A Marketing Problem: 

Identifying Suburban/Urban Sprawl Areas in Central Ohio (Columbus, OH MSA)








The definition of suburbanization is as varied as the ways of measuring it.  A common understanding of suburbs often refers to the white flight out of the inner cities during the 1960s and 70s.  While geographers and sociologist have been interested in the variety of ways urban sprawl takes place, as a social problem, they have also been interested in the impact of urban sprawl on the environment.   The effect of living in suburban areas has increased the tendency to build larger single dwelling homes as well as longer commutes to and from the central city has increased the use of raw materials, such as air quality and rural areas (Kahn 2000).  Ironically, what makes suburban dwellers a concern for social scientist makes them a target for marketing and sales.



Measures of Suburban Growth


Jordon, et. al. (1998) in their paper entitled “U.S. Suburbanization in the 1980s” defined suburban or suburbanization as “the decentralization of population from the center of the urban place as measured by and exponential population density function.  Suburbanization does not necessarily imply moving out of the political jurisdiction of the city; rather it is simply a movement away from the center of the city.”   Viewing suburbanization as a gradient of density simplifies the measurement of suburbanization.  They found that density gradients decreased as you moved away from the central city and proved to be a less cumbersome means of measurement than struggling with the location of political boundaries.


The use of satellite imagery to estimate the spread of urban areas into more rural areas has been used as long as satellites have been pointing to Earth instead of the moon.  In a recent study conducted by Melesi, et. al., (2003) they used satellites to gauge changes in photosynthetic activity and thereby measure the change in urbanization.  In their study, they examined net photosynthesis (PSN) using MODIS satellite imagery to determine the extent of urban growth in the Mediterranean costal region.   MODIS provides global weekly photosynthesis estimates in 1 km spatial resolution.  The author’s state that satellite imagery provides a unique tool for examining changes in the Earth’s surface.  The advantages are:  it is inexpensive, it is consistent and it is repeatable.   In their research the PSN data was merged with night time light imagery to divide the costal areas of the Mediterranean into three groups:  1).  no settlements, 2) rural and peri-rural settlements, and 3).  urban settlements.  A political boundary file overlayed this image in order to assess the change in urbanization by county.  The authors concluded that the PSN data in conjunction with the night time DMSP-OLS data.  They argued that this methodology produced more spatially accurate results than traditional censuses, not only able to measure changes in land use but also population growth.


Lopez, Aide and Thomlinson (2001) used land use coverage photos in an analysis of the growth of Puerto Rico’s population.  Puerto Rico between 1977 and 1994 grew from being 11.3% urban to 27.4% urban.  This growth has come at the expense of land that could have potentially been used for farm land.  The growth of urban areas world-wide has become a major concern for demographers, geographers and economic development planners.  And on an island, such as Puerto Rico, a growing population without limits can put tremendous strains on the local economy.  Their study consisted of an analysis of DNR land use coverage photos in which the 14 land-use categories were combined into 2 urban/non-urban classes.  From their analysis the author’s concluded that urban growth is not a randomly occurring event, but growth that has purposefully utilized farm land. 



Jordan, et. al., 1998. “U.S. suburbanization in the 1980s,” Regional Science and Urban Economics, 28: pp. 611-627.


Kahn, Matthew E. 2000. “The Environmental Impact of Suburbanization,” Journal of Policy Management,” Vol. 19, No 4, pp. 569-586.


Lopez, et. al., 2001.  “Urban Expansion and the Loss of Prime Agricultural Lands Puerto Rico,” Ambio, Vol 30. No. 1, pp. 49 – 54.


Milesi, Cristina et. al.  2003. “Assessing the environmental impact of human settlements using satellite data,” Management of the Environment, Vol. 14, No. 1: pp. 99-107.