Exurbanization and Aldo Leopold’s Human–Land Community



Exurbanization occurs on privately owned lands that are found beyond the metropolitan fringe and outside the jurisdiction of federal and state lands held in the public trust. This chapter describes exurban land development from the perspective of Aldo Leopold’s human–land community. It uses a historical approach to explain why Leopold’s human–land community never materialized and how this framed the country’s relationship with land from its founding through the recent era of exurban land development. Issues covered include urbanization, the rise of regional planning, consumerism, conservation and preservation movements, federal land policies, and the causes of exurbanization.


Recent decades have witnessed the growing popularity of residential development beyond the suburban fringe― in what is called the exurban sphere. Unlike sprawl, which is the uncoordinated outward extension of suburbs (Savage and Lapping 2003), exurbia is only loosely connected to cities and, instead, embodies the predilection for rural living. Such is the case with low-density (1–40 acre parcels) hobby farms and horse properties that grew tenfold from 1950 through 2000 (Brown et al. 2005; Theobald 2001, 2005). In other cases, exurbanites seek exposure to wildlife, open space, and direct access to outdoor recreation. Higher density retirement and resort communities accommodate these wants, as well as second/seasonal homes nestled in near-pristine wildlands, much of which abuts officially designated forests and preserves (Glennon and Kretser 2005). In contrast to these higher-end residents, exurbia is also home to a growing number of the nation’s poor (Housing Assistance Council 2008). For them, rural living is a necessity rather than a choice. A manufactured home placed often on an ill-suited plot of land (e.g., in flood-prone areas) provides the only shelter that low-income families can afford. Combined, these modes of residential development claim five to ten times more land than their urban and suburban counterparts and house about 37% of the country’s population (Merenlender et al. 2005).

Development beyond the fringe comes at great cost as croplands and wildlands yield to residential land uses. The Natural Resources Conservation Service (2003) reports the loss of 52 million acres of cropland from 1982 through 2003 due to “urban development,” an area roughly equal to the state of Kansas. According to the American Farmland Trust (2007), 2 acres of farmland is lost to development per minute. Natural lands also bear the brunt of exurbanization as encroachment fuels the loss of biodiversity, land fragmentation, and ecological damage. The environmental consequences of exurbanization are detailed in the chapters to come.

At a deeper level, exurbanization brings forward the fate of the nation’s remaining privately owned lands. Knight (2002) refers to these lands as the “middle ground” that extends from cities to federal and state forests, parks, and preserves held in the public trust. At issue is the treatment of land as an economic commodity that finds value through its “highest and best use.” This applies equally to agricultural lands and wildlands that are converted to residential uses because they offer higher returns to private property owners (Daniels 1999). For much of his career, Aldo Leopold struggled with how best to conserve privately owned lands and in the end, presented his “land ethic” as a guide (Leopold 1949; Newton 2006). Leopold’s land ethic is grounded in ecological principles that position humans as equal (not dominant) participants in the human–land community. Such a vision is all encompassing in that humans are viewed as part of a broader ecological system. While Leopold’s human–land community is compelling, it has scarcely been used to interpret land development in the United States historically. Such an approach is warranted because urban and environmental histories are treated as separate themes and seldom reveal the synergy that informed Leopold’s thinking.

Taking Leopold’s lead, this chapter presents a land history that synthesizes both the urban (human) and the environmental dimensions of land development in the United States. Given the scope of this undertaking, my efforts are modest and only sketch out principal themes and historic interdependencies that shaped the nation’s land history from European settlement through recent times. Nevertheless, the narrative provides a fundamental understanding of how, and why, privately owned land falls victim to exurban development with such ease. The discussion emphasizes the connections between urbanization, land and natural resource exploitation, and the response by conservationists and regional planners who wrestled with how best to use land. The chapter concludes by placing exurbanization within the broader land history.

Colonization and the Human–Land Community

Much has been written about colonization of the New World from both urban and environmental perspectives. Here, I focus on how and why Leopold’s vision of a human–land community failed to materialize and the land development path set in motion by this failure.

Prior to colonization in the early 17th century, the communal life that characterized European agrarian society was already in decline. Instead of “organic” self-sufficiency, agrarian communities began to import raw materials and manufactured goods from afar (Curry and McGuire 2002; Merchant 2002). The Puritans and Pilgrims who settled in coastal Massachusetts resisted the loss of community (and religious freedom), which prompted their journey to the New World. Thus, New England was founded on the principle of “township” where communities, not individuals, settled the land. In describing New England settlement, Curry and McGuire (2002, p. 45) indicate that “[w]hen more land was needed, a six-square-mile township was laid out and settled as a whole with the granting of land left to the corporate body of the town itself.” They continue by noting that “[o]wnership of land in the town was tied to membership in the community.” Life in these settlements revolved around the “common good,” which led to restrictions on the harvesting of natural resources, especially timber, to secure the community’s longer term welfare. Restrictions responded to the “tragedy of the commons” as depicted by Hardin (1968) and others and hinted at the conservation embodied in Leopold’s (1949) human–land community. Even so, land outside the township was abundant and open to exploitation.

Other factors worked against the human–land community. First, colonists were armed with God’s blessing, which bestowed authority over Earth’s bounty (McPherson 2005; Black 2006). This engendered the perception of land and natural resources as God’s gifts that should be mined for man’s benefit. Thus even though the Puritans pursued conservation on behalf of the common good, their world view was decidedly anthropocentric. Second, despite the intentions of religious groups, the “individual spirit” soon surfaced in response to the promise of wealth. This held especially for the Pilgrims who, from the outset, had cast their eye on wealth accumulation (Kunstler 1993; Curry and McGuire 2002). Finally, the British Crown and the corporations that financed colonization sought to exploit North America’s vast natural resources (Nace 2005). Exploitation was central to European mercantile ideology and sent ships across the globe in search of nature’s riches.

These forces led to many forms of ecological damage. Colonists introduced nonnative vegetation (mainly grains) and imported livestock (pigs and oxen) that roamed freely through the countryside compacting soils, trampling native vegetation, and devouring natural grasses, all of which caused severe soil erosion and altered microclimates (Merchant 2002). Beaver and fox populations were depleted to meet Europe’s demand for highly prized furs. But the clear-cutting of forests for timber products (resins, turpentine, and lumber) was the most profitable enterprise of all (Curry and McGuire 2002). New England was rich in coniferous and hardwood forests that were harvested both for local use and for international trade. The pace of forest cutting was so aggressive that in 1690 the British Crown imposed the first forest policy in the New World that limited the harvesting of timber for private enterprise. The Broad Arrow Policy prohibited the cutting of trees suitable for masts (trees with a 24 inch diameter, measured 12 inches above grade) that sped the royal navy’s sizable fleet across the world’s oceans (Merchant 2002).

By the close of the 17th century, the New World was mired in the search for wealth. Although New England’s fledgling religious settlements tried to build community by nurturing the common good, individualism, religious ideology, and the corporate mandate laid their efforts to rest. Down the coast, the mid-Atlantic colonies made no pretense of piety. Rather, they launched fully into the harvesting of foodstuffs and tobacco that fed European appetites (Nace 2005). Port cities such as Charles Town (present-day Charleston), founded in 1670, flourished as trade filled merchants’ pockets and eased the replication of European opulence (Rosen 1992).

The 18th century brought dramatic change as the colonial population grew and discontent with the British Crown festered. Port cities were the principal urban centers, with New York, Boston, and Philadelphia taking the lead. By 1790, the populations of New York and Philadelphia exceeded 25,000, and about 95% of the country’s 4 million persons lived on the land (Frey, Abresch and Yeasting 2001). Suburbs appeared in these cities early in the century, although they scarcely resembled their contemporary version (Jackson 1985). Colonial cities were compact, built at the pedestrian scale, and rigid boundaries separated rural land from urban uses.

