Using land as a lens : multi-scalar analysis of metropolitan structure and growth




Richter, Steven Michael

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The land surface, whether built or natural, plays a central role in the study of human and environmental systems in urbanized regions. Yet, instrumental and measurement inconsistency and imprecision have hampered the study of urban land. This work brings together the salience of urban land with the demand for more consistent and precise measurement. A review of large scale urban land studies details the evolution from rough estimates of urban land quantity to sophisticated and innovative research on the qualities of urban land, identifying an opportunity for planners to further leverage physical data. In particular, the spatially explicit National Land Cover Database – which includes land cover, urban imperviousness, tree canopy, and road coverage – provides a free, accessible, and powerful resource. Capitalizing on this opportunity requires a conceptual approach informed by urban ecological theory receptive to the complexity and non-linearity of urban social-ecological phenomena. This work proposes such a model – the Metropolitan Geographic Framework (MGF) – and applies it through two stages of quantitative analysis. The first is exploratory, relying on three data narratives to examine how the quantity of urban land (1. Urban Expansion) and its qualities (2. Urban Ecosystems) vary across space and time. These trends are further dissected across urban and suburban municipalities (3. Urban Governance). The exploratory stage identifies new trends in urban land, culminating with a series of research questions that inform future urban land research. During the synthesis stage of analysis, a simplified version of the MGF allows for integration of social and ecological data into multi-scalar modeling of urban expansion. After first conducting Ordinary Least Squares (OLS) for the entire study period, a Pooled OLS and Panel Regression test statistical relationships overtime. Modeling results identify how social-demographics, land use and transportation, regional economics, and physical drivers exhibit diverse impacts across the expansion gradient and over time. Both stages of analysis yield findings relevant to policy makers and planners while demonstrating the utility and flexibility of the MGF model. A common theme is the critical role the urban periphery in potentially mitigating expansive growth and decreasing urban ecosystem quality.


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