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Analyzing the development activities in Houston and Los Angeles

Following our recent post on tracking urban development with satellite images, this post introduces the areas where development has mostly occurred at the census tract level. In this post, our urban research team suggests an opportunity for tracking development using the National Land Cover Database (NCLD). We believe that it is always useful to understand the spatial distribution of recent development patterns which can hint the future demand. We expect to provide this opportunity in our platform so that our users can easily visualize and analyze the development pattern throughout the nation.

The NCLD data provides information on the level of development as a raster image, which has been summarized in one of our recent posts. In this post, we focus on the areas that are marked as developed regions having 20% or higher intensity of impervious surfaces. Impervious surfaces are mostly due to construction signaling development. We estimate the percentage of developed areas at the census tract level for 2008 and 2019 and measure the changes between the two time periods. The changes could be low for areas that are already well developed or areas that are underdeveloped. While most of the large changes seem to occur in suburban areas, our analysis shows that some areas have received more attention from developers.

The map below shows the development pattern of Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land MSA in the Houston area. There is less development that has occurred in the downtown area mainly because it was already developed with high intensity. On the other hand, what we can see is that the development pattern has progressed towards the north and west side of the region. For instance, areas such as Brookshire, Waller, and Tomball have experienced a greater intensity of development.

Another example comes from the southern California region, which consists of three MSAs (e.g., Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, and San Diego-Chula Vista-Carlsbad MSA). What we can see from the example below is that most of the areas located within the Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim MSA had experienced development less. This could mean several things; the area could be already well developed, the area could have less opportunity for development, and the area could be less attractive due to high land prices. Instead, we can see that much of the development focused on the areas such as the Chino Valley, Perris Valley, and Beaumont. In other words, those areas have great signals for development demands which are attractive.

In the coming weeks, we plan to launch this feature on our platform. What you have to do is to only select the periods you wish to compare (e.g., it will be available for 2008, 2011, 2013, 2016, 2019) and the spatial level (e.g., census tract, zip code, county, or MSA). From the visualization, you can have an understanding of the areas that have experienced development in recent years and come up with an idea of where the development in the future will (or should) take place!

Q & A?

Jay Ha

Head of Urban Research

Doctoral student in Urban Planning at USC

Do you find our new feature interesting? Do you have any other components you wish to explore in our Market Stadium platform? Please feel free to reach out Jay (

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