The country’s formal founding institutionalized America’s relationship with land and quelled any prospect of a viable human–land community. The Declaration of Independence, signed in 1776, set in stone the privileges granted to man through “natural law” (God’s law) and also imprinted the rights of individuals over the common good. Much of this rationale was informed by John Locke, the British political philosopher who swayed Jefferson’s thinking when crafting the Declaration. In the Second Treatise on Government, published in 1690, Locke wrote: “[g]od gave the world to men in common; but since he gave it them (sic) for their benefit and the greatest conveniences of life they were capable to draw from it, it cannot be supposed he meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational—and labor was to be his title to it….” (Peardon 1952, p. 20). This thinking reduced land to a commodity that yields value to private owners through their hard work. The principle of highest and best use is implicit in this doctrine because rational men seek to maximize returns to labor. In a nutshell, a level-headed farmer will use land to produce or harvest commodities that yield the highest benefit: only irrational men will do otherwise. This reasoning, coupled with the European-based social contract (which Locke also favored), championed individual rights and called for limited government infringement because it diminished returns from land and labor. The social contract argued that individuals voluntarily surrender some freedom (minimal regulation) and in exchange, government negotiates conflict between individual property owners, repels external threats, and promotes the economic betterment of all (Peardon 1952; Waldron 1989). The Constitution (signed in 1787) embodies aspects of this political philosophy. But others argue that political ideology had little to do with framing the Constitution. They see it as a practical device, a manual if you will, that defined procedures and rules of government and nothing more (Bradford 1993).

By design or not, individualism, private property rights, and the limited role of government were spelled out with the country’s inauguration. The individual’s rights to land and resources were valued above all, and the “common good” centered on economic betterment—wealth accumulation. Government was expected to uphold the common good by minimizing regulation and protecting the homeland from external threats. This ideology placed stewardship in the hands of private property owners with the understanding that rational men will nurture land―rather than deplete it― so that “returns” are produced over time. But the nation was rich in land and resources and any notion of depletion was unheard of. Thus there was no reason to entertain a human–land community. The discussion below examines how this ideology played out over time.

Land, Cities, and Conservation in the 19th Century

The commodification of land and resources during the 19th century was reinforced at the highest levels of government. Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of State under George Washington, believed that economic growth was vital to the country’s success, especially basic industry and manufacturing, which were often controlled by large business enterprises. The exploitation of land and natural resources, therefore, was crucial to the nation’s longer term prosperity (Black 2006). Thomas Jefferson felt otherwise: he saw land as the greatest resource and envisioned a nation of autonomous country farmers. To some extent, his thinking was influenced by the exploitive behavior of corporations, which had wielded enormous power since the country’s founding (Nace 2005). Thus Jefferson resisted placing the nation’s future in corporate hands. Ultimately, the country pursued the policies of both Hamilton and Jefferson (Gates 1971; Merchant 2002).

After ascending to the presidency in 1801, Jefferson fulfilled his vision of land ownership by establishing the rectangular survey system. The survey divided land into precise townships of 640 acres, nearly the same system used today. Jefferson reasoned that standardized measurement would promote efficient land sales west of the Appalachians. He was proven correct: federal land sales began in 1829 and by 1900, over 220,000 farms had been settled on 6 million acres in present-day Ohio and Indiana alone (Black 2006).

Farmers readied the land by clear-cutting hardwood forests without regard for environmental damage. But this was expected because deriving benefit from the land meant it must be cleared and then cultivated, and nearby forests were ripe with timber when needed (Merchant 2002). In effect, the abundance of land, combined with the doctrine of highest and best use, negated responsibility to others (then, and in the future) and set aside any sense of land stewardship. Farmsteads also established a new pattern of rural living. In contrast to Europe, where farmers lived in rural villages and walked to fields each day, the federal Pre-Emption Act of 1841 required that farmers live on their land (Curry and McGuire 2002). This led to the dispersion of farm houses across the agricultural landscape and set the pattern of rural settlement that many exurbanites mimic today.

The distribution of land across middle America led to widespread speculation. Families and speculators subdivided and sold smaller parcels of land even though the government tried to thwart these efforts. Similarly, soldiers saw land as a way to quick riches (Gates 1971). Since the American Revolution, soldiers were rewarded with land allocations, the parcel size determined by military standing. The rank-and file received a maximum of 160 acres, while generals in the revolutionary army received up to 15,000 acres. In subsequent years (wars) both enlisted men and officers were allotted 160 acres. Veterans subdivided or sold entire tracts of land (often to speculators), which further fragmented the rural landscape. The pace of speculation set to rest any doubt that land was first and foremost a commodity.

The federal government implemented conflicting and contradictory land policies as it responded to the problems of private land ownership. On the one hand, it brought vast territories into the public domain and dispensed them willingly. The government acquired over 1.6 billion acres, beginning with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and concluding with the Alaska Purchase in 1867 (Sayer 1965). Millions of acres were sold at rock-bottom prices (often at $2.50 per acre) or given freely to promote settlement and urban and economic growth. On the other hand, the government was aware that private ownership often led to the depletion of land and resources and pursued conservation accordingly. As early as 1817, Congress ratified legislation that protected forested lands. But timber companies opposed the legislation and invoked the doctrine of highest and best use in their defense. Despite efforts to transfer federal lands into private ownership, in 1831 the Supreme Court upheld the government’s right to set aside millions of acres of forested land (Curry and McGuire 2002).

In the decades that followed, the federal government ratified a host of legislation that embodied the tension between private ownership versus public control. Legislation at times released millions of acres into private hands, yet at other times brought privately owned lands into the public domain (Curry-Roper 1989). Tracing this legislative history is an onerous task: by the 1960s over 5,000 pieces of forest legislation had been ratified (Sayer 1965). Even though the government succeeded in preserving millions of woodland acres, by the 1990s, about one-third of the nation’s forests had been harvested or cleared for settlement (MacCleery 1994). Much of the remaining forested land is located in Alaska and a handful of western states.

Even though the country was overwhelmingly agrarian, population growth and urbanization were on the rise. From 1810 through 1890 the total population grew from 7.2 million to 63 million persons. Growth was caused by high rates of natural increase and immigration, which channeled millions into cities. During the same years, the urban population rose from 7 to 35%, an increase of more than 21.5 million urban dwellers (Martin 1965; U.S. Census Bureau 2008).

Urban planning was virtually unheard of and cities grew haphazardly, often with disastrous results. Waves of immigrants crowded high-rise tenements and working-class neighborhoods, smoke spewed from inner-city factories, centralized sewage disposal was yet to come, and drinking water was often contaminated. This led to widespread epidemics as cholera, small pox, typhoid fever, and other infectious diseases spread easily among urban populations (Laurian 2006). Fires were common because houses, built hurriedly to accommodate population growth, were virtual tinderboxes. Fire departments were in their infancy and did little to combat fires. The Chicago fire of 1871, which left 300 dead and displaced about 100,000 persons (one-third of the city’s population), captured the nation’s attention but fires were frequent in many cities (Pauly 1984).

Urban planning owes much to the “sanitary reform movement” that brought centralized sewage disposal to cities (Schultz 1989; Harris and Mercier 2005; Laurian 2006). Near the time of the Civil War, the “water carriage” system was introduced to the country (from England) and by the 1870s, systems had been installed in many cities. Sanitary reform encouraged planning because it required the careful inventory of land uses, as well as coordinated urban development. While planning in these years was mechanistic, sanitary reform opened the door to the planning profession (Peterson 1983a).

During these years, Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York’s Central Park and arguably the most celebrated landscape architect of his time, instilled the suburban ideal that American’s grew to cherish (Keating 1988). A firm believer in nature’s restorative powers, Olmstead responded to the gloom of urban life by turning to the countryside. Through their sizable lots, manicured lawns, and curvilinear streets, Olmstead’s communities offered a reprieve from urban living. Instead, his suburban communities were places where families flourished in nature’s serenity. Olmstead designed over a dozen suburban communities across the country, but Riverside, Illinois (platted in 1869), located 8 miles west of Chicago, was his crowning achievement (Jackson 1985).

The nation’s burgeoning cities and expanding economy ignited a frenzy of resource exploitation. Forests provided the lumber to build cities, oil was pumped from Pennsylvania’s virgin landscape, mainly for kerosene, and by the 1850s, over 4 million troy ounces of gold had been removed from California’s rustic mountains, much of it extracted through hydraulic mining methods that caused enormous environmental damage. Coal, the principal source of energy, was chiseled from the hills of western Pennsylvania along with iron ore and limestone that were used to produce iron and, later, steel (Black 2006; Boone and Modarres 2006).

