The ecology of urban landscapes: Modeling housing starts as a density-dependent colonization process

William F. Fagan, Eli Meir, Steven S. Carroll, Jianguo Wu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


Data on permits for new housing starts are a key source of information on recent changes in the urban landscape of central Arizona, USA. Drawing primarily on the conceptual parallels between the process of urban expansion and the spatial spread of non-human species, we outline a nested series of 'colonization' models that could be used to study changes in urban landscapes through simulations of housing starts. Within our probabilistic colonization framework, the ecological principle of density-dependence (operating simultaneously on different spatial scales) governs the positioning of new housing units. These simple models afford a great diversity of possible spatial patterns, ranging from tight clustering of houses to urban sprawl to more subtle patterns such as aversion of housing developments from (and aggregation near) different kinds of landscape features. These models can be parameterized from a variety of types of governmental housing data. Ultimately, such a framework could be used to contrast development patterns among cities and identify pertinent operational scales and factors influencing processes associated with urbanization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)33-39
Number of pages7
JournalLandscape Ecology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001


  • Density dependence
  • Housing
  • Multiple spatial scales
  • Settling process
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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