A spatio-temporal view of historical growth in Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Kevin Kane, Joseph Tuccillo, Abigail York, Lauren Gentile, Yun Ouyang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


This study uses a spatio-temporal approach to analyze the historical development of Phoenix, Arizona. While historical narratives provide rich detail, there is also a strong quantitative tradition in urban growth research. Methods from urban growth models, ecological modeling, and spatial analysis provide sharper intuition into the effect that urban change processes have on the growth trajectory of individual land parcels and the entire urban landscape. Phoenix, Arizona is a popular case study for urban growth because of its rapid, decentralized expansion and the hegemony of its suburbs and outlying areas. It is often seen as the epitome of post-World War II suburban sprawl. We digitize parcel maps of downtown Phoenix from 1915, 1949, and 1963 in order to investigate the impact of regional change processes on the city's historic core. Using transition matrices, join-count autocorrelation, and spatial Markov chains, we find that the purported emptying out of the downtown area following World War II was more complex than the common story of retail exodus. Despite an increase in so-called nuisance properties and poor institutional land use controls, nuisance parcels showed a propensity toward aggregation and were less likely to exist in close proximity to higher order uses. Finally, we find that Phoenix's downtown is continually homogenizing by land use type. This paper provides a parcel-level view of the impacts that drivers of change have on urban landscapes, demonstrating the usefulness of spatio-temporal approaches in understanding the development of an urban morphology during a critical period of urban change worldwide.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)70-80
Number of pages11
JournalLandscape and Urban Planning
StatePublished - Jan 2014


  • Historical urban growth
  • Land use change
  • Space-time analysis
  • Urban morphology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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