Railroads played a critical role in fostering economic growth and supplying urban populations with sorely needed commodities. The Illinois Central, the world’s longest railroad by the time of the Civil War, epitomized the economic promise of rail transportation. Stover (1954, p. 499) notes that the Illinois Central sought to “…connect the Great Lakes with the Mississippi, and the St. Lawrence with the Gulf of Mexico.” In subsequent years, the Illinois Central became a principal pipeline for the Great Migration that brought African Americans from the South to northern industrial cities. The railroads were also one of the largest users of timber. According to Olson (1966, p. 3):

[t]he use of wood per mile of railroad probably reached a peak about 1880 when the railroads of the United States were consuming 60 million crossties (over 2 billion board feet of timber), two-thirds for replacements and one-third for new construction. They were probably using another 500 to 700 million board feet for bridge and building construction, with more modest rates of replacement.

Given the pace of harvesting, it is not surprising that forests were often depleted.

Although the government attempted to preserve forested land, the public at large revealed little interest in conservation. But there were notable exceptions. The naturalist Thomas Say (1787–1834) established The Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia in 1812 (with John Spearman) and is credited with establishing the science of entomology in the United States. He was the first scientist to journey inland to the Rocky Mountains and documented the rich variety of wildlife along the way. He spent his later years in New Harmony, Indiana, Robert Owen’s utopian community, where he taught natural science and led field excursions (Stroud 1995). John James Audubon released The Birds of North America in 1824, inspiring many to embrace the aesthetics of nature. But a group of writers, artists, and intellectuals known as the “transcendentalists” were most successful in nurturing environmental awareness. Ralph Waldo Emerson, unspoken leader of the transcendentalists, published Nature in 1836, Henry David Thoreau’s Walden was released in 1854, and John Burroughs’ Wake-robin appeared in 1871. They were joined by Amos Bronson Allcott, Margaret Fuller, the feminist activist, and others who voiced deep concern for the loss of wildlands and spoke loudly of nature’s spiritual invigoration. Artists rallied around the Hudson River School of art, which featured landscape painting (Merchant 2002; Black 2006). A few wealthy urban dwellers also carried the banner of conservation. Men feared the loss of fishing and hunting grounds, and women refrained from buying hats adorned with feathers retrieved from exotic bird species. John Muir, born in far away Scotland in 1838, immigrated to Wisconsin with his family in 1849. Muir, together with Gifford Pinchot, born in Connecticut in 1865, would set the stage for the checkered legacy of conservation and preservation in the years to come.

The Industrial City, Conservation, and Regional Planning

At the dawn of the 20th century, the country was ablaze with urbanization as the industrial city came of age. In 1910, the population topped 92 million and grew to nearly 123 million by 1930. In the same year, over 55 million persons (45%) lived in cities and many moved outward to suburbs. From 1910 to 1930, the suburban population grew twofold, from 7 to 14% of the urban population (Hobbs and Stoops 2002). As in the past, natural increase and immigration accounted for the rise in population.

Armed with new technologies and civic pride, progressive reformers sought to remedy the abysmal conditions of urban America. Many of these efforts began in the late 1800s and continued through the 1920s when the progressive era slowed. Progressives pressed for nationwide sanitary reform and championed the “city beautiful movement,” which called for beautification through civic design that featured parks and promenades, statues, and grand public buildings. Many of these monuments of urban reform remain today (Peterson 1983b; Schultz 1989). These efforts were complemented by technologies that made cities more livable. In the 1880s, Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse brought electricity to cities (Usselman 1992). This supplied industry and homes with a seemingly endless supply of energy, illuminated previously dark streets, and powered mass transit.

The industrial city also brought mass consumerism to urban America. The days of deriving livelihood directly from the land were gone. Instead, urban dwellers spent their days in factories working long hours (often in deplorable conditions) earning wages. Businesses encouraged the spending of wages by implanting consumerism in the public’s consciousness. Leach (1993, p. 9) notes that “[f]rom the 1880s onward, a commercial aesthetic of desire and longing took shape to meet the needs of business. And since that need was constantly growing and seeking expression in wider and wider markets, the aesthetic of longing and desire was everywhere and took many forms.” Department stores were one way that consumerism found expression. Stores such as Wanamaker’s in Philadelphia, Macy’s in New York City, and Marshall Fields in Chicago all opened business near the turn of the century (Leach 1993). Wares were displayed in massive store-front windows that attracted huge crowds, especially during holiday seasons. The public also embraced the automobile, which began rumbling off assembly lines in the early 1900s. From 1900 to 1910, annual auto registration rose from 8,000 to 469,000 vehicles (Kay 1997). With the release of Henry Ford’s Model T in 1908, Detroit became the world’s center of the automobile industry (Foster 2003). Cars eased suburbanization and also carried families into the countryside as day trips and summer vacations near lakes and forests became a popular way of reconnecting with nature.

Urbanization and consumerism were fed by natural resources, which were mined like never before. John D. Rockefeller, founder of the Standard Oil Company, developed new oil extraction techniques, positioning petroleum as the country’s new energy source. Oil was tapped in Texas in 1901 and in nearby Oklahoma at nearly the same time. Vast oil reserves were also found farther west, in California. Foster (2003, p. 7) notes that “[b]etween 1893 and 1903, oil production in the Sunshine State leaped from 470,000 barrels to 24 million barrels; it tripled again by 1910 to 73 million barrels.” At the dawn of World War I, California was producing about 25% of the world’s oil supply. Iron and steel were needed for countless commodities ranging from cars and trains to consumer products and military hardware. Pittsburgh became the center of global production, and by 1925 was producing one-quarter of the country’s iron and steel. In that same year, over 13.6 million gross tons of iron ore were shipped from the Lake Superior region (especially Minnesota) to Pittsburgh via the Great Lakes. Early on, coal was the single energy source but by the 1890s, the steel industry had shifted to natural gas (White 1928). Companies such as the Bethlehem Steel Corporation (renamed the Bethlehem Steel Company in 1901) led the charge as they adopted new technologies to meet consumer demand (Hessen 1972). Copper was another natural resource vital to economic growth. In the late 1800s, the majority of copper was mined from the Great Lakes (especially Michigan) but Arizona soon became the nation’s leader, producing 361,327 tons of copper in 1925, over 43% of the country’s supply (Richter 1927). By 1936, there were over 500 underground mines extracting high-grade copper ore from Arizona’s rugged hills (O’hUallachain and Matthews 1996). There were few environmental regulations to slow industry, and economic growth forged ahead with little constraint.

Birth of the Conservation and Preservation Movements

The conservation and preservation movements arose from this backdrop. Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot are credited with founding the country’s conservation movement, while John Muir led the charge for preservation (Devall 1982; Sessions 1987). The conservation movement responded to the rampant and reckless depletion of natural resources as corporations rushed to amass huge profits. Like others, Pinchot feared that profiteering was destroying the nation’s lands. When describing natural resource exploitation near the turn of the 20th century, he commented that “[a] tremendous urge to get rich possessed our people. Those were the days when to be rich was proof of virtue…[t]here was a fury of development abroad in the land. The American Colossus was fiercely at work turning natural resources into money” (Pinchot 1937, p. 259). Conservation sought to stop unbridled exploitation by fostering the efficient use of land and natural resources. Even so, Pinchot saw resources as commodities, especially the nation’s forests. Pinchot remarked that “[w]e must remember also that the forest is a crop…. Forestry then is a way of producing crops of wood from the soil, and therefore is tied up with the production of all other crops” (Pinchot 1937, p. 255). These sentiments meant that land and natural resources must be managed wisely—conserved—but used for human betterment nonetheless.

Teddy Roosevelt was an avid outdoorsman and archetypical progressive who pursued reform on many fronts. After becoming president in 1901, he pushed for woodlands conservation by establishing the US Forest Service in 1905 and appointing Pinchot Chief Forester (Black 2006). Roosevelt and Pinchot advocated the efficient use of forest lands and encouraged the adoption of forest science methods. Roosevelt also set aside millions of acres of forested land by dedicating numerous national parks.

