Land use

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Logo. Feature : Land use
One example for Feature : Land use
Land use describes the human use of land, for example fields, pastures, and settlements.



Land use describes the human use of an area of land, such as housing, commercial activities, farming, education, leisure, etc.

It is related to 'landcover', which describes the physical thing covering the land. The two concepts are complementary and can be used together. The land use might be 'military' but the land cover might be 'heathland' or the land use might be 'leisure' and the land cover might be 'grass': the form (landcover) is related to the function (land use). Note that in OSM Key:landuse is used also for mapping landcover and Key:landcover has quite limited use and meager support.

Many feature tags imply both a landuse and a landcover. For example, landuse=vineyard defines an area covered in grape vines and used to produce grapes.

As OpenStreetMap has evolved over time, land use is now mapped with a variety of tags including landuse=*, amenity=*, leisure=*, and tourism=*. See the table below for examples.

Generally, a piece of land is tagged with one land use only. Sometimes mappers give more detail within a larger area. For example a leisure=playground tag may be used on a playground that is fully contained within a particular landuse=residential area.

In addition, areas with tags indicating land use will in some cases intersect. See for example intersection of landuse=military, landuse=forest and protected area.

Following example is theoretical but possible to happen. Single location may be within following landuses at once:

How to map land use

Different techniques for mapping land use exist.

Mapping as nodes

Land use by its nature is an area. But if it's not feasible to map a land use as an area, then it might be mapped as node and updated to an area later. For example it is preferable to map landuse=cemetery as node rather than to skip it.

When mapped as a node some land uses like landuse=railway are useless and not worth the work, mapping single landuse=farmland area is more useful than mapping 1200 landuse=farmland nodes.

Mapping large uninterrupted areas

When first mapping a place many mappers draw large uninterrupted shapes around areas that are assumed to have a single land use (this technique is suggested on Typically these areas might be tagged with quite broad uses such as landuse=commercial, landuse=industrial or landuse=residential (where this is discussed further).

While this is useful as a starting point, it quickly becomes necessary to break these areas down to add more detail to the map - for example to add schools, health facilities, parks etc. into broad areas initially outlined as residential.

Mapping land use in more detail

There are two main approaches to mapping land use in more detail. They differ primarily in how they treat land dedicated to the public highway or other transport networks.

1. Mapping the reality on the ground

An example of a school and blocks of houses mapped separately, with the borders following the actual limits of the cadastral lots that in this case match usage on the ground.

The key to this method is to strictly draw the boundary around each land use following its boundary in the real world. For example to map the land use of a school draw the edge of the shape following the boundary of the land that is used by/available to the school; to map a residential area include land that actually belongs to the houses and their gardens/private driveways.

Land that is dedicated to the public highway (both the carriageway and the pavement/verge) is not land that is available for other uses i.e. you can't build a house on it, and so it shouldn't be mapped as such. While a landuse=highway tag has been proposed it is not currently in use and so land used as public highway should simply be left blank.

This method largely keeps the highway network lines and land use polygons separate making subsequent editing simpler and more accurate. In urban areas the result will be 'islands' of land use polygons in between the lines of the highway network.

2. Using highway centrelines

Another approach that some mappers have taken is to either draw land use polygons that extend over the public highway sharing nodes with highway centrelines, or to fragment the highway network and create land use areas from relations of the fragments. While this results in less drawn geometry subsequent editing is more complicated. This increases the risk of damaging not only the land use areas but also the highway network. It is also less accurate, extending adjoining land uses over land that is dedicated to the public highway.

How to tag land use

Note that there is an ongoing discussion on how to tag some types of land use. See Proposed features/highway and Forest

Table of some existing land use tags

The following table is a 'work in progress'. Click on the symbols in the headings to sort the tables in different ways.

