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Measuring Urban Sprawl and Predicting Land Use Change using Geospatial Technologies

In the last few decades, Pennsylvania has been urbanizing large amounts of land, while the total population has hardly increased. Much of the expansion of (sub)urban development has come at the expense of farmland, forest land, and other areas of open space, mostly as the result of low-density, sprawling development.
Photo Courtesy of USDA-NRCS

Photo Courtesy of USDA-NRCS

Sound land use planning and open space preservation are important issues in Pennsylvania, but currently very little quantitative information is available describing urban sprawl and land use change in Pennsylvania at a local level (county and sub-county).

There are no standardized and/or thoroughly-evaluated methodologies to measure sprawl, or to simulate urban growth/land use change at a local level. Some attempts have been made at defining quantitative indices to measure sprawl, but there is limited practical experience with these proposed sprawl indices. Most case studies concentrate on major metropolitan areas, so very little information is available on the performance of these indices perform in smaller urban, suburban or rural areas. Similar problems exist for land use change models that are used to predict future land use patterns.

The aim of this research project is to identify, evaluate, and potentially improve measurements of urban sprawl and several urban growth models along the full spectrum of development (urban, suburban, rural) using geospatial technologies in order to carefully track urban sprawl in Pennsylvania at a local level and to analyze some of its (potential) effects on agriculture. This type of information is important for sound land use planning and decision making at the state and local level.