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CHAPTER 2. Elemental descriptions of space

2.A.1 Agrarian

Agraire (F); Agrario (E)

Agrarian is almost synonymous with the term “agricultural” in the English language. An agrarian society is one in which agriculture plays a large role in defining economic, political and cultural values.

Agrarian has strong overtones relating it to land ownership, but it is not exclusively concerned with land issues. Agrarian reform includes reforms to the production structure, the service structure and the land tenure system. Such reforms are often redistributive and are invariably politically contentious.

2.A.2 Airspace

Airspace is the area above the physical surface of the earth.

The possession of land brings with it the possession of the surface, together in principle in some jurisdictions that derive their legal philosophy from English land law with all that is beneath the surface and the column of airspace above. Some jurisdictions restrict these rights. Any use of the defined airspace unauthorised by the possessor is a trespass. This would include projections from neighbouring buildings or structures. Flight over the land would generally not give rise to a trespass, as long as the flying height was reasonable in the context of current wind and weather conditions.

2.A.3 Area

Espace (F); Espacio (E)

Area is the measurement of a specified physical surface of an object. In the context of land it is usually defined as within delineated boundaries and expressed in measures, such as hectares, acres or parts thereof. With buildings it should be defined specifically according to the purpose, for example, whether for insurance or for rental assessment. The measurement of the area will be expressed in measures, such as square metres or square feet.

2.B.1 Brownfield sites

Brownfield sites are potential development sites that involve the redevelopment of urban land.

They are frequently found in areas of existing towns and cities where changes and transfers in technology have altered transportation methods and the locations of industrial processes. Common areas subject to brownfeld site redevelopment are port and harbour areas. Formerly extensive docking, warehousing and accommodation facilities have been rendered largely redundant by the development of large scale container-based transportation which has involved relocation of port facilities to sites with more appropriate land and sea access.

Although the development of such sites is often viewed as politically, economically and environmentally desirable, they often pose significant problems for developers. These may range from the need to change the public perception of the desirability of the area, through reorientation of transportation links between the brownfield area and other urban areas, to requirements to deal with issues of contaminated land. Development of greenfield sites that are previously undeveloped does not pose the same difficulties, although it does involve the conversion and loss of agricultural land.

2.C.1 Coastal zone

The coastal zone is the zone of transition from land to sea in physical, legal and usually land ownership terms. It is a complex area of particular administrative and planning concern.

There is no standard definition of what a coastal zone is. Although there is an understanding of what it constitutes, precise boundaries used vary between jurisdictions and for different purposes. A longstanding and practical definition is “... the part of the land affected by its proximity to the sea and that part of the sea affected by its proximity to the land as the extent to which man’s land-based activities have a measurable influence on water chemistry and marine ecology.” USCMSER, 1969. Characteristic problems in this area include coastal erosion, habitat loss and degradation, contamination and coastal pollution. As a result many jurisdictions deal specifically with the issues of the coastal zone. STANNERS, D., and BORDEAU, P., 1995

2.C.2 Communal territory

Finage (F)

The concept of communal territory is principally related to agrarian economies based on peasant agriculture where there has been a strong identification of the land within a commune’s area with the peasants of the commune working that land. (The commune is the smallest administrative district in several countries, especially in Europe.) In fact, even in such circumstances in the agricultural areas of France it is becoming increasingly difficult to make any meaningful observations because the land administratively identified as that of the commune often no longer coincides with the agricultural areas worked by the inhabitants. It is not a term that has any specific meaning in the context of England and Wales.

2.C.3 Conservation areas

A conservation area is an area, usually designated under a planning system, where conservation of existing characteristics is given a strong weighting in development decisions.

A conservation area is a planning designation introduced under the Civic Amenities Act, 1967, in England and Wales for areas of architectural or historical importance in built-up areas. The designation gives an element of protection to the whole area from unsympathetic development. It recognises that it is frequently the overall assembly of buildings, rather than their individual qualities, that make an area culturally important. These designations therefore fulfil a different function than the protection of listed buildings. Local authorities can designate such areas using their protective powers under the act to preserve and enhance an area.


2.C.1 Coastal zone

A coastal zone in Sri Lanka, south of Colombo. C. Sanchez, FAO photo.

2.C.4 Convention sites

Convention sites are conservation areas established following international conventions to conserve the features identified in the specific convention.