John Muir arose from obscurity to become the nation’s leading advocate for environmental preservation. While conservationists urged the cautious use of land and resources, Muir believed that nature was God’s crowning achievement and should be left untouched altogether. Even though ecology was not widely recognized at the time, Muir understood nature’s fragile balance and feared that human encroachment brought irreparable harm (Devall 1982; Hays 1982; Sessions 1987). Among other things, Muir is credited with founding the Sierra Club and was instrumental in the designation of several national parks, including the Petrified Forest, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite (previously a state park), and Mount Rainier, to name a few (Reed 1992). Muir is often cast as a mystical figure who held sentiments akin to the transcendentalists (Worster 2005). Regardless of his leanings, he was befriended by prominent politicians and intellectuals who sought his counsel. Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Burroughs, Theodore Roosevelt, and Gifford Pinchot were among Muir’s friends.

Muir and Pinchot parted company over the dam built in the Hetch Hetchy Valley, located in Yosemite National Park (Nash 1967; Reed 1992; Black 2006). Events surrounding Hetch Hetchy led to Muir’s preservation movement and also demonstrated the interplay between urbanization, natural resources, and conservation. By 1900, San Francisco’s population neared 342,000 and the scarcity of potable water threatened the city’s growth (Maher 2008). City leaders sought to bring water from Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley and competed with Pacific Gas and Electric, which wanted to dam the valley for its hydroelectric power (Nash 1967). But Yosemite’s status as a national park prevented development and congressional action was needed to approve the dam’s construction. Muir was incensed by overtures to build the dam and in 1901 began organizing opposition. Through the Sierra Club, Muir built a nationwide coalition of preservationists who spoke on behalf of Yosemite. In contrast, Pinchot and other conservationists believed the dam would provide valuable water and electric resources: in their view, human needs outweighed the mandates of preservation. This ideological divide led Muir and Pinchot to different camps and ended the friendship. Years before, William Kent, a devout conservationist and Muir enthusiast, purchased and dedicated land for the present-day Muir Woods National Monument. By the time of Hetch Hetchy, Kent had become a California congressman and was forced to weigh in on the conservation versus preservation debate. Kent, like Pinchot and other conservationists, was aware of the environmental destruction left in the path of corporate money making: in this case, Pacific Gas and Electric. Fearing corporate power, he sided with the city of San Francisco and pushed for approval of the dam on the city’s behalf (Nash 1967). Congressional approval came in 1913. Kent’s decision ended his friendship with Muir, who died the following year. Today, the Hetch Hetchy system provides about two-thirds of San Francisco’s water (Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation District 2007).

Regional Planning, Conservation, and the New Deal

The progressive movement was in full gear as the Great Depression approached. Government officials pushed for improvements in watershed management, hydropower generation, and efficient use of the nation’s land and resources (Hays 1982). Progressives also noted the growing divide between urban and rural dwellers and pinned the chasm to rural underdevelopment. They pressed for rural electrification and better care of farmlands, which were often overworked and mismanaged (Phillips 2007). It was widely understood that underdevelopment fueled rural–urban migration and therefore led to overcrowding in cities, rural population loss, and economic instability.

These inequities brought regional planning forward as planners sought to bring equality to rural and urban areas. The Regional Planning Association of America (RPAA), founded in 1923, brought together prominent conservationists and planners who embraced the region as the appropriate scale for land and resource management (Maher 2008). They included the human dimension (the rural population) in conservation and looked to government for support (Phillips 2007). Benton MacKaye, a schooled forester who in 1921 proposed development of the Appalachian Trail, and Lewis Mumford, the noted urban scholar, were the most visible members of the RPAA. They both were well acquainted with Patrick Geddes, the so-called father of regional planning in the United States (Anderson 2002). The RPAA conducted research on regional inequities and promoted MacKaye’s plan for the Appalachian Trail.

The years that followed challenged the very core of America as the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl imposed enormous hardship on urban and rural dwellers alike. Much has been made of these historic events, but for present purposes, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s (FDR) New Deal programs are noteworthy because they launched the country’s second conservation “wave” (Devall 1982; Sessions 1987). Prior to his presidency in 1933, FDR served as governor of New York, where he pursued rural development and embraced regional planning. He took these sentiments to the White House and assembled an impressive cadre of conservationists and regional planners, including Benton MacKaye (Anderson 2002; Phillips 2007). They designed programs and policies aimed at regional development: the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) the most visible of their many initiatives. The TVA, passed by Congress in 1933, accomplished multiple objectives including rural electrification, flood control, mitigating farmland soil erosion, promotion of outdoor recreation, and putting the country’s unemployed to work (Maher 2008). The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) brought these objectives together by employing over one-half million Americans who worked on dozens of conservation projects across the country, including the TVA.

At first, the nation rallied behind FDR’s bold initiatives. But his programs were positioned on the “old conservation” that saw nature as an economic commodity (Phillips 2007). All his programs, from the TVA to the CCC, sought to “improve nature” through efficiency mandates and sound resource management. Rural programs showcased the superiority of technology over nature and often ignored ecological integrity. The CCC carved recreation areas out of environmentally sensitive lands, reforestation programs introduced nonnative species, estuaries were drained without regard for ecological damage, and farmland protection featured engineering solutions. In the early 1930s, Aldo Leopold supported the CCC but his enthusiasm soon waned (Maher 2008). Reflecting on the government’s treatment of Wisconsin’s marshlands, Leopold noted that “[d]istant politicians bugled about marginal land, over-production, unemployment relief, conservation. Economists and planners came to look at the marsh. Surveyors, technicians, and CCC’s buzzed about” (Leopold 1949, p. 100). His comments on their solutions are telling: “[t]o build a road is so much simpler than to think of what the country really needs. A roadless marsh is seemingly as worthless to the alphabetical conservationist as an undrained one was to the empire-builders” (Leopold 1949, p. 101). In contrast to the old school of conservation that guided FDR, Leopold and others embraced the principles of ecology, called for a deeper understanding of human-induced impacts, and urged a balanced approach to land management (Phillips 2007; Maher 2008). These new ideas of conservation swept the country as a growing number of environmental scientists and government officials acknowledged the pitfalls of New Deal programs. Their opposition eventually led Congress to step back from FDR’s vision. Even though FDR’s programs embraced traditional conservation, they instilled the need to reposition conservation on a new ecologically based foundation (Devall 1982; Phillips 2007). Aldo Leopold played a critical role in forging conservation’s new direction (Jahn 1998).

Suburbs, Planning, and Environmentalism in the Post War Years

The country weathered the Great Depression, World War II, then the Korean War and was poised for growth as the 1950s drew to a close. The total population reached 179 million in 1960, and over 112 million persons (63%) lived in cities. Suburbanization swept the country and by 1970 suburbs housed more people than did central cities for the first time in the country’s history (Hobbs and Stoops 2002). Consumerism was in full bloom, and autos were the most treasured commodity. In 1950, Americans owned over 40.3 million autos, about 76% of the world’s inventory. By 1960, an additional 21.3 million cars had been added to the nation’s fleet: a 53% increase during the decade. Petroleum consumption grew with auto dependence. By 1960, the nation was consuming 9.8 million barrels of oil per day, 46% of global production (U.S. Bureau of the Census 1971).

Volumes have been written about suburbanization during the 1950s and 1960s, but three interdependent themes warrant discussion. First, suburbanization required vast tracts of land to accommodate the flurry of housing construction. During the 1950s, federal subsidies and programs enabled construction of over 15 million homes, mainly at the urban fringe (Rome 2001). This led to the conversion of agricultural lands and natural open space at an unprecedented pace, especially in the west where cities were booming. Fishman (1987, p. 178) indicates that suburban growth in Los Angeles after the 1940s required “…the transformation of over 900 square miles of agricultural land into suburban tract developments, and the construction of almost 500 miles of freeways to forestall the congestion created by new homes.” Much of this land was acquired through annexation. Findlay (1992, p. 31) notes that “[i]n Phoenix, where annexation was seen by some as the central goal of postwar urban planning, 75 percent of the population in 1960 lived in neighborhoods that had been added to the central city since 1950. Between 1941 and 1954, towns in Los Angeles County annexed 458 separate parcels, and those in Orange County annexed 235 parcels.”

Second, suburbanization was largely facilitated by the interstate highway system. By design, highways uprooted low-income inner-city neighborhoods, encircled metropolitan areas, and crisscrossed the countryside in pursuit of a national highway network. While highway construction was underway decades before, the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 launched the era of unbridled construction. Daniels (1999, p. 23) indicates that “[b]etween 1956 and the early 1970’s, 42,500 miles of high-speed, interstate highways were paved.”