Purpose Category Comment
Aerodrome (airport) Transportation aeroway=aerodrome or landuse=military + military=airfield
Allotments Agriculture landuse=allotments
Aquaculture Agriculture landuse=aquaculture
Basin Water landuse=basin - a man made water control or storage device. Used only for the (intermittently) water-covered area
Beach Natural or Developed natural=beach. leisure=beach_resort Beach is landform alongside a body of water which consists of loose particles.
Brownfield Developed landuse=brownfield - land scheduled for new development which was previously used for other purposes.
Cemetery Developed or Natural landuse=cemetery or amenity=grave_yard
College Developed amenity=college - an institue of Further Education (e.g. Junior College or Continuing Education)
Commercial Developed landuse=commercial - offices and non-retail services
Construction Developed landuse=construction - area currently under construction
Fallow Agriculture No specific tag has been documented. Fallow land often indicates that the land is used for agriculture see landuse=farmland or landuse=meadow.
Farm land Agriculture landuse=farmland and landuse=farmyard
Forestry Agriculture Some think there is no specific tag. landuse=forest is used by some for areas that are used to obtain forest products, by others simply for any tree-covered areas. See Forest for related tags and discussion of the situation.
Garden Leisure leisure=garden
Garages Developed landuse=garages (often within landuse=residential).
Graveyard Developed or Natural landuse=cemetery or amenity=grave_yard
Grazing Agriculture landuse=meadow for pasture used for grazing animals or for hay or silage for animals. There is no specific tag for low-intensity rangeland. For other areas of grass see Landcover.
Greenfield Other landuse=greenfield is used to describe land that has been scheduled for some sort of construction.
Greenhouses Agriculture landuse=greenhouse_horticulture
Highways Transportation No approved tag at present, but there is a proposal to use landuse=highway for the purpose.
Hospital Developed amenity=hospital
Industrial Developed landuse=industrial
Landfill Developed landuse=landfill
Meadow Agriculture landuse=meadow - also used for pastures
Military Military landuse=military, and optionally also military=naval_base, military=range, military=danger_area or military=barracks. For military aerodrome use aeroway=aerodrome and aerodrome=military or military=airfield.
Mine (open pit) Developed landuse=quarry - used for quarries and open pit mines
National Park Leisure boundary=national_park. See also boundary=protected_area
Nature reserve Leisure leisure=nature_reserve. See also boundary=protected_area and the discussion about terms (International consistency)
Orchard Agriculture landuse=orchard - also used for coffee, tea and palm oil plantations
Park Leisure leisure=park (sometimes smaller parks are included within landuse=residential.
Parking Transportation amenity=parking, amenity=motorcycle_parking or amenity=bicycle_parking.
Pasture Agriculture landuse=meadow - used for meadow or pasture
Plant nursery Agriculture landuse=plant_nursery
Plantation Agriculture landuse=orchard - for coffee, tea, banana and oil palm plantations
Quarry Developed landuse=quarry - also used for open pit mines
Railway Transportation landuse=railway
Recreation ground Developed landuse=recreation_ground - also see park
Religious Developed landuse=religious or amenity=place_of_worship
Residential Developed landuse=residential
Retail Developed landuse=retail
School Developed amenity=school. Sometimes within a landuse=residential area.
Salt pond Water landuse=salt_pond - used only for the intermittently water-covered area of the pond
University Developed amenity=university. Possibly included within a broader landuse category.
Village green Leisure landuse=village_green
Vineyard Agriculture landuse=vineyard
Waste water treatment Developed man_made=wastewater_plant

Challenges mapping land use

key:landuse values not used to indicate land use in all cases

Land use tags have been evolving over time and haven't always been used consistently. As an example landuse=forest has been used to indicate any tree-covered area rather than to indicate areas specifically used for forestry and the production of timber. In many cases these tags represent the landcover rather than only the land use.

Purpose Comment
Grass landuse=grass does not always describe a land use, it often describes a landcover.
Forest landuse=forest is not clearly distinguished from natural=wood as both usually are areas covered with trees. Determining if the trees are actually used and in what way is difficult. See Forest for more details.


National Land Use Database vs Openstreetmap

The following table compares land use classes from the UK National Land Use Database (NLUD) in Great Britain, and the commonly used land use tags on OpenStreetMap (mostly values of the key landuse=*).

If a tag sometimes describes more than one land use category, it is followed by an asterisk (*).

In many cases, a sub-category on the NLUD will be represented by several different features in Openstreetmap (for example, community services). In other cases, several categories may used the same tag (for example, landuse=industrial).

