Thursday, June 18, 2020

Patterns of land-use in Europe

I had an email conversation where we discussed the different mindset many Europeans have about land-use when compared to Americans.

The woman I was conversing with lives in a rural area in Missouri.

I live in rural Michigan or perhaps the very outermost fringes of suburbia.

My partner-in-conversation attributed the difference to Europe not having a "pioneer ethic". European society is a tightly orchestrated dance much like the mechanism of a wind-up clock. Things have to mesh.

Over here, at least in the more rural areas, there are few restrictions on swinging our arms because noses are few and far between.

Formed by our histories
I had a boss who had been sent by the company to review European operations.

In a private conversation he shared that European cities were markedly different than American cities.

In an American city, it is difficult to know where the city limits are based on land-use patterns.

In Europe, he claimed, you could tell to-the-meter where the city limits were. The land-use went from developed/residential to agriculture.

Further, he said most residents lived in apartments and folks walked or rode public transportation to work.

That is what we call a testable hypothesis.

Let's compare two similar cities.

In the United States, I choose Lansing, Michigan because I am familiar with that city.

In Europe, I will use Graz, Austria because it is sort-of similar to Lansing and Austria is a land-locked country.

Lansing, Michigan, USA
You can click on the picture to embiggen

The transition from Lansing, proper to Lansing, suburbia. Pink line that runs through the "L" in Old Oakland is the dividing line.
Population density of about 3000 per square mile and evenly distributed across the area of Lansing.

Graz, Austria, EU
Population density of 6000 per square mile but the population is shoe-horned into about 40% of the area within city limits. The actual population density is 15,000 per square mile or five times that of Lansing.

Looked at another way, the population density of Graz is one person every 1850 square feet. And that 1800 square feet includes yards, streets, sidewalks, factories, water treatment plant and so on. Lansing weighs in at one person every 9300 square feet.

The population density in Eaton Rapids Township is about one person every 270,000 feet. That paucity of people is mind-bending to many Europeans and so is the fact that we can buy property and build in places like Eaton Rapids without obtaining government waivers for converting agricultural land into a mowed lawn.

Looking at the land-use at the city limits the difference between "in city" and "not in city" is much clearer in Graz than it is in Lansing.

Through much of history, Europe was convulsed in wars every thirty years. It appeared that every 1.5 generations had to relearn the same painful lessons. No lesson has more authenticity than your own scar-tissue or missing limb.

One of the major lessons for a land-locked country is that you cannot always rely on the efficiencies of Guns-or-Butter division of labor. You may make the best firearms in the world but it is for naught if you cannot feed your population when adversity on the battlefield limits your access to ports controlled by other countries.

We can learn a bit from the Europeans. We might end up in a different place because we start from a different place.

A white-knuckles, subsistence diet of 400 pounds of maize a year requires 6000 square-feet-per-person. That assumes an unfertilized, non-hybrid yield of 40 bushels per acre.

In theory, Lansing could find that 6000 square feet per person within city limits and have 3000 square feet per person left over for beans, cabbage, tomatoes, apples and rutabagas/canola.

Could they/Would they?
People do surprising things.

It is impossible to say what would happen. Some would. Most would waffle. A few would decide it was easier to steal from those who planned, scrimped, invested, sweated.

Apropos of nothing in particular; it is worth noting that protein can be recycled by passing it through a laying hen and many times the manure is easier to spread than the original protein source. Furthermore, some plants like pears and apples become more susceptible to diseases when manured with too much high-Nitrogen manures. Better to save those manures for corn (maize), cabbage, potatoes, turnips, kale and other greens.


  1. I noticed the Population distribution when stationed in rural Germany, next to the Holland line. In Farm country, each village is 1.5 to 2 miles from the next, so the farmers would walk .75 to 1 mile to their farthest field, work all day, then walk back.

    That's what 2-3,000 years of agriculture and residence settled on.

    The cities... yeah they are much more dense, as are the villages. Tiny front yards, houses side by side, narrow roads and sidewalks.

    In Holland, the tax situation is based on square footage of the houses, so the stairs (lost living space) are so steep as to be nearly ladders.

    Regarding protein, I have had that exact discussion with the adult sons, and my friends and acquaintances that expressed an interest in showing up here, post-SHTF.

    Its good to have detailed plans, as long as you remember that the definition of a plan is: "something from which you deviate"

  2. In "Migrations and Cultures" by Sowell he talks about German immigrants to Argentina. Their farming practices coupled with about 3% of the land produced more than the estancias. Another example of the efficiency is found in the Amish. Pretty clear to me that they are not poor. Both groups have learned to extract the maximum from minimal resources.