Book Review: Urban Land Economics And Public Policy (Richard B. Andrews)


By Richard B. Andrews

Published: New York, Free Press [1971]

Public urban land use policy is generally expressed by codes, which are issued by planning commissions and city councils. Well known examples of these codes are for houses and buildings. Urban land policies ordinarily cover urban renewal, public housing, assessment and the annexation policy. Urban land policies are generally formulated by planners, lawyers, engineers, architects and politicians – oddly only seldom by economists, sociologists and political scientists. Codes are a set of rules that specify the standards for constructed objects such as buildings. Those codes may regulate the design or lead to other limitations and restrictions.

Urban land policy is rooted in the idea of avoiding conflict over land. Historically these conflicts originate from the human desire of use and maintain its property the way it wants it to be. These may be viewed as detrimental by neighbors and, to a higher degree, by the local government. To eliminate conflicts like these mentioned before, building and zoning codes have appeared as the policy devices to control such situations. With zoning, areas can be defined as residential or industrial, for example.

Through urban land policy, each urban use seeks the location which benefits it the most: (1) maximum accessibility to the other uses and services upon which it is dependent and (2) a physical, social, institutional and economic environment that is compatible, complementing and stimulating. In an urban land, these patterns are interdependent and therefore stimulate competition and survival – factors that are essential with regards to growth and change in the urban community. Without these elements, inefficiency and stagnation result.

With regards to property rights, value of a buildings and houses vary, depending on the on the degree of its owners degree of control over it. To clarify this statement, one might imagine a land policy which controls pricing, affecting ones property. As the land policy limits pricing, the property’s value is evenly effected. Furthermore, mandatory standards in maintenance cause a burden on its property owner, which affect the degree of control likewise as it does its value, as explained before. The general value of land declines per acre as distance from the center increases. The price paid for a property will be a function of its economic productivity. So for residents the price willing to be paid is based on the evaluation of the living conditions that come with the properties location. For businesses the locational selection will be profitable or the properties potential sale volume is good. For non-profit institutions the basis may be efficiency of service and the relative cost of providing these services.

In the most general sense all urban land policies have as their objective the support and enhancement of people with regards to their working and living aspects. Therefore, for the implementation of new urban land policies, the social equality must be researched and appropriately evaluated. This is insofar of highest importance, that new policies for taxes and zoning codes might favor or penalize some social groups. Wrong implementation might even favor the existence of nationalistic groups and promote suppression of minorities.

Situs, broadly defined, is the total urban environment in which a specific urban land use on a specific land parcel functions and with which it interacts at a specific time. Therefore situs might be comprehended when including the economy, the social and institutional structure, the physical setting and design of the urban area, and the psychologic reaction of the population to these variables. For example for a single-family residence, it will evaluate the situs of a property by its distance to their children’s primary school and friends’ location, as well as nearby shopping opportunities. The situs patterns of a single-individual are different, since it might seek more for entertainment possibilities than for nearby schools. The situs patterns of a big office however differ broadly, since in this case road connections, parking opportunities and a bar for post-work gatherings are of concern.

Municipal building and housing codes follow relatively obvious purposes: they are expected to give physical shelter, service equipment, room space, proper occupancy as well as protection of fire and safeguarding the user’s health. Whereas the single political city or urbanized area is a continuous built-up area, changing its shape and structure, the metropolitan city is an area containing a collection of built-up districts that appear to be nucleations. Nucleated communities range in size from the central city to the small trading center village at the metropolitan periphery. As metropolitan areas vary in size and social composition, so do they differ in their relationship to the central city.

Land use succession theory describes major changes in the use of an existing urban structure or of a parcel of urban land without a structure. For example, land use succession covers when a large single-family residence is converted into small apartments or into a rooming house. Also, when a single-family residence is converted directly to office use or when a single-family residence is demolished to make room for a new building. A relatively frequent land use succession happens around campuses, when nearby buildings are bought by the university to be then used as offices or for dormitory usage. Those mentioned examples are driving progressive changes in the predominant usage of a specific area or neighborhood over a period of time.

Codes, as mentioned above, may have social and economic impacts on user groups and builders. For the builder, the building code’s impact can be ambivalent. On the one hand, it may help to market his product. On the other hand, it may lead to the exact opposite, codes can eliminate competition on the market and so weaken structural quality. For social impacts, the core of the problem appears to be the conflict between the standards of building and the standards of some social groups. In very many cases, codes are representative of desires, needs and beliefs of the middle and upper-middle class. A perfectly balanced code would be satisfying each and every social group in the community. The author here mentions that, to his knowledge, such a code has never been established. (DM)