Tracking RE development changes using satellite images with Market Stadium

Updated: Jul 6

Urban development has stagnated after the 2008 economic recession. Still, demand on development have increased in some part of the region during the past decade. In this post, our urban research team provides information on the MSA areas that have experienced more development than other areas by using the National Land Cover Database (NCLD) from the US Geological Survey.


NCLD offers land cover for multiple years from 2001 based on satellite images and provides information on the intensity of development. To add, the data includes a variety types of land cover such as forest, shrubland, cultivated land, and wetlands. In this post, we particularly focus on the developed areas: low, medium, and high intensity. See below for the details.


  • Low intensity: areas with a mixture of constructed materials and vegetation. Impervious surfaces account for 20% to 49% percent of total cover. These areas most commonly include single-family housing units.

  • Medium intensity: areas with a mixture of constructed materials and vegetation. Impervious surfaces account for 50% to 79% of the total cover. These areas most commonly include single-family housing units.

  • High intensity: highly developed areas where people reside or work in high numbers. Examples include apartment complexes, row houses and commercial/industrial. Impervious surfaces account for 80% to 100% of the total cover.

The map below shows an example of the data based on the case of Austin. From the data we can have an understanding on the areas with development with a focus on their density (i.e. intensity). The darker color on the map refers to high density development.



The map below shows the spatial pattern of regional development between 2008 and 2019. The dark blue colors indicate that there were more development (i.e. constructions) compared to other MSA units. For instance, Midland, TX showed more than a 70 percent increase in development intensity, while Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CA only showed a 1.4 percent increase. From the map, we can see that the MSA regions that experienced development over the last decade are clustered in Texas and Florida. On the other hand, MSAs located in the northeast and west coast region did not experience a notable development.



The map below shows the development change focusing on high intensity. Similarly, MSAs located in Texas and Florida relatively showed a high percentage of change compared to other areas. For instance, Midland, TX showed a 87 percent increase in high-intensity development, followed by College Station-Bryan, TX (26.4 percent). These numbers imply that those areas were less affected by the 2008 economic recession having larger development demands.



See the two maps below to have an understanding on what have changed and the areas that experienced development during the last decade.


< Midland, TX in 2008>


< Midland, TX in 2019>


Check out the top 10 cities that experienced large growth from 2008 to 2019!




Q & A?


Jay Ha

Head of Urban Research

Doctoral student in Urban Planning at USC


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