Examples of international conventions resulting in the designation of specific sites for nature conservation include:

Ramsar Convention: The Convention on Wetlands of International Importance, 1971 (named after the Iranian city hosting the convention) is a global agreement for the protection of wetland sites in the around 70 signatory countries. The convention is backed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and the International Wildfowl and Wetlands Research Bureau. The total area of sites designated globally is around 36 million hectares. In the UK for example there are 57 sites totalling 215,000 hectares. The Ramsar Convention achieves its aims by monitoring wetlands and assisting in their conservation, by provision of detailed guidance on making rational use of the natural resource, and assistance with financial support to developing countries through a fund set up in 1990.

Examples of international conventions resulting in the designation of specific sites for heritage conservation include:

World Heritage Convention: This 1972 convention is supported by UNESCO and aims to designate sites of outstanding universal value, both natural and cultural. At present in Europe for example there are around 20 natural and 120 cultural sites on the list.

2.D.1 Domain / Estates / Property

Domaine / Propriété (F); Dominio (E)

Under the French Civil Code, and in countries influenced by French legal development a distinction is drawn between the public and private estates.

In other countries, contrasts can be drawn between the public domain (public lands, or land held by the state), and private domain.

2.E.1 Eminent domain

Domaine éminent (F)

The term “eminent domain” is used in some jurisdictions, such as the United States, to describe the process of compulsory acquisition or expropriation. The term derives from the state’s position as having ultimate power over the land.

2.E.2 Environmentally designated areas

An environmentally designated area is designated under a planning system to enjoy increased protection against development.

Most countries employ a range of different legislatively defined designations to provide protection to areas that are of particular environmental importance. There are often international designations for the most important sites overlaying the national hierarchy of protected sites.

2.F.1 Foreshore

The foreshore is the area between high water and low water mark.

In jurisdictions with law derived from English law, the foreshore commonly identifies an area of specific, frequently state, ownership, although this is not always the case.

2.G.1 Greenfield sites

The term greenfield site is used in respect of potential development sites that involve the development of agricultural or undeveloped land.

Development of greenfield sites that are previously undeveloped does not pose the same technical development difficulties as “brownfield” development, although it does involve the conversion and loss of agricultural land.

2.H.1 High water mark

The high water mark is the line of the highest tide and is often used legally to define the seaward limit of ownership of land in jurisdictions derived from English common law, although this is not always the case.

2.L.1 Landscape

Paysage (F); Paisaje (E)

The landscape is a product of the interaction of human beings with the natural environment often over a period of many centuries. The landscape therefore reflects the impacts of social, economic and political changes on the natural environment.

2.L.2 Low water mark

The low water mark is the lowest mark that the tide regularly reaches. The low water mark is the seaward boundary of the foreshore and in many cases in jurisdictions derived from English common law delimits both an ownership boundary and the seaward boundary of planning jurisdictions.

2.M.1 Marine park

Marine parks are statutorily designated and protected marine areas of high conservation value where conservation is promoted particularly through controlled use and access. Marine parks are generally established with similar aims of conservation and public access to those applied in conventional land-based national parks.

Examples of an internationally known marine park include:

Great Barrier Reef, Australia: The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority operates through a comprehensive system of zoning plans covering its designated area and identifying appropriate uses for mapped zones. The zoning provisions assume that the Park is to be conserved as a multiple use resource and cover a wide range of permitted activities. The broadest definition of these is found in the general use zones in which reasonable uses consistent with conservation of the reef are allowed. The zones become progressively more restrictive with defined protective marine national park zones and scientific research and preservation zones. The latter is the most restrictive of the zones identified, preventing use and entry of both the marine space and the first 500 feet of air space without the required permit.

2.N.1 National domain / State land / Public lands

Biens domaniaux / Domaine national / Domaine foncier national (F); Bienes fiscales / Dominio nacional / Dominio de tierras nacionales (E)

State land in some jurisdictions is a distinct class of land owned by the state.

2.N.2 National / regional park

Parc national ou régional (F); Parque nacional (E)

National parks are statutorily designated and protected areas of high conservation value where conservation is promoted particularly through controlled use and access. National parks fall within the IUCN definition of protected areas managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation.

> Natural area of land and/or sea, designated to
> protect the ecological integrity of one or more ecosystems for present and future generations,
> exclude exploitation or occupation inimical to the purposes of designation of the area and
> provide a foundation for spiritual, scientific, educational, recreational and visitor opportunities, all of which must be environmentally and culturally compatible. IUCN, 1994.

Regional parks are usually of more limited conservation value and are often designated more as small scale recreational reserves. The conception of national parks and regional parks differs significantly as between one another, and as between different jurisdictions. They tend to have in common the aims to conserve areas of land from development and to provide access to land for the public.


2.N.2 National / regional park

Zebra near the gates of Lake Mburo National park, midway between Masaka and Mbarara in western Uganda.

