Friday, July 14, 2006

The folly of formless "Open Space"

   What’s the most overused and most meaningless term in our land use debates?  I suggest the term “open space.”  In nearly every argument, some side suggests that one alternative is preferrable because it would provide “open space.”  But this term is meaningless unless we examine the details.

   An “open space” of a privately controlled, two-acre plot of bluegrass?  It might provide a permeable surface, but it would do nothing for public recreation, biodiversity, or habitat.  An “open space” of piedmont grazed by cattle?  It might allow for some vegetation, but would also be source of pollution and would never develop into a forest or carbon sink.  An “open space” of a golf course?  Well, this speaks for itself.

   So why the continuing appeal of the term “open space” instead of more specificity about the supposed public benefits of a land use?  I suggest that “open space” has appeal because it can be used in any instance to mask an argument driven largely by NIMBY, not truly by the public interest.

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