the Silicon Valley region south of San Francisco).

This type of growth results when commercial and residential areas are built up along major transportation routes. A multiple-nuclei city evolves with several commercial centers or satellite communities scattered over the urban region instead of a single central business district. The Los Angeles metropolitan area is a good example of a multiple-nuclei city.

Much of the land converted to residential and commercial use in cities was formerly used for agricultural purposes or consisted of ecologically important areas such as wetlands. Cities are built on such land as a result of conventional land use planning, which encourages substantial urban growth for purely economic reasons (i.e., as a means of increasing the tax base). Unfortunately, when economic factors are the only one considered, degrading effects to the environment are generally disregarded. Some cities now use a smart-growth model in which development of urban areas is designed to strike a balance between economic needs and safeguarding the environment.

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Source:  OpenStax, Ap environmental science. OpenStax CNX. Sep 25, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10548/1.2
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