Inclusive and Sustainable Territories and Landscapes Platform

Land-use planning


The objective of developing land-use planning policies, programs and projects is to build integrated, balanced, sustainable, and socially just territories that meet the needs of citizens while also protecting resources for the future.

Conceptual framework

Land-use planning involves organizing the uses and occupations of the territory based on its potentials and limitations.

At the same time Land-use planning is:  

  1. a public policy, inasmuch as it involves collaborative decision-making of the social, economic, political, and technical actors in order to achieve an organized occupation and use of the territory.
  2. a scientific discipline, which forms part of the government’s sustainable development policies.
  3. a technical-administrative process, as it guides the regulation and promotion of the location and development of human settlements and economic, social, physical development, and spatial activities.

FAO defines land-use planning as “the systematic assessment of land and water potential, alternatives for land use and economic and social conditions in order to select and adopt the best land use options.”

Despite the various definitions of Land-use planning, a few common elements can be identified in all of these definitions: (i) the objective of balanced development and the physical transformation of the space according to a common strategy; (ii) an approach that moves from local to national spaces; (iii) the need for an interdisciplinary, integrated approach; and (iv) the direct consequence of the interaction of competencies and administrative powers.

The objectives of land-use planning policies vary depending on the level at which it is applied. The interaction between the three levels of territorial planning (at the national, regional, and local level) is necessary since the objectives and components at each level relate to each other:

National Level

National Level

At this level the orientation is more political than technical; and is associated with national objectives and definition of policies, strategies, plans and programs, criteria and procedures for  Land-use planning and the allocation of resources. A national land use plan may encompass: (i) land use policy - competing demands on land are balanced between different sectors of production, food economy, export crops, tourism, protection of flora and fauna, private and public amenities, roads, industry-; (ii) the coordination of sector agencies involved in land use; and (iii) legislation on such issues as land tenure, forest authorization, and water rights.

Regional Level

Regional Level

The regional level is associated with the functions of regional governments. This includes formulating, approving, executing, evaluating, directing, controlling and managing plans and policies in environmental and land-use matters, in accordance with the plans of local governments. Aspects such as the definition of land use, territorial integration, physical and environmental planning are incorporated.

Local Level

Local Level

At this level are the considerations of local governments. These considerations include regulating zoning, urban design, territorial planning, infrastructure, neighborhood planning, and executing corresponding plans. The local level includes not only city, municipality, town, or villages, but also agrarian nuclei (as in Mexico, they have legal powers to administer their lands and natural resources), communal lands (within municipalities), protected areas (which can be within a municipality or span several); and other communities that have legal powers to manage their lands and natural resources.

Land-use planning promotes actions in different areas of sustainable development: 

  1. Poverty and equality
  2. Productivity and human settlements
  3. The environment and natural disaster prevention
  4. Property and land tenure 
  5. Governability and citizen participation 

The Participatory and Negotiated Territorial Development (PNTD) and Green Negotiated Territorial Development (GreeNTD) approaches of the FAO’s Land and Water Division are based on experiences in the field of Participatory Land-use Planning and the concerted management of natural resources. 

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