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Top Websites in Land Use and the Environment

Tony's Top 20:

Best Websites on the Intersection of Land Use & the Environment

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The following are the top 20 websites for especially useful resources on the environmental issues in land use, as selected by Professor Tony Arnold.  These sites are listed in alphabetical order.


The list will be revised from time to time.  If you would like to nominate a website, please email Professor Tony Arnold at  Multiple nominations are not helpful: sites are not selected on popularity.


Special thanks to Dustin Wallen for his research on these websites.



1. American Planning Association


The American Planning Association is the leading professional organization for planners and planning officials in the United States.  The APA website provides extensive information on land use and urban planning. The site includes information on legislation and policy, educational resources, and world-wide up-to-date planning news.  The knowledge exchange portion of the site includes a document center, which contains files that can be downloaded.  Among this available information are smart growth materials, amicus briefs, reports, and guidebooks.  The Planning Advisory Service (PAS) reports are particularly useful because they link high-quality research to practical tools and methods that can be implemented.


2. Center for Neighborhood Technology


The Center for Neighborhood Technology assists communities in seeking sustainable development that is good for both the economy and the environment and that makes better use of existing resources and community assets.  The center’s website provides a Stormwater Calculator, which calculates the value of green strategies in developing neighborhoods.  CNT’s website has the new Housing + Transportation Affordability Index, which is a mapping tool that incorporates transportation costs into calculations of affordability housing.  It also includes information on smart growth in older communities.  The CNT’s online resources archive is a clearing house of publications that are available in PDF form.


3. Center for Watershed Protection (and also


The Center for Watershed Protection provides local governments, activists, and watershed organizations with the technical tools needed to help protect streams, lakes, and rivers.  The CWP’s multi-disciplinary strategy includes watershed research, watershed planning, watershed restoration, education and outreach, and site design.  The organization’s website provides information about CWP projects and technical tools that can be utilized for watershed assessment, protection, and restoration.  The CWP site has a link to its sister site, The Stormwater Manager’s Resource Center (see second link above), which also has abundant resources on controlling and minimizing stormwater runoff.  Both sites offer sample ordinances.


4. Congress for the New Urbanism


The Congress for the New Urbanism promotes walkable, neighborhood-based development as an alternative to sprawl. CNU takes a proactive, multi-disciplinary approach to restoring communities.  Current initiatives include LEED for Neighborhood Developments, in partnership with the U.S. Green Building Council, and New Urbanist Land Development Regulations.  The CNU’s website also contains resources such as a new urbanist project database, complete with images, downloadable publications and reports, and a directory of new urbanists. 


5. Global Development Research Center


The Global Development Research Center is a virtual organization that focuses on knowledge transfer and information dissemination.  The GDRC functions as an information repository, a research and training center, and an educational center.  Its website resources are divided into five main categories, including Environment, Urban, and Community.  Each of these categories is divided into several themes, under which a wealth of information can be found.  Examples of themes on the site include Urban Environmental Management, Sustainable Development, and Urban Heritage and Conservation.  The pages for these themes, although each laid out differently, include sections for materials such as documents, tools, data, research, resources, projects, and news related to the topic.  They are also broken down into even more specific subcategories, providing the user an even more detailed search alternative. While many of the sites on this list (Tony’s Top 20) are focused on the U.S. or North America, the GDRC site offers insights form sources worldwide, reminding us that land use practices and environmental responsibility are global matters, not just local matters. 


6. Green Laws


Green Laws, part of the Louisiana State University’s Landscape Ordinance Research Project, provides summaries of community green laws that have been adopted across the United States.  This website particularly highlights legal standards and technical requirements for site development planning, tree preservation, and landscape ordinance legislation.  The site includes a Model Tree Ordinance and a Model Landscape Ordinance.  The site covers descriptions, standards, sample ordinances and legislation, and research resources on green infrastructure and practices.  The Self Study Guides portion of the site includes typical design components found in every landscape code, along with the technical requirements needed and specified to allow designers to design to that standard.  These PowerPoint presentations include information on street tree planting areas, street yard buffers, habitat preservation areas, on-site stormwater management facilities, and parking lot designs.   


