This article engages the debate about whether localism here defined as neighborly concern over land use is favorable or unfavorable for environmental sustainability. Many scholars in the Global North criticize localism for its misguided incentive structure favoring local advantage and amenities over regional coordination and more environmentally sensible land uses like denser housing. In the Global South, on the other hand, many scholars and advocates argue for localism as a democratic right and a key to greater participation in natural resource management (leading to more sustainable land use). Looking at the dynamic of advancing central-formal control and retreating local control, this article argues that there are broad similarities between the Global North and South and that there are broad dangers of a “reactionary localism” disorganized and defen-sive assertions of local interests that may have negative consequences for the environment. The article develops a case study of the national-local dynamic of land use control in Igembe, Meru County, Kenya and then considers how lessons from Kenya might be useful in the context of U.S. land use. Particularly, it is argued that local institutional breakdown in Kenya and the U.S. makes it harder to generate meaning around land use decisions and, hence, harder to enforce environmentally-oriented land use rules.