Space is a Nonrenewable Resource

Foothills of the Snowy Range near Saratoga, Wyoming Foothills of the Snowy Range near Saratoga, Wyoming
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Once you lose it, you don’t get it back…

Roads, and the many things that follow them, are normally permanent. Once a road comes and space is lost, chances are good that the road will endure and the space will be lost for many generations, and perhaps forever. Space cannot be created except by removal of roads, and road removal is exceedingly rare.

…and then you lose more.

Roads beget roads, and space filling begets further space filling. When a high speed road extends outward from a city, then new homes and businesses close to highway interchanges have relatively rapid access to the city. Roads are all about connections, and the new, time efficient connections attract develop­ment. Residential development begins with roads, and after homes are built there is new demand for grocery stores, gas stations, home and personal services, and retail outlets. Road access is needed to build and operate these businesses, so more roads are built. Roads beget roads.

Implications of non-renewability

Any commodity, including space, has a price that is determined by the balance between supply and demand. Some commodities, such as manufactured goods, can have their prices fall—even when demand stays constant—when manufacturing innovation and improved efficiency allow greater output (supply) with the same financial input. There is no way to increase the supply of space, and in fact its supply constantly shrinks. It is therefore inevitable that the value of space will increase unless some new mechanism emerges to reduce demand. Therefore,

Preservation of space is less expensive now than in the future.

These observations beg the question, “What is the value of space?” Until space is bought and sold like other commodities, we cannot answer this question. It can be answered definitively in the future, however, by monetizing space—i.e. by adopting a consistent measure of space and then creating a market for space buying, selling, and trading. While some might fear that this would lead to higher rates of space loss, we propose a system that does just the opposite; it would establish a limit on the amount of space that can be lost to development—or, put differently, an amount of space that would be assured to be preserved.

Read more…

What is Space?
Space requires both area and distance.
Roads Versus Space
New roads, and other things built near roads, always reduce space. Who wins and who loses?
The Value of Roads
Roads perform valuable services, so people will pay for them.
The Tilted Incentive System
Road building pays well; space preservation does not.
Protection from Roads = Protection of Space
…because roads are the first step in space reduction.
Back to: Open Space—Our Vanishing Resource
Overview of the forces behind space loss.