National Land Use Database OSM land use tags
Agriculture and fisheries Agriculture U011 landuse=farmland
Fisheries U011 landuse=aquaculture for specific areas of land or water used for aquaculture.
Forestry Managed forest U021 Usually landuse=forest (but sometimes mapped as natural=wood). See Forest
Un-managed forest* U022 Commonly natural=wood (but often mapped as landuse=forest). See Forest
Minerals Mineral workings and quarries U031 landuse=quarry - quarries, gravel pits and surface mines
landuse=salt_pond - salt evaporation ponds, salterns
Recreation and leisure Outdoor amenity and open spaces U041 leisure=park, leisure=garden, leisure=beach_resort, leisure=dog_park, leisure=playground, landuse=recreation_ground* (also sports). Sometimes landuse=village_green*, landuse=grass* (but see links for the issues with these two tags).
Amusement and show places U042 tourism=zoo, tourism=theme_park, tourism=aquarium, leisure=water_park and other values of leisure=* and tourism=*.
Libraries, museums and galleries U043 tourism=museum, amenity=library, amenity=theatre, amenity=arts centre, tourism=gallery; also see historic=*.
Sports facilities and grounds U044 leisure=sports_centre, leisure=pitch, leisure=stadium, leisure=golf_course, and other values of leisure=*. Also see landuse=recreation_ground.
Holiday parks and camps U045 tourism=picnic_site, tourism=camp_site, tourism=caravan_site, leisure=summer_camp
Allotments and city farms U046 landuse=allotments for allotment gardens. Also landuse=farmland is sometimes used for urban farms, leisure=garden is sometimes used for household gardens.
Transport Transport tracks and ways U051 landuse=industrial
Transport terminals and interchanges U052
Car parks U053 landuse=garages, amenity=parking
Vehicle storage [other than cars] U054 landuse=industrial, landuse=railway or landuse=depot
Goods and freight terminals U055 landuse=industrial
Waterways U056 waterway=riverbank (channelised rivers)
natural=water + water=* (canal, lock, etc)
Utilities and infrastructure Energy production and distribution U061 power=plant + landuse=industrial
Water storage and treatment U062 landuse=reservoir
Refuse disposal U063 landuse=landfill
Cemeteries and crematoria U064 landuse=cemetery
Post and telecommunications U065 landuse=commercial
Residential Dwellings U071 landuse=residential
Hotels, boarding and guest houses U072 landuse=commercial for general area.
Specific features mapped as tourism=hotel, tourism=hostel, tourism=guest_house, tourism=motel, leisure=resort, etc.
Residential institutions U073 amenity=social_facility + social_facility=* or amenity=nursing_home
Community services Medical and health care services U081 (amenity=hospital
Places of worship U082 landuse=religious or amenity=place_of_worship
Education U083 (amenity=school, amenity=university, amenity=college, amenity=kindergarten, etc...)
Community services U084 amenity=police, amenity=fire_station, amenity=townhall, amenity=courthouse, office=government, etc.
Retail Shops U091 landuse=retail or shop=mall
Financial and professional services U092 landuse=retail or landuse=commercial
Restaurants and cafes U093 landuse=retail
Public houses and bars U094 landuse=retail
Industry and business Manufacturing U101 landuse=industrial
Offices U102 landuse=commercial
Storage U103 landuse=industrial
Wholesale distribution U104 landuse=industrial
Vacant and derelict Vacant U111 disused:landuse=* or landuse=* + disused=*, also see landuse=brownfield
Derelict U112 abandoned:landuse=* or landuse=* + abandoned=*, also see landuse=brownfield
Defence Defence U121 landuse=military
Unused land Unused land U131 Not mapped as a particular landuse, but see Landcover and boundary=protected_area

GB discussion on the mapping of land use and land cover

In March 2021 the subject of how to map land cover & land use features, in relation to adjacent highways was discussed on talk-gb. There was a wide ranging discussion, but no clear consensus about how the features should be mapped. Where those features border with a highway, the mapper should avoid using shared nodes if possible.

See also

  • OSM Landuse Landcover: A WebGIS application to explore the OpenStreetMap database specifically in terms of land use and land cover information.