Using Smart Growth to Achieve Sustainable Land Use Policies

December 2002
ELR 11385
Patricia E. Salkin

Any analysis of U.S. progress toward meeting the goals of Agenda 21 must include a hard look at the political will and actions toward reforming our system of land use controls. Land development policies and decisions are inextricably intertwined with a significant number of items contained in Agenda 21, creating a perhaps unusual scenario requiring cross-disciplinary and interjurisdictional approaches to effectively implement strategies that will both promote and yield sustainable land development. The following Agenda 21 goals relate directly to land use planning and decisionmaking: promoting sustainable human settlements (Chapter 7) that include adequate shelter, management of urban settlements, sustainable land use planning, and management of sustainable construction policies; policymaking for sustainable development (Chapter 8) that includes the full integration of, among other things, environmental and development issues for government decisionmaking addressing economic, social fiscal, energy, agricultural, and transportation issues; protecting the atmosphere (Chapter 9) by utilizing certain land use and resource practices; implementing an integrated approach to land resource use (Chapter 10) that requires environmental, social, and economic issues to be considered simultaneously for the sustainable use and management of land resources; combating deforestation (Chapter 11) by employing strategies that include the "greening" of the urban areas; halting the spread of deserts (Chapter 12) by, among other things, adopting sustainable land use policies and sustainable management of water resources; and meeting agricultural needs without destroying the land (Chapter 14) by harmonizing land resource planning.

The author is Associate Dean and Director, Government Law Center; Professor of Government Law, Albany Law School. She is grateful to Albany Law School student Adam Bear, class of 2003, and Siena College Fellow Sally Seitz, class of 2002, for their research assistance.

[Editors' Note: In June 1992, at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro, the nations of the world formally endorsed the concept of sustainable development and agreed to a plan of action for achieving it. One of those nations was the United States. In August 2002, at the World Summit on Sustainable Development, these nations gathered in Johannesburg to review progress in the 10-year period since UNCED and to identify steps that need to be taken next. Prof. John C. Dernbach has edited a book, Stumbling Toward Sustainability, that assesses progress made by the United States on sustainable development in the past 10 years and recommends next steps. The book, published by the Environmental Law Institute in July 2002, is comprised of chapters on various subjects by experts from around the country. This Article appears as a chapter in that book. Further information on Stumbling Toward Sustainability is available at or by calling 1-800-433-5120 or 202-939-3844.]

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