Third, suburbanization during the 1950s and 1960s fostered environmental awareness and reshaped the public’s engagement with government agencies. The pace of suburban development raised public concern as near-pristine lands and open space fell to the bulldozer (Rome 2001; Siskind 2006). Developers displayed little concern for environmental integrity: natural drainage was filled, all vegetation removed, and hills were flattened in preparation for streets and houses. Few (if any) regulations were in place to prevent such careless land modification. Suburbanites also lamented the loss of open space when tract housing appeared on adjacent land (the “nimby” syndrome: not in my backyard). This led to a national outcry for open space set asides and greater involvement in local politics. Fearing property devaluation because natural amenities disappeared, home owners lobbied local governments for open space preservation (Fischel 2001; Rome 2001). Construction of the interstate highway system was also met by stern opposition. These “highway revolts” began in the late 1950s and gained momentum in subsequent years. Grassroots organizations opposed the conversion of valuable agricultural land and wildlands at the city’s periphery and beyond (Mohl 2004; Dyble 2007). Highway construction fueled a public backlash that forced greater public involvement in federal-level decision making. The government resisted public scrutiny at first, but over time yielded to criticism and opened the door (somewhat) to public engagement. Today, many federal agencies require public input as part of the planning process.

Urban planning during the 1950s and 1960s responded fully to the consequences of suburbanization (Levy 2000). Armed with traditional tools of zoning and land-use regulation, planners struggled to keep pace with suburban housing construction. Their efforts were compromised by the ethos of money making that gave developers the upper hand. Cities were reluctant to rein in development because of the perceived benefits—jobs and property taxes (Fischel 2001; Beauregard 2006). Highway construction led to numerous problems that drew the attention of planners. Inner-city minority neighborhoods were often razed to make room for highways, thus causing dislocation and social inequity. At the city’s periphery, highway and road construction led to the relocation of jobs and commercial and retail outlets that sought access to suburban populations. This carved the pattern of strip commercial development, peripheral high-rise office buildings, and far-flung shopping malls that typify the contemporary city. Planners did their best to accommodate growth but faced an uphill battle. Suburbanization and highway construction led to central city decline as “parasitic” growth funneled people and financial resources to the fringe (Beauregard 2006). Planners responded by launching inner-city revitalization programs that tried to keep businesses in place and bring residents back to core neighborhoods.

These forces led to new developments in the planning profession. First, the loss of open space led to the emergence of environmental planning as a specialized field within the discipline. Planners pushed for regulations that required open space dedications, as well as environmentally sensitive development. In the years that followed, environmental planning gained popularity in response to the public’s growing environmental awareness (Levy 2000). Second, state and local governments turned to growth controls to manage suburbanization and preserve land beyond the metropolitan fringe (Rome 2001; Siskind 2006). Hawaii adopted the first statewide program in 1961 (Nelson and Dawkins 2004).

Wilderness preservationists gained ground even though suburbanization moved ahead. These efforts crystallized in the 1950s when preservationists sought blockage of the Echo Dam in Colorado’s Dinosaur National Monument (Devall 1982; Smith 1995; Maher 2008). Like the Hetch Hetchy Valley nearly 50 years before, the federal government proposed construction of a series of dams to harness the Colorado River’s hydroelectric power. Preservationists organized opposition (led by the Sierra Club) and succeeded in lobbying for the proposal’s denial in 1956. Preservationists rallied around the Echo Dam defeat and moved forward with an aggressive agenda.

The efforts of urbanites on the one hand, and wilderness preservationists on the other, coalesced to build an environmental movement. “Environmentalism” was rarely (if ever) mentioned in the pre-World War II years, but by the late 1960s, it was firmly entrenched in the American psyche. This new brand of environmentalism brought together the concerns of urban dwellers and wilderness preservationists who recognized population growth, consumerism, and suburbanization as principal causes of environmental degradation. Their vision was informed by path-breaking research and social change afoot in the country. In 1962, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring drew attention to the harms of pesticides, and Stewart Udall’s The Quiet Crisis, published in 1963, dramatized the need to preserve the nation’s wilderness. Ian McHarg, the noted landscape architect/urban planner, released Design with Nature in 1969, which presented techniques on environmentally sensitive urban design. Others drew attention to the human–land interface by focusing on the environmental consequences of population growth. Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb, which appeared in 1968, revisited Malthusian themes by tying population growth to resource depletion. In 1969, Jay Forrester published Urban Dynamics, which used computer-based simulations to link urban growth with social problems and environmental decline. His efforts led Donella Meadows and her colleagues to publish The Limits to Growth in 1972, which was the most widely read environmental book of its time. Meadows et al. looked broadly at the longer term consequences of population growth, environmental degradation, and natural resource depletion.

Societal sentiments also contributed to the environmental movement. The Cold War was in full swing and the prospects of global annihilation fostered introspection, and many turned to nature for solace (Smith 1995). The civil rights movement, antiwar protests, and the feminist movement stirred the cauldron of discontent and gave environmentalism a stronger foothold. Despite the popularity of suburban living, critics were already pointing to the homogeneity and sterility of suburban life (Beauregard 2006). Richard Yates, the noted novelist, published Revolutionary Road in 1961: a haunting tale of a family’s struggle to find meaning and purpose in a Connecticut suburb.

Events at the highest levels of government supported the country’s move toward environmentalism and spirited the potential of Leoplod’s human-land community. John Fitzgerald Kennedy and Morris Udall, his Secretary of the Interior, are credited with initiating the country’s third wave of environmentalism (Devall 1982; Sessions 1987). In the 1950s, JFK was a newly elected senator from Massachusetts. Unlike Teddy Roosevelt, who embraced nature fully, Kennedy expressed no interest in the outdoors whatsoever. Thus, during the 1950s he favored the conventional model of conservation that characterized his predecessors (Smith 1995). Even so, as a liberal democrat he supported legislation that set aside millions of acres of forests and he championed coastal preservation. After becoming president in 1961, Kennedy and Udall embarked on an ambitious conservation program that responded to the public’s growing environmental consciousness. Although Udall also held conventional notions of conservation, he was inspired by naturalists such as Henry David Thoreau and John Muir and recognized the aesthetic value of nature (Udall 1963; Devall 1982). Through the Wilderness Bill and other legislations, Kennedy and Udall pressed for sweeping programs that are summarized by Smith (1995, p. 360): “[t]he year after JFK’s death, the 88th Congress, sometimes called the “Conservation Congress,” enacted the Wilderness and Conservation fund bills, created Canyonlands National Park, Fire Island National Seashore, and the Ozark National Scenic River ways.” The Kennedy/Udall initiatives surpassed efforts by Truman and Eisenhower (Kennedy’s predecessors), who did little to advance conservation or preservation, but fell short of FDR and Teddy Roosevelt’s programs. Nevertheless, Kennedy and Udall forged a new direction in federal environmental legislation.

Environmentalism and Conservation Since the 1970s

The 1970s brought an even deeper commitment to environmentalism. Guided by Washington State senator Henry Jackson, Congress approved dozens of bills in the late 1960s that targeted air, ground, and water pollution, offshore oil drilling, endangered species, watershed management, scenic land set asides, and wilderness preservation (Jackson 1970; Nolon 1996). The Endangered Species Act (ratified in 1973) arose from the hotbed of environmentalism to become one of the country’s strongest pieces of environmental legislation (Bryner 1998). While working through this impressive stack of legislation, Jackson found that environmental regulation and monitoring were spread across numerous federal agencies with little cooperation. He therefore proposed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which came into effect on January 1, 1970. The NEPA was administered through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which centralized oversight. Among other things, the NEPA required environmental impact statements that detailed the likely outcomes of development projects. This opened the door to public scrutiny and mandated greater government accountability (MacCleery 1994). The NEPA also promoted the field of environmental planning because planners were needed to assess local impacts and weigh in on proposed developments (Levy 2000).