7. Land Trust Alliance


The Land Trust Alliance assists, educates, and represents more than 1,600 land trusts across the United States, by promoting voluntary private land conservation.  The LTA’s website provides resources both for those who wish to conserve their land and for land trusts.  Information about public policy related to land trusts, news, and a downloadable copy of the LTA’s guidelines for responsible operation of a land trust are provided.  The LTA has been a major force in seeking and developing high standards of professionalism in land conservation and land trust management.  


8. Land Use Controls


The International City/County Management Association (ICMA), in conjunction with the U.S. EPA, provides a clearinghouse of information on land use controls. The website contains materials and documents from non-profit research groups, local governments, the private sector, and federal and state agencies, along with other sources.  The site’s e-Library maintains current land use control documents, including statutory and regulatory sections, guidance, model instruments, research papers, and reports. Documents are provided in abstract and full-text.  The user-friendly site provides numerous ways to search for materials, including by state, by issuing entity/agency, by type of site, by type of control, and by topics.  Additionally, separate pages are provided for more extensive information on both brownfield and superfund cleanups.


9. Law of the Land


Law of the Land is a blog on land use and zoning maintained by Albany Law School Associate Dean and Professor Patricia Salkin.  The blog is designed to provide a forum for the discussion of current laws, policies and decisions that affect land use.  It discusses new state and federal laws, court decisions, and actions at the local government level that guide or impact land use and community development.  The blog provides searchable topical categories for easy access to information.  Therefore, the site serves as a research site on major developments in land use law since the site was launched in 2007.


10. Local Government Commission


The Local Government Commission assists local governments in establishing and sustaining livable communities.  It does so by providing technical assistance, helping to develop and implement policies and programs, and providing networking opportunities to local elected officials and other community leaders who are working to create healthy, walkable, and resource-efficient communities.  While the LGC primarily serves local governments in California, the website contains vast resources that localities throughout the United States (and perhaps in other nations) could use.  The LGC website includes an entire section on the environment that contains information on land conservation, water and air quality, and trees.  Both the air and water quality pages provide information on how these topics relate to land use.  Additionally, there is an entire resources page dedicated to land use.  This page contains various types of information, including reports, fact sheets, articles, guidelines, and model projects.  The Center for Livable Communities is a national initiative of the Local Government Commission that helps local governments and community leaders be proactive in their land use and transportation planning, and adopt programs and policies that lead to more livable and resource-efficient land use patterns.


11. Northeast-Midwest Institute


The Northeast-Midwest Institute is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to economic vitality, environmental quality, and regional equity for Northeast and Midwest states.  The institute conducts research and analysis, develops and advances policy, evaluates key federal programs, disseminates information, and promotes economic and environmental practices and technologies.  The institute’s website provides an array of information, including detailed economic data on the states in the organization’s service region.  The site also provides an assortment of reports and policy studies on several topics, including brownfields, ecosystem restoration, and smart growth.  The institute also provides separate information pages for these important subjects.  The page on brownfields is especially helpful, with general information on brownfields, materials on federal brownfields legislation and the National Brownfields Coalition, information on disadvantaged communities, Congressional briefings, materials on sustainable development and urban revitalization, a list of research organizations and professional associations, as well as additional resources such as tools and reports.


12. Planetizen


Planetizen is an information exchange, gathering and disseminating information on urban planning from a wide range of sources on a wide range of topics.  The site includes forums, news, and editorials about planning, design, and development.  It also includes a blog and podcasts of the nationally syndicated radio program “Smart City.”  Planetizen’s annual lists of the best planning and development websites are also provided for several previous years.  This is a highly news-based website, collecting recent developments in planning and land use.


13. Smart Communities Network


The Smart Communities Network offers information and services on how communities can adopt sustainable development strategies.  The Network’s site includes case studies on communities that have benefited from sustainable development.  In addition, the site provides model codes and ordinances that other communities have used to implement sustainable development.  Technical and financial resources regarding sustainable development plans and projects are also available.  The SCN’s website includes separate pages for six major principles, including land use planning and green development.  Each separate page provides, among other items, general information, public involvement tools, and strategies related to the topic.   A collection of technical and non-technical sustainable development decision support tools is also included for several areas, again including land use planning and green buildings.  These support tools and their descriptions are listed along with contact information and the website where the tool can be found.


