US land use statistics from the 2011 Statistical Abstract of the United States

I have always enjoyed reading or looking through almanacs or statistical abstracts: there is so much interesting information from crop production to sports results to country profiles and more. Piquing my interest, the New York Times has a small sampling of statistics from 2011 Statistical Abstract of the United States.

One reported statistic struck me: “The proportion of developed land reached a record high: 5.6 percent of all land in the continental U.S.” At first glance, I am not surprised: a number of the car trips I make to visit family in different locations includes a number of hours of driving past open fields and forests. Even with all the talk we hear of sprawl, there still appears to be plenty of land that could be developed.

But the Statistical Abstract allows us to dig deeper: how exactly is American land used? According to 2003 figures (#363, Excel table), 71.1% of American land is rural with 19% total and 20.9% total being devoted to crops and “rangeland,” respectively. While developed land may have reached a record high (5.6%), Federal land is almost four times larger (20.7%).

Another factor here would have to be how much of the total land could actually be developed. How much of that rural land is inaccessible or would require a large amount of work and money to improve?

So whenever there is a discussion of developable land and sprawl, it seems like it would be useful to keep these statistics in mind. How much non-developed land do we want to have as a country and should it be spread throughout the country? How much open land is needed around cities or in metropolitan regions? And what should this open land be: forest preserve, state park, national park, open fields, farmland, or something else?

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