Jackson buttressed the NEPA with legislation that called for a National Land Policy Act, the most sweeping conservation and land-management scheme ever proposed in the United States (Nolon 1996; Rome 2001). Responding to the country’s fragmented approach to conservation and land management, Jackson noted:

the history of conservation and environmental concern in this country has been a history of specific, isolated confrontations—a history of focusing on the issue or the crisis of the moment, be it forest management, wilderness preservation, an oil spill, or air pollution. A comprehensive management approach to environmental administration has not been achieved. Our institutions and procedures still condition us to fight brush fires (Jackson 1970, p. 1079).

Jackson’s bill called for coordinated land-use planning at federal, state, and local levels of government and required the designation of urban, agricultural, environmental, and industrial land uses (Jackson 1970). Paul McCloskey, a Congressional Representative from California, pushed Jackson’s legislation even further by proposing a National Land-Use Commission that controlled all land development in the country (McCloskey 1970). The commission was guided by five objectives that aimed to preserve the nation’s wilderness. The commission would determine urban and agricultural land uses and identify lands for preservation and outdoor recreation. The commission’s approval was needed to develop all lands, public or private. Despite strenuous efforts to pass Jackson’s bill, it was defeated in 1970 and 1971 and the bill died in 1974 (Nolon 1996; Rome 2001). Needless to say, McCloskey’s bill failed as well.

The National Land Policy Act is the closest the nation has come to embracing Leopold’s vision of the human–land community (Jahn 1998). Even though the Act never received full Congressional approval, it signaled a decisive shift in the country’s treatment of land and demonstrated the evolution of environmental consciousness. It also shaped other federal land legislation. The Federal Land Management Act of 1976, for example, called for increased cooperation between federal agencies, coordination with state and local governments, and broader public participation in land-management decisions (U.S. Bureau of Land Management 2001).

But Ronald Reagan’s ascent to the presidency in 1981 quieted any hope of a viable human–land community. The “Reagan Revolution” returned the country to its founding principles of private property rights, minimal government intervention, and wealth accumulation. This led to an assault on environmental regulation and a shift toward privatization in federal land policies (Runge 1984; Durant 1987). The oil crisis of the 1970s prompted overtures to open wilderness areas to oil and shale extraction. James Watt, Reagan’s first Secretary of the Interior, vowed to achieve energy independence by granting oil companies access to the nation’s pristine lands. But his attempts were largely repelled by Congress, due mainly to public opposition, and Watt resigned in 1983. Even so, his successors pushed for privatization, state control of land use and conservation, and the opening of public lands to resource extraction.

The Clinton administration (1993–2001) managed a few key pieces of environmental legislation and preservation, but the Republican-led congress, which came to office in 1995, challenged many initiatives (Fisher 1995). It also continued the Reagan legacy of promoting private property rights and pressed the issue of uncompensated “takings:” the loss of land value resulting from regulations that limit (or prohibit) development. The Endangered Species Act was among federal legislation that came under scrutiny (Thompson 1997).

The Bush administration (2001–2008) continued to roll back environmental regulations that interfered with corporate profit making (e.g., air pollution standards), and favored market-based incentives, rather than regulation, to encourage conservation. Bush’s refusal to endorse the Kyoto Protocol in 2001 sent a clear message that economic interests come first, and the administration’s own version of the protocol (prepared in 2002) was built on voluntary participation and incentives (Vespa 2002). Bush’s “legacy of cooperative conservation” employed the same strategies of volunteerism and market-driven incentives. They were pivotal to Bush’s Landowner Incentive Program, which urged ecological restoration, and the Private Stewardship Grants initiative, which encouraged protection of endangered species. Both programs apply to privately owned lands and are voluntary (Thompson 2005). The Bush administration has also opened public lands to resource extraction, especially for petroleum.

Despite the government’s retreat, environmentalism continued to evolve. The deep ecology movement, proclaimed by some as the country’s fourth and most recent wave of environmentalism, advocates a biocentric perspective that opposes the country’s ideological foundations (Devall 1982; Sessions 1987; Worster 2005; Diehm 2007). Drawing on Muir, Leopold, and others, deep ecologists argue that the commodification of land and resources undermines the premise of a human–land community and necessitates a “deeper” shift in environmental thought so that all biota are valued equally.

Policy makers and planners gained some ground in advancing environmentalism at the local level. First, the environmental justice movement grew as grassroots organizations pointed to inequities in quality of life and environmental health. Environmental justice looks to the relationship between class, race, and exposure to degraded environments such as brownfields and superfund sites (Higgins 1993; Brulle and Pellow 2006; Resnik and Roman 2007). Second, “smart growth” legislation acquired a stronger foothold as states, multicounty jurisdictions, and cities adopted policies and devices to contain sprawl. The cost of providing public facilities and the loss of open space and agricultural lands motivated these efforts (American Planning Association 2002).

Exurban Growth and Housing Markets

The volumes of environmental legislation passed over the years did little to stop the sales of privately owned lands (agricultural and wildlands), the lifeblood of exurbanization. This allowed exurbanization to transform the rural landscape as the population moved to the countryside. In the 1970s, the nation’s rural population grew faster than the metropolitan population for the first time in well over a century, leading many observers to proclaim a “rural renaissance” (Fuguitt and Beale 1996). But rural population growth slowed in the 1980s, raising doubts about a sustained rural turnaround. In the 1990s, rural population growth accelerated once again, a trend that continues today. Currently, about 37% of the country’s population live in exurban areas (Merenlender et al. 2005; Domina 2006). Population growth led to the conversion of millions of privately owned acres. Theobald (2001) finds that from 1960 through 1990, the quantity of exurban land more than doubled, from 156 million to 333 million acres. Similarly, Brown et al. (2005) find that from 1950 through 2000, the country’s exurban land inventory increased four to five times in size. Exurban land conversion outpaces population growth because of comparatively low residential densities.

There are many explanations for exurban growth. First, the retirement-age population has long sought wide-open spaces. The elderly have moved consistently to rural areas for several decades, and the trend is expected to continue as “baby boomers” reach retirement age. Second, highway and road improvements encouraged the move to exurbia because they eased rural travel and opened previously remote lands. Finally, the movement of jobs and commercial and retail outlets to the suburban fringe enabled exurbanites to move further from built-up areas. Prior to suburbanization, people shopped and worked in central cities, but employment, services, and shopping moved to the periphery along with suburbanites. This shortened travel distances for exurbanites and allowed them to move even further into rural areas (Johnson, Nucci, and Long 2005; Johnson 2006).

Exurban housing markets are far more complex than their urban and suburban counterparts. First, the rural poor account for a growing share of the exurban housing market. As of 2003, more than 14% of the rural population (7.5 million persons) lived below the poverty line, with minorities comprising the fastest growing segment. Poverty leads many rural dwellers to manufactured housing because it is affordable. Although rural poverty is widely dispersed, pockets are found in Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, and the US–Mexico border region (Housing Assistance Council 2008). Second, transitional housing is gaining popularity. This segment consists of recreational vehicles (RV) and “fifth wheels” that carry seasonal visitors across the countryside (Dallen 2004). Mobility is the principal advantage of transitional housing, especially among retirees who seek out remote wilderness preserves and coastal areas. Third, corporate builders (also called “public builders”) have moved affordable “starter-home” subdivisions well beyond the suburban fringe. Unlike suburbia, these exurban subdivisions commodify nature by locating close to near-pristine lands that offer spectacular view sheds, open space, and access to wildlife. The cost and the availability of land are pivotal to this exurban housing segment (Frey 2003; Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies 2006). For this reason, corporate builders often purchase former ranches because they provide thousands of acres of developable land and simplify land acquisition (Natural Resource Conservation Service 2006). Fourth, low-density hobby farms and horse properties are the largest users of exurban land and are the most visible signs of exurban development (Glennon and Kretser 2005). Parcels typically range from 1 to 40 acres in size and are often located on or near pristine lands. Finally, second and seasonal homes comprise a growing share of the exurban housing market. This housing segment is driven by the retirement-age population (but not exclusively) that for decades sought rural landscapes for temporary or seasonal housing. They often locate in, or near, small rural communities that offer direct access to wildlands. These communities previously specialized in resource extraction (timber and mining) but shifted to ecotourism because their near-pristine environments attract growing numbers of tourists and seasonal visitors (Reeder and Brown 2005; Winkler et al. 2007; Matarrita-Cascante and Luloff 2008). Resort communities located in rustic settings are also part of the seasonal housing market. Condominiums and “time shares” are popular because they provide access to outdoor recreation such as skiing, kayaking, and mountain biking.

