Questions on the usefulness of geographical research and the relationship between theory and practice are central to debate over the place and value of geography as an academic discipline for the third millennium. Such issues constitute the core of applied geography—which may be defined as the application of geographic knowledge and skills to the resolution of social, economic and environmental problems.
It is important at the outset to identify the place of applied geography within the discipline as a whole. Rather than being considered as a sub-area of geography (akin to economic, social or historical geography), applied geography refers to an approach that cross-cuts artificial disciplinary boundaries to involve problem-oriented research in both human and physical geography.
The relevance and value of applied geographical research has never been more apparent, given the plethora of problem situations that confront modern societies, ranging from extreme natural events (such as floods, drought and earthquakes) through environmental concerns (such as deforestation, disease and desertification) to human issues (such as crime, poverty and unemployment). An applied geographical approach has the potential to illuminate the nature and causes of such problems and inform the formulation of appropriate responses.
This book offers a comprehensive introduction to the principles and practice of applied geography. It includes coverage of applied geographical research across the traditional boundary between human and physical geography, as well as work in the important fields of environmental geography and computer-based spatial analysis. The book is organised into four main parts. As in all classificatory systems, this structure is employed to impose a degree of order on diversity in the interests of elucidation. This does not, however, imply a demarcation of the themes and issues discussed into discrete ‘sub-fields’ of applied geography. To do so would be to ignore the complexity of real-world problems, evident in the role of human agency in landscape modification (as in deforestation, desertification and flooding), or conversely, the impact of earthquakes on cities or of coastal erosion on transport routes.
Regrettably, it may be true that a minority of human geographers read papers on physical geography (and vice versa), and Stoddart (1987: p. 320) was probably correct to suggest that many geographers ‘have abandoned the possibility of communicating with colleagues working not only in the same titular discipline but also in the same department. The human geographers think their physical colleagues philosophically naïve; the physical geographers think the human geographers lacking in rigour.’ While it would be absurd to represent applied geography as a Rosetta stone for a divided discipline, one of the strengths of the applied geographical approach is that it rejects artificial academic boundaries and