Giving Open Space a Chance
Giving Open Space a Chance

Our Mission is a place for the exchange of information and ideas about how to preserve part of the American heritage: its “empty” spaces. These are the spaces where nothing is built; they include a significant amount of space that is not publicly owned, not protected by conservation easement, not necessarily publicly accessible—just not filled with human-built stuff, at least not yet. Farmlands are a prime example; these are not natural (the natural ecosystem has been replaced by an artificial ecosystem), but they have few buildings and roads.1

Before the 1880’s, the United States had a real western frontier, beyond which population, roads, and buildings were sparse. New trails, roads, and railroads invaded the western wilderness. Since then, the invasion has been internal. Every space, every “hole” in the network of roads and railroads, is a space to be invaded with new roads, drilling pads, buildings, factories, mines, wind farms, and so on. Unless we develop incentives that slow the internal invasion, then we will pack all space with the paraphernalia of industrialized culture, what geographers call “the built environment.”

Some empty spaces are protected, either by conservation easement or by public ownership. Unfortunately, public ownership has not been a reliable protection for empty spaces, but public lands are not the focus of There is a substantial amount of empty space on private land that is particularly vulnerable to invasion; most Americans have seen these places invaded by urban sprawl. Conservation easements protect some space from invasion, but financial rewards for conservation easements are generally small compared to rewards for development, and funds to support conservation easements are scarce. Better reward balance has been achieved in some states through tax advantages for conservation easements, but there is a long way to go before the playing field is level between conservation and development.

The challenge for our time is to devise new ways to level the playing field. Core proposed innovations are:

  • measure and monitor empty space, based on an objective space metric
  • develop a space credit market, based on the same metric; and
  • require developers to purchase space credits before building (a long term possibility).

Major topics for discussion are:

  • measurement of empty space
  • economic and ecological benefits of space preservation
  • valuation of empty space
  • policies that enhance or diminish empty space
  • the history of space preservation; case histories
  • innovation in space preservation.

The ideas discussed here are not restricted to the United States; they relate to questions of sustainable human occupation of land everywhere. Everyone is welcome!

1 In some contexts, agricultural lands may not be considered to be open space because of their human manipulation. An example occurs where natural grassland conservation is a goal. In such places, invasion of agriculture into natural ecosystems may be considered to be invasion of open (undisturbed) space. This is an example of a special foil against which space can be measured. For more information about foils, see [reference to Measuring Space II].