Open Space – Our Vanishing Resource

San Luis Valley and Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado San Luis Valley and Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado
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One Small Invasion at a Time…

Each invasion begins with a road

Who among us has not seen it? A farm becomes a subdivision; a forest becomes an industrial logging site; a mountain top becomes a mine; a mesa top becomes an oilfield. Each of these transformations involves—indeed, begins with—a road. We see these conversions and we generally dismiss them, thinking “it is a shame, but it is just one small area.”

Thousands of small invasions, and some big ones too

Invasion by road—followed by building construction, extractive industry, or something else—happens in tens of thousands of places each year. All empty space is being filled with human “stuff,” what geographers call the built environment. Images of nighttime lights are good representations of the global spread of the built environment; these images powerfully illustrate how continental space is filling with human presence.

The built environment is good. Roads form the skeleton of the built environment; they carry raw materials to factories, goods to stores, people to jobs, and they connect us to each other. Activities made possible by roads are good. Mines provide us with raw materials; logging operations provide wood for building our homes; homes provide a controlled, human-friendly environment; stores, gas stations, and malls provide what we need; and office buildings house us while we earn money to support our families. This is all good stuff!

Therein lies the problem: roads make possible a lot of good stuff. Stuff that people will pay for. That means that people will pay a lot for roads, and they do. Stated differently, there are strong financial incentives for road building.

What about the economic disincentives to road building? There are two: land acquisition costs and construction costs. That’s it. It turns out that these costs are minor compared to the financial rewards of development and resource extraction. This imbalance between costs and rewards creates an imbalanced incentive system that favors road building over space preservation.

The ecological value of space

There is an extensive literature on the ecological and hydrologic effects of roads. Research on these topics reveals overwhelmingly negative effects on natural resources and the ecosystems that maintain them. As you explore this web site, you will learn that preserving space is the same thing as keeping roads, and other things built near roads, at a distance—most importantly, at a distance from ecological resources.

Read more…

What is Space?
Space requires both area and distance.
Space is a Nonrenewable Resource
Space loss is essentially irrevers­ible, so space inexorably shrinks.
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.
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