In sum, the exurban housing market spans the full breath of American society but is particularly appealing to those who value the outdoors. For a variety of reasons, a growing number of Americans wish to reconnect with nature and rekindle their agrarian roots. Privately owned land makes these exurban lifestyles possible.


All life is ultimately tied to the land. Aldo Leopold (1949) understood this and offered his land ethic as a guide to preserving nature’s balance. His human–land community is central to the land ethic because it points to our relationship with land: how we use, conserve, and preserve it. The chapter summarized the country’s land history with the aim of understanding why a viable human–land community never materialized. This required the merging of urban (human) and land histories in order to trace the nation’s treatment of land. From the outset, the use of land was forged by the principles of individualism, private property rights, and wealth accumulation, which collectively reduced land and resources to commodities. The story evolved with the ebbs and tides of urbanization, conservation, regional planning, and environmentalism. There is little doubt that America’s relationship with land has changed as evidenced by the reams of environmental legislation ratified over the years. Either by necessity or an evolved consciousness, the public is far more willing to pursue preservation.

But how does exurbanization fit within the country’s land history? On the one hand, it demonstrates that land remains a commodity that yields profit to private land owners. Exurban land conversion would not be possible otherwise. On the other hand, exurbanites appear to hold different attitudes than their predecessors. In many cases, they do not seek profit from the land but, instead, pursue a wilderness experience that offers connection with nature. As the following chapters demonstrate, this exposure brings ecological damage even though it is often unintended. Nevertheless, exurbanization poses the most direct threat to agricultural and wildlands and raises concerns about the future.

Most scholars expect that the popularity of exurbanization will grow in the years ahead. But changes are afoot that may well alter the pattern of exurban living. The “peak oil” crisis is perhaps the most critical issue because it will likely change the way all Americans live. Exurbanization may well dwindle as the cost of transportation continues to rise. But the energy crisis may spark even more rural living as the population increasingly seeks independent lifestyles “off the grid.” Such efforts are double edged: on the one hand, reconnecting people with nature, but on the other, raising the potential for ecological degradation. The chapters to come respond to exurbanization by promoting Leopold’s human–land community.


