Who Cares about Land Use?
Ideally, land use planning processes should consider concepts of global justice and planetary boundaries, but today, they are mostly driven by landowners’ profit.
Land use, by definition, is the appropriation of resources and landscapes, including other living beings inhabiting them, for human needs and wants. Historically, land use has shaped and degraded ecosystems. So much in fact that Finland is now covered by intensively managed forests, agricultural fields, buildings and roads. Most land areas are viewed as productive systems for supplying markets with resources.
Ideally, land use planning processes should consider concepts of global justice and planetary boundaries, but today, they are mostly driven by landowners whose primary objective is to profit from new investments. Looking at current government policies and the general direction of urban planning, there seems to be little interest in interfering with the management of property, even if land use practices degrade ecosystems.
This is perpetuated by the new government program which promotes ”the culture of ownership”. Even in the discussion on the EU restoration law, which intends to set binding targets for ecosystem restoration, government organisations including cities, regional councils and the Association of Finnish Municipalities criticised it as it could prevent the continuation of business as usual. The ambitious targets and regulations were therefore reduced before the law passed through the EU Parliament in July.
At the same time, political efforts continue to increase the extraction of materials to support economic growth. Wood harvesting rates are pushed closer to the maximum sustainable yield, i.e. the largest amount of resource extraction that can be sustained over time. We have distanced ourselves from other-than-human nature and created a hierarchical relation that does not encourage co-living.
The western capitalist idea of ”othering nature” – treating it as something separate from, and external to humanity – has contributed to this outcome. Leaning on extracting natural resources on a massive scale to sell around the world for profit and exploiting other-than-human nature, maintains the global power imbalance and supports the shortsightedness of capitalist structures.
The term ’extractivism’ originated in the context of the Global South and is often used to describe the continuum of colonialist practices within land use. To say that this is solely happening remotely is false – as there is a similarly rooted approach to the management of land close to us. When this happens near us it brings discomfort. The structural inequities and alienation of land use often lead to passive bemoaning. This feeling of passiveness can be present even in professionals who make decisions affecting natural resources daily.
A systemic shift is needed, one that includes revisiting how and why land is used. This requires a more inclusive and transparent approach to land use planning, with discussions about power structures and vested interests. Land use planning should be a crucial forum for voicing concerns and navigating towards a more just and balanced use of land.
New concepts and frameworks which more deeply consider the issues discussed above are emerging, but the current approach to land use still includes the assumption that, unless there is active opposition, the use of ”resources” is justified. As a starting point, planners can decide to make their practice within land use more care-oriented, take stronger positions and discuss the implications of their choices. A simple suggestion is to rehearse an emotional connection through personal practice, to connect to land; the soil and the vegetation it grows. Touch and materiality function as mediums for care. The professional role of a planner and the emotions we feel outside of that role need to be able to exist together. ↙
FREDRIC MOSLEY, CECILIA AINTILA, TUULIA KIVISTÖ
Writers live in Helsinki and are busy with research, urban planning and art.