Institutions and Land Use Conflicts

By Vaughn, Gerald F. | Journal of Economic Issues, December 2004 | Go to article overview

Institutions and Land Use Conflicts


Vaughn, Gerald F., Journal of Economic Issues


Joshua M. Duke's recent JEI article on institutions and land use conflicts (2004) runs along lines largely congruent with my own thinking, though his excellent general theory is far better thought out and written than I could do. I applaud his splendid contribution to the literature in institutional economics bearing on land use, most especially his choice of references that are highly suggestive and his synthesis thereof. This note is offered to illustrate possible extensions of Duke's line of thought, drawing as an example from one reference I have found particularly useful.

Duke cited Rutherford H. Platt's Land Use and Society: Geography, Law, and Public Policy (1996). Not only did it aid Duke's specific discussion of power balance in making land use decisions (2004, 236) but more broadly Platt's book also contains an excellent general model of land-law interaction. Platt's part 1 consists of chapters on "Land Resources and Issues in the United States" and the "The Interaction of Geography and Law." Part 2 includes "English Roots of Modern Land Use Controls," "Property Rights: The Owner as Planner," and "Local Governments in the United States." Part 3 encompasses "Urban Reforms of the 19th Century," "Land Use Zoning: Origins and Practice," "Constitutional and Policy Issues of Urban Planning," and "Beyond Zoning: Urban Land Use Control by Other Means." Part 4, a search for broader land use policies, considers "State and Regional Land Use Programs," "Federal Lands: Policies in Conflict," "Congress and Land Use," and "Conclusion: Successes, Failures, and Fundamentals." A useful and separate index of the court cases cited follows the book's general index.

Platt, a geographer and lawyer, first explained that geography "asks what land is like, why it is used in a particular way, and whether it could be better utilized to achieve specified goals (e.g., housing, food supply, environmental sustainability)." Land use law, he wrote, "addresses how desirable uses of land may be achieved, and who has the authority to decide among competing uses" (1996, 29). Acutely observing the major institutional economics problem of externalities, Platt wrote

   While the nature, extent, and economic consequences of externalities
   vary according to the scale at which they arise, the fundamental
   problem is the same: How can favorable externalities be encouraged
   and adverse externalities suppressed or mitigated? … 

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