U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



Published in Landscape and Urban Planning.


The developed land area of the US increased by 14.2 million hectares between 1982 and 2003. Along with a projected US population increase to more than 360 million individuals by 2030 is an expected continuation of expanding rural land development. Related to population growth, rural land development and the associated loss of rural open space are expected to have a number of social, economic, and ecological implications. To gain greater insight into land development patterns, we used US Census Bureau and National Resources Inventory data to quantify per-housing-unit rates of land development during recent decades and to model future land development to 2030 for states and regions in the US. Based on these data, 0.50 ha of additional land were developed for each additional housing unit in the US. The numbers of hectares of newly developed land per additional housing unit were greatest in the South Central and Great Plains regions and least in the Pacific Coast and Rocky Mountain regions of the country. Combining population projections and trends in people per housing unit with development indices, we projected that developed area in the US will increase by 22 million hectares between 2003 and 2030, with the greatest absolute increases projected to occur in the Southeast and South Central regions of the US. We used sensitivity analysis to examine the impacts of changes in population migration patterns and per housing unit development patterns on increases in projected developed area.