Although Tennessee has great expanses of rural countryside, land is not limitless.  Communities need land for everything from neighborhoods to downtowns, from sidewalks to highways, and from large industries to small farms.  Coordination among local governments and citizen involvement is needed to achieve efficient development.  It is also important to set aside land for parks and wildlife to ensure conservation of plants, animals and natural resources.  Planning and zoning can help people, places and Nature to coexist.  There are many ways Tennessee is working to keep our lands protected from pollution.

photo of trail leading into forest

What are the benefits of green space?

Green spaces come in many shapes and sizes including parks, gardens, greenways, tree-lined streets, forested areas, grassy fields, rooftop gardens and biowalls. Each of these independently, and within a larger network of green spaces, can play an important role in making cities and towns more beautiful, safer and healthier places to live, work and play. Green spaces can impact temperatures, water and air pollution in urban environments, and in turn potentially improve human health. More
on the health benefits of greenspaces can be found in the World Health Organization’s Green Spaces and Health report.

How can open land encourage physical activity?

Since World War II, the American landscape has changed. The growth of suburbia was fueled in the 1950s and 1960s by a growing trend in automobile ownership and government-subsidized road-building projects. Soon residential areas were well separated from commerce and industry. Education and recreation had distinct locations within a community. Shopping moved from the center of town to suburban shopping centers and malls. Rarely could residents get from one place to another without getting into an automobile. Before long, pedestrian walkways, tree-lined streets and older neighborhoods were often demolished to make way for wider roads and interstate highways.

Today, designing walking trails and safe bicycle paths within open land can promote increased physical activity. People can recreate in the open space by playing pick-up or organized games educate themselves about the environment that can lead to healthier communities and healthier people.

What are the benefits of trees?

Can you put a price tag on a living tree? Trees absolutely enhance a community. Trees mark the seasons. Trees benefit a community by absorbing odors and pollutant gases making cleaner air. Trees clean water by providing a break where the water hits the trunk and falls to the earth below allowing natural filtering of the water. Trees provide wildlife habitat, especially for squirrels, birds and bees. Trees provide temperature control by shading homes, streets and low-rise buildings. Trees can cool a city up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit. A tree can provide flood control by absorbing water and preventing runoff. Trees combat climate change by carbon sequestration, absorbing carbon dioxide and removing and storing the carbon while releasing oxygen back into the air. Trees help our mental health by reducing mental fatigue, providing access to nature and healing. Studies show tree-planted properties and neighborhoods can raise property values. Studies have shown greener neighborhoods report less violence. Trees can provide jobs in fields such as parks and recreation, wooden products, or pulp and paper.

Why have natural areas and forests?

Natural Areas support rare, threatened or endangered plants or animals, state significant natural communities or high quality common elements. States encourage voluntary conservation of significant natural lands and forests in both private and public ownership. Landowners of natural sites and forests play a crucial role in the conservation of the natural heritage resources found on their properties. Species and natural communities are often lost simply because a landowner is unaware of their existence and management needs. Natural areas and forests offer enjoyment such as physical activity, solitude, along with research of plant and animal species and landforms of interest.

Often people think that the term “natural area” means that a piece of land must be left alone and not managed to be natural. However, natural areas are managed using specific guidelines in order to preserve and/or restore natural communities or wildlife habitats. Natural area and forest caretakers must control factors such as invasion by exotic species, fire exclusion, altered streams and water systems, landscapes fragmented by roads, pipelines and development as well as many other threats in order to manage and maintain the character of the areas.

Does land conservation pay?

It’s been estimated that America loses over 5,000 acres to development every day. Often we don’t see the change until it is too late. Land conservation is used to protect special places and a landowner’s property for future generations, forever.  Conservation makes a promise that the land will always be there – for us to use. Conservation supports jobs in industries like agriculture, forestry, tourism and recreation.

We need land for good health including places to play and explore, to exercise and let go of stress. We need the land for vibrant communities such as gardens, parks and trails and for places where communities can get together. We need the stories rooted in the land, so we can explore who we are. We need the beauty of the land to inspire us. So even though these needs are not readily measurable, conserving land does pay dividends to the people and communities every day in the form or protecting forests and endangered species, preventing additional land loss and providing recreation opportunities and areas.

What are types of land conservation?

Working land programs, land retirement programs, land trusts, conservation easements, private reserves, donating land and conservation buyer projects are just some of the land conservation programs available to landowners and communities. These programs have successfully protected millions of acres of land while keeping it in private hands and generating significant public benefits. Groups like the Land Trust for Tennessee and The Nature Conservancy protect land by ownership of some two million acres in the United States.

What are geology and land maps?

Published maps show the geology or rock types beneath the soil surface of the ground and other maps such as soil survey maps or flood plain maps can help people understand the types of soils and show the how susceptible the land is to flooding. These maps can also provide information on the stability of soils and slopes, depth to water, type and nature of the bedrock below the soil and physical characteristics about the soil and land itself.  Maps are available from a variety of sources including the Tennessee Geological Society.

Why are zoning policies important to health?

Zoning is a land use planning tool.  Zoning has been used in urban, suburban and rural settings.  Zoning means what can go where.  What goes where can have a major impact on health.  Zoning policy can influence neighborhood factors that lead to health outcomes such as physical activity, violent crime and obesity.  Zoning can be used to restrict or prohibit certain land uses in certain areas.  For example, zoning can prohibit a landfill or concentrated animal feeding operation from being located in an area that could reduce residential property values or quality of life.  Zoning can encourage certain land uses.  For example, mixed use zoning can increase density connecting people and places leading to more active transportation and physical activity.  Zoning policies can encourage or require healthier options such as sidewalks, bike lanes, affordable housing or green spaces.  Effective zoning policies can increase property values and decrease health inequities.

Why are farms and food security important to health?

The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) definition of food security is “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life.” Food security comprises several different components, including food access, distribution of food, stability of the food supply, and the use of food.  In order to feed a world population expected to grow to 9 billion people by 2050, the world will have to double its current food production, all while climate change increases droughts and leads to less predictable rains. Rural agricultural development will be needed to produce enough food for people. Maintaining food security is necessary to ensure people have access to affordable healthy and nutritious foods.

Government partners

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC)

Tennessee Department of Agriculture (AG)

U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Learn about Land and Cleanup

Additional resources

Urban Forest Council 
Urban Trees

The Nature Conservancy
To learn about private land conservation

Tennessee Urban Forest Council

Tennessee Environmental Council

Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association

The Land Trust for Tennessee