Research ArticleENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES

Two centuries of settlement and urban development in the United States

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Science Advances  03 Jun 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 23, eaba2937
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba2937

Abstract

Over the past 200 years, the population of the United States grew more than 40-fold. The resulting development of the built environment has had a profound impact on the regional economic, demographic, and environmental structure of North America. Unfortunately, constraints on data availability limit opportunities to study long-term development patterns and how population growth relates to land-use change. Using hundreds of millions of property records, we undertake the finest-resolution analysis to date, in space and time, of urbanization patterns from 1810 to 2015. Temporally consistent metrics reveal distinct long-term urban development patterns characterizing processes such as settlement expansion and densification at fine granularity. Furthermore, we demonstrate that these settlement measures are robust proxies for population throughout the record and thus potential surrogates for estimating population changes at fine scales. These new insights and data vastly expand opportunities to study land use, population change, and urbanization over the past two centuries.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial license, which permits use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, so long as the resultant use is not for commercial advantage and provided the original work is properly cited.

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