How can the geographical organization of the planet be conceived beyond the spatial dimension? Can zoning, a familiar planning tool for shaping cities, be a relevant device for organizing the non-city landscapes that support urban life? What kind of zoning would that be?
At the beginning of the 21st century, processes of planetary urbanization have transformed more than 70% of Earth’s surface. Less than 3% of global land cover corresponds to human settlements of any size and form. The rest consists of a variegated web of landscapes of agriculture, grazing, forestry, mining, circulation, and waste disposal, which constitutes the material basis of humanity. Thus, coordinating these non-city, “operational landscapes” of planetary urbanization becomes a key challenge. Sparsely inhabited and mostly activated through the appropriation of extra-human work (nature, machines…), these extensive landscapes cannot be conceived solely through their discrete spatial dimensions, since the processes through which they construct the bio-geo-chemical foundations of the planet exceed the spatial domain. It has been exactly the constant expansion of this bio-geo-checmial frontier that will need to be negotiated, as spatial frontiers are increasingly saturated already since the mid 20th century leading to a constant process of intensification of land uses. Yet, operational landscapes are deeply rooted in the geographies that constitute them. Specific in their locations and finite in their geometries, they require a rethinking of zoning as an instrument of planetary governance, in a way that would coordinate not just their spatial extents, dimensions, and arrangements, but also the intensity of the bio-geo-chemical processes through which they are interwoven with the unavoidably anthropogenic system of life. This short intervention explores the potentials of a hybrid zoning approach of both space – a finite (?) resource – and the bio-geo-chemical processes that constitute the material foundations of human life on earth, and their limitless (?) promise.