  1. American Farmland Trust. 2007. Farming on the Edge Report. Available at: http://www.farmland.org/resources/fote/default.asp. Accessed May 1, 2008.
  2. American Planning Association. 2002. Planning For Smart Growth: 2002 State of the States. Washington, D.C.: American Planning Association.Google Scholar
  3. Anderson, L. 2002. Benton MacKaye: Conservationist, Planner, and Creation of the Appalachian Trail. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.Google Scholar
  4. Bay Area Water Supply and Conservation District 2007. Hetch Hetchy Water System. Available at: http://www.bawsca.org/hetch.html. Accessed May 10, 2008.
  5. Beauregard, R. 2006. When America Became Suburban. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  6. Black, B. 2006. Nature and the Environment in 19th-century American Life. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  7. Boone, C., and Modarres, A. 2006. City and Environment. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bradford, M. E. 1993. Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.Google Scholar
  9. Brown, D., Johnson, K. M., Loveland, T. R., and Theobald, D. M. 2005. Rural land use trends in the conterminous United States, 1950–2000. Ecological Applications 15:1851–1863.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brulle, R., and Pellow, D. 2006. Environmental justice: human health and environmental inequalities. Annual Review of Public Health 27:103–124.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Bryner, G. C. 1998. U.S. Land and Natural Resources Policy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  12. Carson, R. L. 1962. Silent Spring. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.Google Scholar
  13. Curry, J. M., and McGuire, S. 2002. Community on Land: Community, Ecology, and the Public Interest. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  14. Curry-Roper, J. M. 1989. The impact of the Timber and Stone Act on public land ownership in northern Minnesota. Journal of Forest History 33:70–79.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Dallen, T. 2004. Recreational second homes in the United States: development issues and contemporary patterns. In Tourism, Mobility, and Second Homes: Between Elite Landscapes and Common Ground, eds. C. M. Hall and D. Müller, pp. 133–148. Towawanda, NY: Channel View Publications.Google Scholar
  16. Daniels. T. 1999. When City and Country Collide. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.Google Scholar
  17. Devall, B. 1982. John Muir as deep ecologist. Environmental Review 6:63–86.Google Scholar
  18. Diehm, C. 2007. Identification with nature: what it is and why it matters. Ethics and the Environment 12:1–22.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Domina, T. 2006. What clean break? Education and nonmetropolitan migration patterns, 1989–2004. Rural Sociology 71:373–398.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Durant, R. 1987. Toward assessing the administrative presidency: public lands, the BLM, and the Reagan administration. Public Administration Review 47:180–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Dyble, L. 2007. Revolt against sprawl: transportation and the origins of the Marin county growth-control regime. Journal of Urban History 34:38–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Ehrlich, P. 1968. The Population Bomb. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.Google Scholar
  23. Findlay, J. 1992. Magic Lands: Western Cityscapes and American Culture After 1940. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  24. Fischel, W. A. 2001. The Homevoter Hypothesis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Fisher, B. 1995. Republicans take the helm: what’s ahead for the environment. Environmental Health Perspectives 103:332–333.Google Scholar
  26. Fishman, R. 1987. Bourgeois Utopias: The Rise and Fall of Suburbia. New York, NY: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  27. Forrester, J. 1969. Urban Dynamics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  28. Foster, M. S. 2003. A Nation on Wheels: The Automobile Culture in America Since 1945. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishers.Google Scholar
  29. Frey, E. 2003. Building industry consolidation. Housing Economics 51:7–12.Google Scholar
  30. Frey, W., Abresch, B., and Yeasting, J. 2001. America by the Numbers. New York, NY: The New Press.Google Scholar
  31. Fuguitt, G., and Beale, C. 1996. Recent trends in nonmetropolitan migration: toward a new turnaround? Growth and Change 27:156–174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Gates, P. 1971. Public land issues in the United States. The Western Historical Quarterly 2:363–376.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Glennon, M., and Kretser, H. 2005. Impacts to Wildlife from Low Density, Exurban Development. Wildlife Conservation Society, Technical Paper No. 3, Adirondack Communities and Conservation Program.Google Scholar
  34. Hardin, G. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162:1243–1248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Harris, R., and Mercier, M. 2005. How healthy were the suburbs? Journal of Urban History 31:767–798.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Harvard University Joint Center for Housing. 2006. The Evolving Home Building Industry and Implications for Consumers. Boston, MA: Joint Center for Housing at Harvard University.Google Scholar
  37. Hays, S. 1982. From conservation to environment: environmental politics in the United States since World War Two. Environmental Review 6:14–41.Google Scholar
  38. Hessen, R. 1972. The transformation of Bethlehem Steel, 1904–1909. The Business History Review 46:339–360.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Higgins, R. 1993. Race and environmental equity: an overview of the environmental justice issue in the policy process. Polity 26:281–300.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Hobbs, F., and Stoops, N. 2002. Demographic Trends in the 20th Century. Census 2000 Special Reports, Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.Google Scholar
  41. Housing Assistance Council. 2008. Housing in Rural America. Available at: http://www.ruralhome.org/infoSheets.php?id=149. Accessed May 1, 2008.
  42. Jackson, H. 1970. Foreword: environmental quality, the courts, and the congress. Michigan Law Review 68:1073–1082.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Jackson, K. T. 1985. Crabgrass Frontiers. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Jahn, L. 1998. Fifty years of challenges and advance in conservation affairs. Wildlife Society Bulletin 26:982–992.Google Scholar
  45. Johnson, K. 2006. Demographic Trends in Rural and Small Town America. Reports on Rural America, Volume 1, Number 1, The Carsey Institute: Durham, NH: University of New Hampshire.Google Scholar
  46. Johnson, K., Nucci, A., and Long, L. 2005. Population trends and nonmetropolitan America: selective deconcentration and the rural rebound. Population Research and Policy Review 24:527–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Kay, J. H. 1997. Asphalt Nation. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  48. Keating, A. D. 1988. Building Chicago: Suburban Developers and the Creation of a Divided Metropolis. Columbus, OH: The Ohio State University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Knight, R. L. 2002. Aldo Leopold: blending conservation about public and private lands. In Aldo Leopold and the Ecological Conscience, eds. R. L. Knight, and S. Riedel, pp. 34–45. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  50. Kunstler, J. H. 1993. The Geography of Nowhere. New York, NY: Touchstone.Google Scholar
  51. Laurian, L. 2006. Planning for active living: should we support a new moral environmentalism? Planning Theory and Practice 7:117–136.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Leach, W. 1993. Lands of Desire. New York, NY: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
  53. Leopold, A. 1949. A Sand County Almanac. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  54. Levy, J. M. 2000. Contemporary Urban Planning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  55. MacCleery, D. 1994. Resiliency and recovery: a brief history of conditions and trends in U.S. forests. Forest and Conservation History 38:135–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Maher, N. 2008. Nature’s New Deal: the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Roots of the American Environmental Movement. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Martin, R. C. 1965. The Cities and the Federal System. New York, NY: Atherton Press.Google Scholar
  58. Matarrita-Cascante, D., and Luloff, A. 2008. Profiling participative residents in western communities. Rural Sociology 73:44–61.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. McCloskey, P. 1970. Preservation of America’s open space: proposal for a national land-use commission. Michigan Law Review: 68:1167–1174.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. McHarg, I. 1969. Design with Nature. Garden City, NY: American Museum of Natural History/ the Natural History Press.Google Scholar
  61. McPherson, G. R. 2005. Killing the Natives. Pittsburgh, PA: Whitmore Publishing.Google Scholar
  62. Meadows, D., Meadows, D., Randers, J., and Behrens, W. III. 1972. The Limits to Growth. New York, NY: Universe Books.Google Scholar
  63. Merchant, C. 2002. The Columbia Guide to American Environmental History. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  64. Merenlender, A. M., Brooks, C., Shabazian, D., Gao, S., and Johnston, R. 2005. Forecasting exurban development to evaluate the influence of land-use policies on wildland and farmland conservation. Journal of Conservation Planning 1:64–88.Google Scholar
  65. Mohl, R. 2004. Stop the road freeway revolts in American cities. Journal of Urban History 30:674–706.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Nace, T. 2005. Gangs of America: the Rise of Corporate Power and the Disabling of Democracy. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.Google Scholar
  67. Nash, R. 1967. John Muir, William Kent, and the conservation schism. The Pacific Historical Review 36:423–433.Google Scholar
  68. Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2003. National Resources Inventory 2003 Annual NRI. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Available at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/technical/NRI/2003/nri03landuse-mrb.html. Accessed May 2, 2008.
  69. Natural Resource Conservation Service. 2006. Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Available at: http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/frpp/. Accessed May 17, 2008.
  70. Nelson, A., and Dawkins, C. 2004. Urban Containment in the United States. Chicago, IL: American Planning Association Press, Planning Advisory Service Report Number 520.Google Scholar
  71. Newton, J. 2006. Aldo Leopold’s Odyssey. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.Google Scholar
  72. Nolon, J. 1996. The National Land Use Policy Act. Pace Environmental Law Review 13:519–523.Google Scholar
  73. O’hUallachain, B., and R. Matthews. 1996. Restructuring of primary industries: technology, labor, and corporate strategy and control in the Arizona copper industry. Economic Geography 72:196–215.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Olson, S. 1966. Commerce and conservation: the railroad experience. Forest History 9:2–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Pauly, J. 1984. The great Chicago fire as a national event. American Quarterly 36:668–683.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Peardon, T. P. 1952. Locke: The Second Treatise of Government. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Company.Google Scholar
  77. Peterson, J. 1983a. The impact of sanitary reform upon American urban planning, 1840–1890. In Introduction to Urban Planning in the United States, ed. D. Krueckeberg, pp. 13–39. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University.Google Scholar
  78. Peterson, J. 1983b. The city beautiful movement: forgotten origins and lost meanings. In Introduction to Urban Planning in the United States, ed. D. Krueckeberg, pp. 40–57. New Brunswick, NJ: Center for Urban Policy Research, Rutgers University.Google Scholar
  79. Phillips, S. 2007. This Nation, This Land: Conservation, Rural America and the New Deal. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  80. Pinchot, G. 1937. How conservation began in the United States. Agricultural History 11:255–265.Google Scholar
  81. Reed, N. 1992. The conservation movement as a political force. In Voices from the Environmental Movement, ed. D. Snow, pp. 41–51. Washington, D.C.: Island Press.Google Scholar
  82. Reeder, R., and Brown, D. 2005. Recreation, Tourism, and Rural Well-Being. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, Report No. 7. Available at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/ERR7/. Accessed May 17, 2008.
  83. Resnik, D., and Roman, G. 2007. Health, justice, and the environment. Bioethics 21:230–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Richter, F.E. 1927. The copper-mining industry in the United States, 1845–1925. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 41:236–291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Rome, A. 2001. The Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  86. Rosen, R. N. 1992. A Short History of Charleston. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.Google Scholar
  87. Runge, C. 1984. Energy exploration on wilderness: “privatization” and public land management. Land Economics 60:56–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  88. Savage, L., and Lapping, M. 2003. Sprawl and its discontents: the rural dimension. In Suburban Sprawl: Culture, Theory, and Politics, eds. M. Lindstrom and H. Bartling, pp. 5–17. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield Publishers.Google Scholar
  89. Sayers, W. 1965. The changing land ownership pattern in the United States. Forest History 9:2–9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Schultz, S. K. 1989. Constructing Urban Culture: American Cities and City Planning, 1800–1920. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press.Google Scholar
  91. Sessions, G. 1987. The deep ecology movement: a review. Environmental Review 11:105–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  92. Siskind, P. 2006. Suburban growth and its discontents. In The New Suburban History, eds. K. Kruse, and T. Sugrue, pp. 161–182. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  93. Smith, T. 1995. John Kennedy, Stewart Udall, and new frontier conservation. The Pacific Historical Review 64:329–362.Google Scholar
  94. Stover, J. 1954. Southern ambitions of the Illinois Central Railroad. The Journal of Southern History 20:499–510.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  95. Stroud, P. 1995. Forerunner of American conservation: naturalist Thomas Say. Forest and Conservation History 39:184–190.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  96. Theobald, D. M. 2001. Land-use dynamics beyond the American urban fringe. Geographical Review 91:544–555.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  97. Theobald, D. M. 2005. Landscape patterns of exurban growth in the USA from 1980 to 2020. Ecology and Society 10:1–32. Available at: http://www.ecologyandsociety.org/vol10/iss1/art32/. Accessed May 2, 2008.
  98. Thompson, B. 1997. The Endangered Species Act: a case study in takings and incentives. Stanford Law Review 49:305–380.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  99. Thompson, B. 2005. Conservative environmental thought: the Bush administration and environmental policy. Ecology Law Quarterly 32:307–347.Google Scholar
  100. Udall, S. 1963. The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith.Google Scholar
  101. U.S. Bureau of the Census. 1971. Statistical Abstract of the United States, 1971, 92nd Edition. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Census.Google Scholar
  102. U.S. Bureau of Land Management. 2001. The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 as Amended. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Bureau of the Interior.Google Scholar
  103. U.S. Census Bureau. 2008. The 2008 Statistical Abstract. Available at: http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/population.html. Accessed May 2, 2008.
  104. Usselman, S. 1992. From novelty to utility: George Westinghouse and the business of innovation during the age of Edison. The Business History Review 66:251–304.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  105. Vespa, M. 2002. Climate change 2001: Kyoto at Bonn and Marrakech. Ecology Law Quarterly 29:395–420.Google Scholar
  106. Waldron, J. 1989. John Locke: social contract versus political anthropology. The Review of Politics 51:3–28.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  107. White, L. 1928. The iron and steel industry of the Pittsburgh District. Economic Geography 4:115–139.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  108. Winkler, R., Field, D., Luloff, A., Krannich, R., and Williams, T. 2007. Comparison of “old west” and “new west” communities. Rural Sociology 72:478–501.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  109. Worster, D. 2005. John Muir and the modern: passion for nature. Environmental History 10:8–19.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  110. Yates, R. 1961. Revolutionary Road. New York, NY: Vintage Books.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Natural Resources, University of ArizonaTucsonUSA

Personalised recommendations