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New Geographies of the American West

New Geographies of the American West:
Land Use and the Changing Patterns of Place

by William Travis
Island Press

Reconciling explosive growth with often majestic landscape defines New Geographies of the American West. Geographer William Travis examines contemporary land use changes and development patterns from the Mississippi to the Pacific, and assesses the ecological and social outcomes of Western development.

Unlike previous "boom" periods dependent on oil or gold, the modern population explosion in the West reflects a sustained passion for living in this specific landscape. But the encroaching exurbs, ranchettes, and ski resorts are slicing away at the very environment that Westerners cherish.

Efforts to manage growth in the West are usually stymied at the state and local levels. Is it possible to improve development patterns within the West's traditional anti-planning, pro-growth milieu, or is a new model needed? Can the region develop sustainably, protecting and managing its defining wildness, while benefiting from it, too?

Travis takes up the challenge, suggesting that functional and attractive settlement can be embedded in preserved lands, working landscapes, and healthy ecologies.

In New Geographies of the American West, Travis discusses relevant solutions to critical issues now affecting communities in the American West.

Major issues facing the American West:

  • The region houses the nation’s largest national parks, monuments and wilderness areas.

  • Population will double in the next 40 to 50 years.

  • Natural areas near developments have become fragmented, vital wildlife habitats converted, and more subjected to invasive species.

  • The ecological footprint of a North American city (including Tucson, Salt Lake City, Denver and Boise) is between 10 and 20 times the actual physical area.

  • All developments create disturbance zones, meaning the habitat is less suitable to most of the native wildlife. The cumulative effect of multiple developments can be reduced by clustering.

William R. Travis’ Solution:

1. Integrate land use planning among communities and across landscapes. Planning coordinated around critical and famed landscapes such as Greater Yellowstone Park, the Southern Rockies and the Columbia Basin.

2. Fashion new guidelines for western development, encoding new goals and specific rubrics to yield new land use patterns. Zoning restrictions that create affordable housing, as well as preserve open space. Communities within walking distance to trailheads for hiking and recreation.

3. Increase social engagement in land use planning and nurture land use advocacy across the West. The building of watch-dog groups and NGOs to promote sustainable growth and development.

4. Improve and take greater advantage of land use data, analysis, and simulation tools. The use of data-storing geographic information systems to educate citizens on characteristics of their natural landscape.