Institutional Dynamics, Spatial Organization, and Landscape Change

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Landscape change is a highly complex process both in terms of the drivers affecting changes to natural and built environments and the outcomes or impacts of those changes. Reflecting this complexity, researchers have explored the process of landscape change from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. The goal of this chapter is to demonstrate the role of social institutions in the process of landscape change within the complexity of social-ecological systems. Here we define institutions as the formal and informal rules that govern human behavior in a particular situation (Dietz et al. 2003; Tucker and Ostrom 2005). Some fields consider institutions mostly in terms of regulations and constraints, such as with land-use zoning. In this context institutions are viewed as tools to limit the impact of undesirable landscape changes. An example is zoning ordinances designed to avoid development in environmentally sensitive areas. However, institutions are also tools that can be used to facilitate or encourage desirable landscape changes. State and federal tax incentives for forest management are examples of institutions designed to produce a particular landscape change outcome. We present both of these types of objectives in exploring the role institutions play in landscape change in rural and urban areas.