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Land Use

Do you ever think about how the surrounding land is used? Why some areas of land are converted to agriculture or why some are kept natural? Why are others industrial or urban areas? The way land is used is important to society, but why is this? This explanation will expand on what land use is, the different types of land use, and the negatives of varying land use. Keep reading more to deepen your understanding of land use.

Land Use Definition

Let's explore the definition of land use.

Land use is how society uses and modifies the land to suit its needs.

Land use is a human-environmental interaction. Humans use the land provided by the natural environment, but humans also modify the land, thus human interaction with the environment takes place.

What can land use tell us about society? It can tell us how developed a society is, depending on what type of land use is chosen for the land. For example, a more developed society would contain a higher amount of urban land use. Additionally, we can also see the effect the type of land use has on the environment, therefore showing us society's impact on the environment.

Land Use Geography

The land is changed by society for specific purposes. Whether the use is to provide food, provide shelter, utilize the land for production and manufacturing, or use the land as a recreational area, the land is utilized in a variety of methods. Let's take a look at different types of land use:

Land Use TypeExplanationExample

Land Use, Agricultural Land, StudySmarterFig 1. Agricultural Land.

This is altering the land to produce varying agricultural products for human consumption, such as growing crops or keeping livestock.

Wheat field.


Industrial land use includes the production and manufacturing of different goods, it includes large-scale sites.



Commercial land use is converting land to be able to sell goods and services.

Shopping malls.


Residential land use involves the building of properties to live in.

Housing estate.


This is converting land for human enjoyment, such as parks.



Transportation land use is altering the land for various transportation methods.

Roads, highways, plane runways, railways.

Table 1

Urban Land Use

Urban land use refers to the way we use the landscape in urban areas. Of the land use types, five are urban land uses. These include:

· Industrial

· Residential

· Recreational

· Commercial

· Transportation

Land Use, Urban Land, StudySmarterFig 2. Urban Land.

Urban land use can be identified as land for the use of retailing, management, manufacturing, residence/housing, or industrial activities. These activities are for the benefit of society and the economy and ultimately aim to increase the development of a location.

Land Use Models

In geography, land use was first used to gain an understanding of crop patterns in agricultural landscapes. From this came the Von Thünen model. This model explained the choices farmers made regarding crop choices and consequently agricultural land use patterns. The idea suggests that the two main factors in decided land use are accessibility (transportation cost) and the cost to rent the land in question. This model can be used for the reasoning of urban land use too. Therefore, the land use that produces the highest amount of rent with the best accessibility cost is where that land use will be found.

Take a look at our explanation of the Von Thünen Model to gain more in-depth knowledge of this model.

Importance of Land Use

Land use is extremely important to society. The way that land is used (or left unused) signifies the needs of society and whether or not these needs are adequately met. This means that the planning and management of land use are highly significant, as it ensures problems do not occur (this will be expanded on later in this explanation).

The United Nations has suggested that land use can contribute to the prevention of climate change impacts. This can be done by changing the land to benefit the environment. For example, the sustainable management of forests and other ecosystems, rather than converting land to urban use for societal benefits. This will help mitigate climate change because it can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released by maintaining forests and trees.

Land Use Policy

Land use policies are introduced to help manage the land. They are rules and regulations on what is allowed to be used for the land. They allow the planning and management of land types to determine which areas of land should be chosen for which uses of land.

The benefit of land use policies permits the development of societies (through managing urban land use), whilst also maintaining the environment and its natural resources.

Land Use Problems

Although land use provides a great opportunity for the development of society, it can also be the cause of some serious problems.

Firstly, land is a finite resource. On Earth, there is only so much land that society can utilize, and once this land has been used, there will be no more. This means that current land use must be managed responsibly and sustainably to ensure as a society we do not run out of land.

What about other land use problems?

Environmental Impacts

Problems of land use are usually environmental issues, this is because land use often involves the conversion of natural land into urban land for societal and economic needs. The problem with land use is that as more people relocate or use more urban spaces, more natural spaces are lost.


Within land use, deforestation is frequently a process that occurs to create more suitable land for the desired outcome. This can range from agricultural practices to retail, to recreation, to housing. Deforestation leads to other issues, such as soil degradation and erosion, habitat loss and loss of biodiversity, and the release of greenhouse gas emissions. In very serious cases, deforestation can lead to desertification, when the land is completely degraded of any nutrients and cannot be used for agricultural purposes anymore.

Habitat Destruction

All types of changes in land use can lead to habitat destruction, and this can cause a loss of biodiversity. In fact, land use changes are one of the major causes of this. The change in land destroys the habitat; therefore, it can no longer support the species that relied on the habitat, causing the species to disappear over time, eventually leading to a loss of biodiversity, and sometimes even extinction.


Continued land use of one particular type, especially agricultural, can lead to a monoculture. Monocultures are an area of land that only grow and produce one type of crop. A lack of diversity in land can create issues such as disease and pests.

Land Use, Monoculture Potato Field, StudySmarterFig 3. Monoculture - Potato Field.

