Empty Space — Our Vanishing Resource

Recent posts:

Long term environmental challenges and the 2012 elections

Colorado wildfires and public expenditures


Humans have a deep instinct to explore every possible place on the Earth, and beyond. After exploration comes occupancy, and with occupancy comes the need to connect to the rest of humanity. Before the industrial revolution, connections from the frontier to settlements and cities were by water, trails, and primitive roads that were seldom more than wide trails. Since the industrial revolution, because of civilization’s new found ability to apply enormous energy to construction, durable roads to practically anywhere are a given. With these roads come all sorts of additional human activity—farming, mining, petroleum drilling, dwellings, office buildings, factories, parking lots, …, the list is infinite. Resource needs of the growing human population demand access to an ever increasing number of raw material sites, and utilization of resources demands their transportation to processing centers and ultimately to human consumers.

The sun sets, the moon rises over Chaco Canyon

Moonrise over Chaco Canyon, New Mexico

The extreme leveraging of human energy with industrial energy has translated to an incursion of roads, human presence, and human activity that shows no signs of diminishing. While this process of incursion has no hostile intent, it has inadvertent negative consequences. We intrude on the spaces that were previously free of durable human “stuff”—and where we intrude, we build. And when we have built basic access infrastructure, then more of us come. Places that were open and pristine become dominated, managed, or manipulated by humans.

It is a mistake to think that intrusion occurs somewhere “out there,” affecting large tracts of prairies or forest. Any roadless space is vulnerable to road-supported intrusion. Intrusion is not about a distant frontier. It is about the farm down the road or the nearby ridge with a view. Wherever we see new construction we witness intrusion. Too often, we dismiss the “small” intrusions in our vicinity as inconsequential, but the sum of these small intrusions is neither small nor inconsequential.

Other parts of this web site explore the consequences and costs of losing open space, and these costs are great. There are great financial rewards for incursions into open space—to drill a well, dig a mine, or build a factory, a subdivision, or a shopping mall. Rewards for leaving open space alone, for not intruding, are scarce and demonstrably insufficient to counter the trend of open space loss. The purpose of SpacePreservation.org is to level the playing field, to develop financial incentives that make the preservation of space as rewarding as the invasion of space. We exist to give space a chance.

What is Empty Space?
It is land where human-built “stuff” is far away. When empty space is protected, so that future construction is prohibited or limited, then empty space is usually called open space, particularly if it is publicly owned and accessible. Empty space is a more generic term, and it has no connotation of space protection. An important concept is that there is a great deal of unprotected empty space that can be protected and thus converted to open space; this conversion is the objective of SpacePreservation.org. For more information about types of space, see  Thinking About Space.

What Destroys Open Space?
Incursion into open space with durable human-built features, destroys open space. This process typically begins with a road; innumerable other things can follow: sprawling homes, suburbs, shopping centers, oil wells, mines, factories, and so on.

How Fast is Space Being Destroyed?
There are few places where historical mapping is suited to answering this question. One study, of the Front Range urban corridor in Colorado, indicates loss of 43 percent of the open space in the sixty year period between 1937 and 1997 (see Change in Roadless Space).

What Drives Open Space Destruction?
Incursions that destroy open space result from what is commonly called development (subdivisions, shopping centers, office complexes, etc.) and also from creating access to resources (mines, oil fields, timber harvest areas). All of these are driven by growth, both population growth and economic growth.

Is Open Space Destruction Inevitable?
It is not. SpacePreservation.org is devoted to the development of economic incentives that counter the financial rewards of incursion into open space.

Financial Rewards for Invasion:
The Space Monster

There are myriad financial incentives for invading open space. See [examples of invasions].
Few land uses that preserve open space offer profit rewards
Example: what is the per acre reward of farming compared to building a subdivision?
Mechanisms for open space preservation (see are not getting the job done).Changing the System
The basic concept: road-supported incursion in one place buys protection from incursion in another place.
Using market forces, it is possible to balance development with open space protection in a sustainable, flexible way

  • The First Key: space measurement [see link]
  • The Second Key: monetizing space [see link]

This page is under construction

More to come! Please visit the blog and many useful links from there.

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