The curious untidiness of property and ecosystem services: a hybrid method of measuring place
Page, J, Brower, A & Welsch, J 2015, 'The curious untidiness of property and ecosystem services: a hybrid method of measuring place', Pace Environmental Law Review, vol. 32, no. 3.
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Theoretically, this paper builds on ideas of ecosystem services (ES) in landscapes, property theories of plurality and marginality, and the legal geography of localized place. Methodologically, we will explore three divergent ways of measuring ES in a propertied landscape. Substantively, combining property theory and spatial methods in this way will allow for future consideration of property arrangements that might be more optimal and representative of contextualized place.
Part II presents the qualitative method--a narrative description of the flow of resources and services across a transect from the mountains to the sea. Narrative is effective in describing the aesthetics and indelibly human values of landscapes. This sense of place is itself an ES, a cultural service. Part III turns to the state-of-the-art spatial modeling technique, Geographic Information Systems (GIS). GIS is Cartesian, rational, defensible, and replicable. It is useful for configuring and implementing all forms of property measurement and transaction--whether zoning, planning, purchasing, owning, managing, or subdividing. In its layers upon layers of detail, it captures the multiple dimensions and scales, in time and space, of ecosystems, landscapes, and property.
Part IV discusses property plurality, a nascent theory based on an instinctive understanding of property in land outside the mainstream private ownership model. We use plurality as our third method. It draws on diverse sources: different concepts of mapping property, the potential of property marginality to explain the truth of our relationships with land, and the simplistically appealing idea that property is because it is performed, constantly and ceaselessly. Part V addresses three key questions that combine and compare the methods of describing the landscapes of Tekapo and Taylor's. In Part VI, we ask what those combinations and comparisons mean for property and ES. Part VII concludes.
The methodological comparison reveals a curiosity: the more rational and detached the method of representation, the less recognizable the landscape. Lines dissecting landscapes tend to distort reality. They risk making somewhere appear as anywhere. In the case of ES, the inevitability of distortion may still be truthful. But in the case of property, the lines go further, so impoverishing the diversity of propertied relationships in situ that these relationships are rendered invisible. Property lines not only distort reality, they distort the truth of place. Anywhere becomes a propertied nowhere. Ironically, it is not the Tekapo Nowhere described in Part II. In the end, our criticism is not of GIS, but of an atomized, parceled, abstract view of property. Maps show gaps in property, not in maps.
This curiosity speaks to the question of untidiness of property and ES in landscapes. It suggests that the explanation for the untidiness is neither incomparability, nor under-theorization, but both. The empirics of place bell the cat. This has profound implications for property. Disparate though they may be, property and ES are two sides of the same coin. This is the paradox we wade into.