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I have a series of polygons representing parcels of land. I would like to calculate the distance of each polygon from the coastline. I also have a polygon of the entire region of interest, i.e. an island.

What is the ArcGIS Desktop 10.1 procedure to achieve what I am after?

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On the assumption that you have an Advanced level license (you do not specify otherwise), I think you should try the Near (Analysis) tool:

Determines the distance from each feature in the input features to the nearest feature in the near features, within the search radius.

...

  • Both input features and near features can be point, multipoint, line, or polygon.

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