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Heterogeneity of Settlement Patterns on the Landscape: Spatially Contextualizing Urban-Rural Gradients

Authors: Michael Commons*, U.S. Bureau Of the Census
Topics: Urban Geography, Spatial Analysis & Modeling
Keywords: Urban, Rural, Census, Settlement Patterns
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Numerous definitions of “urban” and “rural” are aimed at describing complex settlement patterns and functional relationships. Yet a simple dichotomy is often used to identify an area as either urban or rural—commonly at a coarse resolution, such as an entire county. There is demand for a finer spatial resolution and contextualization of rurality and urbanization to better describe the landscape and its inhabitants. This presentation will first review some recent models and approaches used to describe rurality and urban-rural gradients. Upon this, the research presented here will provide two alternative approaches for contextualizing urbanity and rurality—one based on political areal units; the other, a more objective model, based on Euclidean distance. Depending on the scale of spatial aggregation, areas of rural and non-rural landscapes, and their inhabitants, are mixed together. This limits researchers, local organizations, and policy makers in their abilities to describe, summarize, or properly allocate funds across a heterogeneous landscape. A given location that is identified as rural or urban can be further described by its place in the broader landscape. This can easily become a complex process when applied across the diverse landscapes of the United States. However, the methodologies used for this research utilize basic, publically available data to provide spatially comprehensive, computationally simple, and yet informative descriptions of urban-rural gradients within multiple scales of spatial context. The purpose of this research is to inspire discussion around [spatial] definitions of settlement patterns; not to offer a formal delineation of landscapes into urban-rural gradients.

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