Increasing Urban Planning Knowledge

Land use planning: How are decisions on land use made?

Although physical, economic, and social factors influence land use decisions, the characteristics and motives of stakeholders essentially dictate land use decisions.

Why are certain decisions on land use made?

You need to know these four influential factors as a Filipino Environmental Planner!

In 2018, I was part of a team of consultants engaged by the Municipality of Tiwi.

Tiwi is a first-class municipality in Albay.

It is known for its tourism activities and its various facilities for tourism.

The municipality is also exposed to multiple hazards, including tropical cyclones, volcanic eruptions, sea level rise, and landslides.

To promote sustainable urban planning and development, our team was engaged to formulate the Comprehensive Land Use Plan.

The main result of the comprehensive land use plan is the redirection of settlement expansion away from the east coast.

EnPTinio presenting proposed priority programs and projects at the Stakeholder Consultation Workshop,
EnPTinio presenting proposed priority programs and projects at the Stakeholder Consultation Workshop,

How were these land use decisions made?

In his 2004 book, “Property, Patrimony and Territory”, Professor Ernesto Serote featured a diagram regarding land use decisions.

The diagram showed the interrelations among physical factors, social factors, economic factors, the characteristics and motives of stakeholders, and land use decisions.

These interrelations result to decisions on land use.

diagram of land use decisions
Relationships among determinants of land use decisions

Physical factors: fundamental influences of land use decisions

Initially, land use decisions are based on the physical characteristics of land.

Land has four basic conditions (David 1975):

  • Land is finite
  • Land is immobile
  • Land has physical characteristics
  • Land can be of multiple uses

Physical factors for land use decisions include geomorphology, location, land cover, and climate.

Land suitability

Land suitability is the adaptability of land for a specific use.

To emphasize, the three primary considerations for land use decisions in the Philippines are slope, elevation, and soil characteristics of land.

These physical factors are the fundamental considerations for land suitability.

For example,  land for urban and agricultural uses are located in lands (1) with slopes less than 18%  and (2) elevations of less than 500 meters (Revised Forestry Code, Presidential Decree No. 705).

land suitability matrix
Land suitability matrix (Juanico, undated)

Climate change and land use decisions

Climate change is also a critical factor for land use decisions.

The Municipality of Tiwi is exposed to multiple hazards.

  • Floods and sea level rise in the east.
  • Storm surges in the coastal areas.
  • Landslides in the mountainous barangays.
  • Fault lines in the middle.

Barangay Tigbi, the commercial and political center of Tiwi, is potentially exposed to projected sea level rise.

The threat influences the proposed spatial strategy to drive development away from the east coast and inland where inundation is less likely.

draft land use plan
Draft land use plan for the urban areas of the Municipality of Tiwi. Encircled is Barangay Tigbi. (UPD Geography, LGU Tiwi)

Here are my past projects in local government planning…

Economic factors: costs and benefits of land use decisions

Land use decisions are influenced by the costs they incur and the benefits they generate.

In Prof. Serote’s diagram, economic are also affected by physical factors.

Land use decisions are made to use land to its potential, or at least to benefit certain operators or groups.

By making land use decisions, the operator can incur benefits in the form of money, amenity, or relative location.

The monetary benefits of land, whether through cash exchange or market valuation, can influence decisions on land use.

Non-monetary benefits like amenity also influence land use decisions.

  •  A farmer who owns agricultural land can harvest fruits and vegetables.
  • A realtor, on the other hand, feels secure with many residential units at their disposal.

Relative location as an economic benefit in land use decisions

Relative location of land is an economic benefit that is influenced by the physical factors of land.

Land near existing transit and infrastructure can incur less capital outlays but require higher recurrent costs in terms of land value and taxes.

Agricultural areas near sprawling urban centers are more likely to be converted into subdivisions than distant agricultural areas.

This is because of the perceived benefits and costs of the land use decision to convert.

The economic case for moving the Tiwi municipal center

In the case of Tiwi, the proposal to move the municipal center westward was assessed through the possible costs of required infrastructure and development constraints.

Barangay Oyama, which is considered as a potential new municipal center, is already part of the urban district.

Designating it as the new municipal center would entail less development costs.

Read: Techniques in Comprehensive Land Use Planning

Social factors: human relations affect land use decisions

People’s values, culture, and biases are examples of social factors that influence land use decisions.

  • People have personal aspirations.
  • People have general biases and prejudices.
  • People have political motivations.

Social factors also include dietary patterns. Because Filipinos love rice, agricultural lands tend to prefer rice over less water-intensive crops like corn.

Patterns of property ownership also influence the reclassification and conversion of land uses.  

When a government practices land banking, reclassification and conversion of land is easier.

Securing right-of-way is more complex when private owners and developers own pieces of land.

Case: BGC dispute

Social factors are also influenced by physical factors.

For example, the territorial dispute for Bonifacio Global City.

Makati City and Taguig City both want not only the economic benefits of the region.

They also want the pride of winning the case for territorial reign.

Also, the local government unit that obtains territorial rights for Bonifacio Global City also gets additional land area.

Additional land area can increase the amount of internal revenue allotment for local government units.

Map of territorial dispute between Makati City and Taguig City.
Map of territorial dispute between Makati City and Taguig City. (Exec8, 2014)

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The ultimate predictor: characteristics and motives of stakeholders

All land use decisions are dictated by the characteristics and motives of stakeholders.

land use decisions highlighted arrows
Stakeholders consider physical, social and economic factors, but ultimately determine land use decisions by their characteristics and motives.

When we were completing the Comprehensive Land Use Plan of Tiwi, the Mayor’s vision was supplemented with a proposal from our team and results from consultation workshops.

The Team did not completely adopt the vision of one person (the Mayor) but did not disregard it either.

Professor Serote categorizes stakeholders into two types: use value stakeholders and exchange value stakeholders.

  • Use value stakeholders want to have the optimum return of the land use decisions that they make. They oppose activities that reduce the adaptability of land. For example, use value stakeholders are unlikely to support land reclassifications and conversions of agricultural areas into urban residential areas.
  • Exchange value stakeholders aim to increase the market value of land. They are more likely to support commercial density and land conversions into urban areas.

Which type of stakeholder is your Mayor?

How about subdivision developers?

Or marginalized people groups?

good and great environmental planners
Good environmental planners organize spaces. Great environmental planners develop places.

How to become a Filipino Environmental Planner?


Although physical, economic, and social factors influence land use decisions, the characteristics and motives of stakeholders essentially dictate land use decisions.

  • Land use decisions that are physically impractical can still be pursued when powerful developers value financial benefits over costs.
  • Land use decisions that are socially unacceptable can still be pursued when influential leaders desire.
  • Land use decisions that are costly to implement can still be pursued when marginalized groups demand action.

These realities emphasize the need for true and deep stakeholder participation in land use decisions.

Ensure UPDATED local government plans!


  • Municipal Government of Tiwi
  • UP Department of Geography
  • University of the Philippines Diliman

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