Économie et Statistique n° 444-445 - 2011Land and agriculture, recent developments
Assessing the Effects of Environmental Zoning on Urban Growth and Farming
The promulgation of new environmental protection areas in regions most subject to urban pressure is sometimes criticized. Opponents argue that they reduce land supply and therefore harm the economic and social development of the rest of the municipality. The problem is that the preservation of natural environments makes it necessary to densify already urbanized areas and curb the spread of new areas approved for construction. An assessment of the Provence - Alpes - Côte-d'Azur (PACA) region using a quasi-natural experiment method (difference-in-differences methods with matching) shows that the number of dwellings has risen at a more sustained pace in municipalities with a strict environmental area than in similar municipalities where such areas have not been established. Moreover, such situations do not result in a decline in the farming population. These findings undermine the argument that environmental zoning is an impediment to urban growth and the preservation of agriculture. At sub-municipal level, construction has been significantly curbed in the immediate vicinity of strict environmental areas by comparison with other natural areas in the municipality. In the PACA region, strict environmental areas therefore provide effective protection of natural environments. We would therefore argue that environmental zoning contributes to the emergence of amenities that help to make their “host” municipality attractive while promoting the goals of protecting natural environments and of urban densification.