Decreased Water Quality

As land use changes, particularly agricultural or urban land uses, the quality of water can decrease. In farming, the introduction of nitrogen and phosphorus from chemicals and fertilizers can leech into surrounding bodies of water, polluting the water.

Spread of Invasive Species

Changes to land use can impact all species, one way in which this is done is through the spreading of invasive species, and this can affect the whole ecosystem. Land use change, especially altering land from its natural state through methods such as deforestation, can lead to the spread of invasive species. This can also have an economic impact due to the high costs of removing the invasive species.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Land use change can increase the amount of greenhouse gas emissions, contributing to global warming and therefore climate change. This is especially apparent in the deforestation of agricultural land, as it releases high amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.


The process of land conversion releases gases and creates air pollution and litter. Not only this, but urban areas are more prone to producing pollution than natural land. Therefore, after the land has been altered, it may contribute more negatively to the environment as an urban area.

Soil Degradation and Erosion

Intensive farming practices and urban construction can lead to soil degradation and erosion. Methods such as forest fires, deforestation or over-grazing remove plants that protect the soil, allowing it to become exposed. Once exposed, the soil can easily erode due to heavy rainfall and this removes the nutrients in the soil, leaving it to be severely degraded.

Societal Impacts

Although there are many environmental impacts of land use, there are also social problems associated with land use.

How Environmental Impacts Affect Society

All the environmental impacts that occur as a consequence of land use can also affect society. For example, the environmental impact of global warming due to land use, such as deforestation, can affect humans. Global warming can help increase the spread of diseases, particularly mosquito-bourne diseases such as malaria or dengue fever, in society. This is because these types of diseases thrive in warm environments, and global warming is causing more locations to increase in temperature, which increases the chances of these diseases becoming commonplace in those locations.

Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl is an increase in the number of people that use or live on urbanized land. Which does increase energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and traffic congestion. It also creates urban density and decreases accessibility to services as it becomes increasingly busy in urban areas. These areas are also associated with less interest in a sense of community.

Infrastructure Congestion

As urban areas increase, the cost of producing infrastructure in urban areas increases. A lack of development of infrastructure such as roads can lead to infrastructure congestion. This means the demand for the building of the infrastructure cannot be met and this can limit societies development.

Land Use - Key takeaways

  • Land use is the way in which society uses and modifies the land.
  • The Von Thünen Model is an example of a model that suggests land use is based on accessibility (cost of transportation) and location rent of agricultural land.
  • Agricultural, industrial, commercial, residential, recreational, and transportation are the main six different types of land use.
  • Land use policies are used to manage and plan land use in a more sustainable way.
  • Environmental impacts of land use include deforestation, habitat destruction, monocultures, the spread of invasive species, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and soil degradation. Social impacts include urban sprawl and infrastructure congestion.


  1. Fig 1. Agricultural Land (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Agricultural_land,_Linton_-_geograph.org.uk_-_2305667.jpg) by Pauline E (https://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/13903) licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en).
  2. Fig 2. Urban Land (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Qiaoxi_business_district,_Zhongxing_West_Street,_Xingtai_City,_2020.jpg) by Wcr1993 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Wcr1993) licensed by CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/deed.en).
  3. Fig 3. Monoculture - Potato Field. (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tractors_in_Potato_Field.jpg), by NightThree (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:NightThree), licensed by CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/deed.en).

Frequently Asked Questions about Land Use

The Von Thünen Model is a land use model. Other models include Burgess' Concentric Zone Model, Hoyt's Sector Model, and Harris and Ullman's Multiple Nuclei Model.

The importance of land use is so that land can be managed sustainably to meet the needs of those that require and use the land.

The effects of land use are mostly environmental and societal. They include deforestation, habitat destruction, monocultures, decreased water quality, spread of invasive species, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, soil degradation, urban sprawl, and infrastructure congestion.

The types of land use include agricultural, industrial, commercial, residential, recreational, and transportation.

The different types of land use in urban settlements include industrial, commercial, residential, recreational, and transportation.

Final Land Use Quiz


What is land use?

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How society use and changes to land for its benefit.

Show question


Fill in the blanks. Land use can show how ____  a society is and how ____ impacts the natural environment.

Show answer


Developed, society.

Show question


Name the six main types of land use.

Show answer


Agricultural, industrial, commercial, residential, recreational, and transportation.

Show question


What is transportation land use?

Show answer


Using the land for transportation, such as railroads, or plane runways. 

Show question


Which land use type is not urban?

Show answer



Show question


List the environmental impacts of land use.

Show answer


Deforestation, habitat destruction, monocultures, spread of invasive species, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution, and soil degradation.

Show question


Name the social impacts of land use.

Show answer


Urban sprawl and infrastructure congestion.

Show question


The Von Thünen Model is a model used to explain land use.

Show answer



Show question


How can land use help minimize the impacts of climate change?

Show answer


Through maintaining natural ecosystems, rather than converting them to urban areas.

Show question


What do land use policies do?

Show answer


Help plan and manage land use to ensure the land is used sustainably. 

Show question


What is urban sprawl?

Show answer


When an increase in the number of people living in urban areas occurs. 

Show question


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