Planner Speak: What exactly is open space?

What do you think of when you hear the phrase open space? Is it that parking spot that you were so happy to find right in front of the shoe store? Is it the extra storage area you reclaimed in the attic when your grown son finally took his boxes of comic books and actions figures to his own house? Perhaps you think of the space between Earth and other planets, or maybe the chorus of “Wide Open Spaces” starts playing in your head. The Dixie Chicks song probably comes closest to describing what planners mean when they talk about open space.

Open space (n.) is land that is undeveloped or only lightly developed. Meadows, woods, and wetlands, such as marshes and swamps, with no buildings on them are examples of undeveloped open spaces. A dog park, community garden, playground, soccer field, and  walking path through a natural or landscaped area could also be considered open spaces even though people have changed these areas and built small structures on them. These are all lightly developed open spaces.

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Land that was once developed but is now vacant can be converted into open space. A good example is the Main Terrain Art Park, which is located on Chattanooga’s Southside at the end point of long abandoned rail lines. Not only does the park encourage physical activity through exercise stations, a running track, and interactive sculptures, but it is also designed to filter and reuse stormwater. 


Open space can be used for recreation or conserved for its benefits to the natural environment. Many open spaces, such as Main Terrain, serve both purposes. Open spaces can benefit the environment by improving air and water quality, providing habitat for wildlife, managing stormwater, and reducing flooding.

The Trust for Public Land is a non-profit organization that works to create and protect open space. Local projects that they have been involved with include the University Greenway, North and South Chickamauga Creek Greenways, Stringer’s Ridge, and the Cumberland Trail. If you love open spaces, you can share why nature matters to you at

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