14. Smart Growth America


Smart Growth America is a coalition of advocacy groups that works to improve the methods of planning and building urbanized areas.  The coalition, which is comprised of national, state, and local organizations, focuses its efforts on policy development, research, communications, and building coalitions.  The group’s website provides a wide array of reports, resources, and news regarding smart growth.  This information is divided among the categories of smart growth, including pages on the environment, preservation and revitalization, and open space and farmland, as well as resources on smart growth in general.  Resources include guidebooks, studies, booklets, and articles.  Smart Growth America’s projects include urban vitality, vacant property revitalization, and state policy.    


15. Smart Growth Network


The Smart Growth Network is a forum for developing and sharing information about smart growth, raising awareness about the issue, and promoting smart growth best practices.  The site includes a list and detailed description of all smart growth principles and issues, as well as a wide array of information related to each.  This information includes a large number of guidebooks and case studies.  Related reports, articles, and websites are also provided.  Additionally, tools and resources that can be used to implement smart growth principles are included on the site.  The Smart Growth Network is part of the Sustainable Communities Network (see site #17 below), but it operates a separate website with distinct informational resources.


16. Southeast Watershed Forum


The Southeast Watershed Forum is a nonprofit organization dedicated to enhancing local watershed initiatives through education, training, and regional dialogue. The Forum strives to be a regional clearinghouse for successful case studies in watershed protection, restoration and management.  The website has many reports, as well as The Community Resource Mapper, which provides a free, user-friendly, online mapping service that will help communities integrate natural resource protection into their land use planning efforts. Visitors to the site can create maps at a county, watershed or state level, that compare impaired streams, impervious surface, protected lands, wetlands, State Wildlife Action Plans and much more.


17. Sustainable Communities Network


The Sustainable Communities Network provides a wealth of information on sustainable practices, similar to the Smart Growth Network.  The site conveniently provides information on different sustainability issues, such as how it relates to the economy, government, and protecting natural resources.  The site even goes so far as to provide information about sustainability as it relates to different types of economic sectors and a variety of natural resources.  A plethora of useful downloadable resources, readings, and case studies are provided for each of the Network’s six primary topic areas.


18. Trust for Public Land


The Trust for Public Land is a national, nonprofit land conservation organization dedicated to conserving land for parks, community gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural places.  The TPL provides an array of conservation services that help communities and agencies define conservation priorities, identify lands that should be protected, and plan networks of conserved land.  These services include assisting with conservation finance, aiding in conservation transactions, and providing research and education.  Research areas include: city park excellence; conservation finance; land and people; land and water; parks and health; benefits of parks; and the conversion of brownfields to parks.  Information can be searched by state or by topic.  State pages include updated news, articles, and success stories related to that particular area.  Topic pages include: brownfields to parks; conserving watersheds; economic benefits; and federal funding.  The site also provides numerous books and reports, as well as online access to articles from the TPL’s magazine. 


19. Urban Land Institute


The Urban Land Institute is a non-profit organization, founded in 1936, whose mission is to provide leadership in the responsible use of land and in creating and sustaining thriving communities worldwide.  ULI’s members represent an array of land use and real estate development disciplines, both public and private.  The ULI website highlights best practices by land developers nationwide, including environmentally sustainable and responsible practices.  The site includes publications created by the ULI that focus on land use policy and practice.  Especially helpful is the vast collection of policy papers and reports related to important land use and real estate issues.  Look for this collection on the “Research” page, under the “Policy Papers” heading.


20. U.S. Green Building Council


The U.S. Green Building Council works to expand sustainable building practices.  The USGBC is comprised of over 12,000 organizations that span the building industry.  This group’s members include developers, architects, manufacturers, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations.  The USGBC developed the LEED program.  The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria. The USBGC website provides numerous materials not only on LEED certification but also more generally on energy efficient and environmentally sensitive design and development of buildings and sites.  In addition, resources on the website include government tools, which provide sample green building ordinances, incentives, and guidelines, as well as green building project profiles and research.



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