K. Dunn, FAO photo.

2.O.1 Open space / Green belt

Espace vert (F); Espacio verde / Área verde (E)

Land designated as “green belt” is land that is protected by town planning against urban development. It is generally found on the urban periphery and was intended to reduce or prevent urban sprawl.

2.P.1 Peri-urban area

Espace périurbain (F); Espacio periurbano (E)

A peri-urban area is an area on the periphery of the urban area of the town and its suburbs.

The peri-urban area is typically very dynamic and is under the most pressure for transformation of greenfield sites into developed urban areas. Planning systems often try to limit the free spread of urban development to reduce the conversion of agricultural land into nonagricultural use and to encourage the efficient use of urban space. These aims are usually supplemented by a range of other initiatives. These include, for example, the designation of green belts to reduce development on urban fringes, and the planning and creation of new towns to try to divert development pressure from existing towns.

Periurban areas in developing countries are very commonly the sites of unregulated and extensive settlement by squatter households moving from rural to urban and from small to large urban areas. Policies for upgrading these areas are a major challenge in development.

2.R.1 Rural / urban

Rural / urbain (F); Rural-urbano / Rurbano / Rururbano / Rurbanización / Rururbanización (E)

The terms rural and urban have their own individual meanings. Rural relates to the countryside and includes typically agricultural and forested areas and landscapes. Urban areas relate to settlements with their characteristic concentrations of residential, commercial and industrial developed property.

In practice these distinctions are less absolute than might be supposed from such definitions. Rural areas also contain settlements, commercial and industrial properties and uses. Urban areas may well contain typically agricultural and forestry related properties and uses. Small “urban farms” are often found in cities in developed countries, and small scale agriculture is a common feature in cities in developing countries.

2.S.1 Seabed

The seabed is the bed of the sea below low water mark. It is to the seaward side of the foreshore. It is very commonly in the exclusive ownership of the state.

2.S.2 State land regime

Domanial / régime domanial (F)

The state land regime is the legislative framework that defines how state land can be allocated and managed.

The legal regime governing state land will cover specific aspects of its management and mode of exploitation. This may include defining the organisation responsible for managing the land, and stating the general principles, and in some cases the detailed basis for its use.

2.T.1 Territorial sea

Mar territorial (E)

The territorial sea includes the area from the high water mark out to 12 nautical miles from the shore baseline over which the coastal state has sovereignty of the territorial sea and the seabed, including the airspace above.

2.T.2 Territory

Territoire (F); Entidad territorial / Territorio (E)

Territory may be viewed in legal, social and cultural contexts as the area where an individual or community lives.

It is generally contended that human beings are territorial, and that territoriality is therefore an innate characteristic of individual and social organisation. In practical terms territoriality is expressed in the different forms of property ownership enjoyed by individuals and groups, and by the different ways in which the use of real estate is regulated at different levels of social and political organisation.

Territory ranges from the level of the state, where the state’s territory includes all of those areas on land and sea where the state has jurisdiction, through the intermediate levels of local government where democratic responsibility ensures a dimension of social accountability within the relevant administrative boundaries. At the lowest level, each individual will identify an element of personal territory.

Territory is distinguished from the concept of space by this social dimension.

2.T.3 Town / Urban planning

Urbanisme (F); Urbanismo (E)

Town planning is the planning framework within which decisions are made about how urban land is to be used.

Town planning is often used as shorthand to denote the statutory planning of land use. The statutory planning of land use, whether urban or rural, whether town planning or rural land management, is based on the principle of rationality, the balancing of conflicting claims on the use of resources taking a comprehensive view of the matters to be taken into account.

2.U.1 Urbanization

Urbanisation (F); Urbanización (E)

Urbanization is the process of development of towns and cities where population growth and population drift typically result in rapid acceleration in the size of the urbanized population.

2.Z.1 Zoning

Zones / Zonage (F); Zona / Zonificación (F)

Zoning is a planning procedure where a designated zone is allocated for a specified use or uses.

Zoning is a commonly used approach to planning which identifies the uses to which the zoned land may be put and specifies the type, amount and location of that development. It is planned to promote orderly development and to reduce or avoid inconsistent uses adjacent to one another.


IUCN, Guidelines for Protected Areas Management Categories. IUCN, Cambridge, UK and Gland, Switzerland, 1994

STANNERS, D., and BORDEAU, P., Europe’s Assessment: the Dobris Assessment, European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, 1995

USCMSER (US COMMISSION ON MARINE SCIENCE, ENGINEERING AND RESOURCES), Our Nation and the Sea, US Govt Printing Office, Washington DC, 1969

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