The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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A section of the map High Volume Stands in Comparison to Site Classification, from The Kowesas Watershed Assessment.
Image by Mike Mertens.

Ecological Land-Use

Cities and towns, rural areas, and wildlands each suffer unless land-use planning is performed in a sufficiently coordinated way at a large enough scale to reflect the inherent needs of each.

As cities and towns sprawl into the countryside, they create strong development pressures on surrounding farmland and open spaces, making it increasingly difficult for farmers, ranchers, and small woodlot owners to hold onto their land. This gradually erodes the health of agrarian communities.

The costs of sprawl are enormous: infrastructure; new roads; congestion; ecosystem degradation and fragmentation; and dispersed services. Myron Orfield, a geographer at the University of Minnesota, has shown that the costs for suburban development are disproportionately carried by those in the inner city. Numerous studies have shown that the costs of suburban development greatly outweigh benefits from the increased tax base, prompting many municipalities and counties to charge development impact fees to help defray the costs.

The alternative to sprawl is to establish Compact Towns and Citiesusing Urban Growth Boundaries and other planning and zoning measures. Such cities and towns have efficient energy, water, and transportation infrastructures which become increasingly cost-effective as density increases. This makes it possible for Productive Rural Areas to be maintained right to the urban edge with future development pressures largely removed.

By controlling the size of urban developments and maintaining working landscapes up to their boundaries, it is possible to gradually restore a vast system of Connected Wildlands. Such a system, composed of Core Reserves, Buffer Zones, and Wildlife Corridors for connectivity, will maintain biodiversity by allowing all species to move freely throughout the bioregion.

Ecological Land-Use, by treating urban, rural, and wild areas as a continuum, leads us to a very simple geometry: compact cities and towns, encircled by working rural landscapes, leaving a connected matrix of wildlands stretching across the continent. With this geometry, relatively high population densities can exist side-by-side with productive rural areas and fully functional wildlands.

Using urban growth boundaries, zoning laws, and other techniques, ensure that cities and towns are compact, which allows for a highly efficient infrastructure. Protect diverse working rural landscapes right up to the urban edge. Over time, weave remaining lands into a connected matrix of wildlands that connects outward to neighboring bioregions.

Examples of this pattern in action:

Urban Ecology Design Collaborative
Urban Ecology Design Collaborative is an innovative association of planning and design professionals who specialize in offering ecologically-based design services. Urban Ecology includes architects, designers, environmental planners, landscape architects and engineers who are committed to finding comprehensive solutions to design challenges that are derived from a thorough understanding of a project's social, economic, technical and environmental issues. We believe that what makes our approach distinct is a unique combination of professional expertise focused on reconciling development pressures with the emerging environmental challenges facing our society.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

The Land Trust Alliance

The Trust for Public Land

Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Develop

1000 Friends of Oregon

Greenbelt Alliance

Institute of Urban Ecology

UBC School of Community and Regional Planning

Portland Metro

Resource Renewal Institute

Planning Commissioners Journal


Aberley, Doug, ed. Boundaries of Home: Mapping for Local Empowerment. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Island, BC. 1993.

Aberley, Doug, ed. Futures by Design: The Practice of Ecological Planning. New Society Publishers. Gabriola Island, BC. 1994.

Dramstad, Wenche E, James D. Olson and Richard T. Forman. Landscape Ecology Principles in Landscape Architecture and Land-Use Planning. Island Press. Washington, DC. 1997.

Forman, R.T.T. Land Mosaics: The Ecology of Landscapes and Regions. Cambridge University Press. Cambridge, UK. 1995.

Lyle, John Tillman. Regenerative Design for Sustainable Development. John Wiley and Sons, Inc.. New York, NY. 1994.

McHarg, Ian L. Design with Nature. John Wiley and Sons. Washington, DC. 1995.

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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling