Analysis of Land Use Change: Theoretical and Modeling Approaches
Helen Briassoulis, Ph.D.

Acidification The process of change in the chemical characteristic – acidity – of an environmental medium such as water, soils, ecosystems. It is characterized by a lowering of the pH (the measure of acidity) from its ‘normal’ basic (alkaline) values of around 5.5 to 7 towards lower values characterized as acid. This process has both natural and human causes although the later are help accountant for the speed with which acidification proceeds in the post-industrial era. Acidification concerns mostly water bodies (lakes and rivers), soils, and forest ecosystems.
Activity allocation model A mathematical model used to determine where activities will be located in a study area. Usually, the area is subdivided into zones and the model assigns activities to zones. Activities are measured variously; e.g. population, employment, residences, retail and/or office floorspace.
Adaptation An ecological concept which has been transferred to sociology in the context of human ecologic theories. It denotes the adaptation of the physical environment to the characteristics of the social groups that occupy an area or the opposite. Usually, adaptation is a mutual process between society and the environment.
Annulus The ringlike area included between two concentric circles
Appropriated carrying capacity The biophysical resource flows and waste assimilation capacity appropriated per unit time from global totals by a defined economy or population (Rees 1996).
Behaviorism/behaviorist A school of thought in psychology which appeared in the 1920s and 1930s. The American psychologist John B. Watson is one of its well-known representatives. It emphasizes objective, observable, and measurable characteristics and excludes emotions, feelings, experience. Organisms are considered to respond to stimuli from the external environment and from their biological functions. In the 1940s and 1950s, the new behaviorism relaxed the deterministic stance of the previous period and attempted to build an empirically-grounded theory of adaptive behavior which allowed room for intervening psychical factors, perception and verbal (nonmeasurable) expressions. B.F. Skinner is among the well-known newer behavioral psychologists. (Adapted from Encyclopedia Brittanica).
Bioclimatic zones An area on earth’s surface characterized by particular combinations of climate and biotic communities. Designations of bioclimatic zones include humid, temperate, arid, etc.
Biodiversity A collective term used to denote the variety and variability in nature. It encompasses three basic levels of organization in living systems: the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels.
Biome The largest land community unit which it is convenient to recognize. They are produced from the interaction of regional climates with regional biota and the substrate. In a given biome the life form of the climax climatic vegetation is uniform. E.g. the climax vegetation of the grassland biome is the grass although the species of dominant grasses may vary in different parts of the biome. The life form of the vegetation provides a sound basis for a natural ecological classification since it reflects the major features of the climate and determines the structural nature of the habitat for animals. (Adapted from E.P. Odum 1971, Fundamentals of Ecology).
Carrying capacity The maximum number of individuals of a species than an area can support. Alternatively, the maximum persistently supportable load of an area (Catton 1986 cited in Rees 1996). The carrying capacity of an area is usually constrained by limiting factors – such as water, nutrients, etc. Besides the environmental, the social and the economic dimensions are important in determining the carrying capacity of an area.
Climax community The final or most stable animal or plant community in a succession series; the final outcome of a slow, orderly progression of changes in communities in an area over time. A climax community is capable of maintaining itself indefinitely as long as the environment is not disturbed by, say, the introduction of some other species or some extreme geological or climate event.
Cobb-Douglas functional forms A particular mathematical form of a production function of an economic producing unit; i.e. of the relationship between the level of production Q and the amounts of inputs or factors of production – capital K and labor L. A simple Cobb-Douglas function is given by:


A, a, and b are econometrically estimated constants. Coefficients a and b have particular relationships which reflect whether the returns to scale of production are constant, increasing or decreasing. If the sum of a and b is constant, this means the production function reflects constant returns to scale; i.e. if all inputs are expanded in the same proportion, output expands in the same proportion.
Cohort-survival population projection technique A population projection technique which takes into account the age-sex distribution of the population as well as the influence of mortality, fertility, natality, and migration. An age-sex cohort is a group of individuals of the same sex within the same age range; e.g. 5-9 years old men. The population in each age-sex cohort is projected separately as each age-sex cohort is associated with different birth, death and migration rates. Female cohorts in the range 15-49 years old are also subject to different fertility rates within each age cohort. The projected populations in each cohort at the end of the projection period are added to obtain the total projected population of the study area.
Competition A term borrowed from Biology and used in Human Ecology to denote the interaction which occurs when individuals of a single species or individuals of more than one species attempt to acquire and use the same resources – such as space.
Cross-sectional Referring to the same point in time. Cross-sectional analysis is analysis using data from the same point in time (static analysis).
Deductive/Deductivism A process of thought or reasoning which moves from the general to the specific
Dependent variables The variables in a relationships whose values depend on the values of other (the independent) variables.
Desertification The process of land degradation which leads to a drastic reduction of land productivity. Land is rendered unsuitable for any productive activity. It is prevalent in arid and semi-arid areas. Its causes are both natural (dry climate, low rainfall, water shortage) as well as anthropogenic (overgrazing, deforestation, fires, intensive cultivation).
Diffusion theory/diffusion theoretic Theories which study the spread of a phenomenon over space and time. Traditional subject of research in Cultural Geography. Hagerstrand’s (a Swedish geographer) landmark 1954 study "Innovation Diffusion as a Spatial Process" set the broad theoretical structure and initiated a tradition for the study of diffusion processes .
Dominance A term borrowed from Biology and used in Human Ecology to denote a social structure in which a ranking exists with each animal dominant over those below it and submissive to those above it in the hierarchy.
Ecological fallacy The problem of inferring characteristics of individuals from aggregate data referring to a population; equivalently, the problem of inferring individual household characteristics using areal unit (spatial) data (Johnston et al. 1994; Wrigley et al. 1996).
Economic base model and theory An economic theory and model which analyzes urban and regional growth assuming a division of the economy into basic and non-basic (or local or population-serving sectors. Basic sectors are those producing for export and nonbasic are those serving the needs of the basic sectors and of the population.
Efficient set In multi-objective optimization models, the set of feasible solutions which are non-dominated; i.e. for each non-dominated solution x there is no other solution x’ which is better than x. The efficient set is called also ""admissible set", "noninferior set", Pareto-optimal set", "non-dominated set".
Empiricism A philosophy of science which prioritizes empirical observations over theoretical statements. It assumes that statements deriving from observations make direct reference to real world phenomena and they can be declared true or false without reference to the truth or falsity of theoretical statements. It is a fundamental assumption of positivism challenged by other epistemologies such as realism and postmodernism.
Endogenous A variable in a mathematical relationship or in a mode whose value is calculated by means of this relationship or model; i.e. it is an output of the model.
Environmental determinism The doctrine which posits that human activities are controlled by the environment.
Epistemological/epistemology The study of knowledge acquisition; i.e. how the world of objects and experiences becomes knowledge. An epistemological position makes specific claims as to how knowledge is acquired (under what conditions), transmitted, altered and integrated into conceptual systems. Known epistemologies include: positivism, relativism, realism, existentialism, idealism, structuralism, postmodernism, post-structuralism.
Ethnomethodology An approach to the study of social phenomena which employs procedures to discover how people make sense and give order to the world. It emphasizes the contextual determination of meaning and concentrates on the unique and the idiographic. It does not accept the possibility of generalization. Qualitative techniques are employed such as participant observation, analysis of official records, naturalistic observation, etc.
Eustatic sea-level rise It denotes worldwide changes (slow and gradual) in the sea level which may be caused by, e.g., melting of continental glaciers. They exclude relative changes in sea level caused by local subsidence or elevation.
Eutrophication The process of enrichment of water in lakes, rivers, estuaries, seas, etc. with nutrients (carbon, sulfur, potassium, calcium, magnesium, nitrogen, and phosphorus) which leads to increased organic growth with consequent undesirable effects. These include: red, brown or blue-green algal blooms, changes in the color of the water and bad odor.
Existentialism A philosophy whose central concern is the human subject’s ‘being’ in the world. Existentialism gives primacy to existence and then to essence. Among its main position is that all persons are estranged from their creativity and live in a world of objects; any attempt to realize a true human condition is to enter a struggle against estrangement.
Exogenous (variable) A variable which is assumed to influence another (the endogenous) variable. Synonymous to independent variable.
Explanatory (or, predictor) variable A variable which is used in a relationship to explain or to predict changes in the values of another variable; the latter called the dependent variable.
Extensification A term used to characterize frequently the pattern of agricultural development which involved production using a low number of inputs per hectare. The opposite of intensification.
Factorial ecology An approach to the analysis of social phenomena which employs statistical techniques such as factor analysis and principal components analysis to demographic, socio-economic and other data. Its purpose is to test hypotheses about the pattern of areal differentiation of the social structure (mostly in urban areas) as a function of a small number of general constructs derived from the data.
First Law of Thermodynamics One of the two Laws of Thermodynamics which states that the amount of matter and energy in a system remains constant. Matter is transformed to energy and vice versa. Neither matter not energy can be destroyed nor be produced from zero.
Functionalism An analytical perspective in which the world is viewed as a set of interdependent systems. Their collective actions and relations reflect repeatable and predictable regularities in which form and function can be assumed to be related. It has influenced heavily theorizing and modeling in geography and planning. Systems analysis has offered tools for a functionalist analysis of spatial and social phenomena. Functionalism has been heavily criticized on both logical and substantive grounds. In the former instance, the unintended or unanticipated consequences of a form of social conduct cannot be used to explain its existence in the first instance; in the latter, functionalism assumes a purpose ("needs" or "goals") without a purposive agent.
Global parameterization Calculation of the values certain variables in a mathematical model as a function of certain parameters (when direct data for their estimation do not exist). The term "global" denotes that the functional forms used do not change in the applications of the mathematical expression.
Heuristic techniques Techniques used for modeling a system of interest which do not utilize formal mathematical expressions and techniques (such as statistical or optimization models) but they rely, instead, on rules which are used to guide the representation of the relationships being investigated.
Historical materialism An analytical method, associated with Marxism, which emphasizes the material basis of social life. It examines the historical development of social relations in order to explain social change. The term was coined by Engels who argued that "life is not determined by consciousness but consciousness by life".
Idealism/Idealistic A philosophy which posits either: (a) that reality resides in or is constituted by the human mind or (b) that human understanding is limited to perception of external objects. In geography, an idealistic approach accepts that human behavior cannot be described in theoretical terms. Instead, the geographer is concerned with the theories expressed in the actions of the individuals being studied.
Independent variables The variables in an equation which are assumed to influence the values of the dependent variable. Their values are provided outside the equation as inout for its solution.
Input-Output Analysis/ input-output model An analytical technique developed by the economist Wassily Leontief which is used to describe the structure of an economy; in particular the relationships (or, linkages) between the economic sectors of the study area (nation, region, groups of nations, groups of regions). It assumes that changes in the output of the economic sectors of the study area are caused by changes in the demand for their products.
(instrumental approach to theory)
A philosophy of science and an approach to theory development which is concerned with developing computational devices to describe observed relationships but does not question the truth or falsity of the theoretical statements produced. Mathematical models are the most direct expression of instrumentalism especially when they are directed to assessing the goodness-of-fit of a data set to the mathematical relationships specified without being concerned with the processes which produce these patterns.
Intensification A term used to characterize agricultural production which uses a high amount of inputs per hectare. It is the opposite of extensification.
Invasion A concept borrowed from ecology and used in Human Ecology to describe the process of spatial change whereby one group moves into (invades) the area occupied by another group and succeeds it.
Isochronal A surface or a line containing points which are at the same distance (measured in time units) from a given point.
Lagrange multiplier In an (constrained) optimization model, the Lagrange multiplier is a quantity – associated with each constraint, which shows how much the objective function will change (increase or decrease) if the respective constraint changes by one unit. The larger the value of the Lagrange multiplier the greater the sensitivity of the objective function to the respective constraint.
Land use/activity coefficients/ratios Coefficients showing the ratio of the area of land to the magnitude of a land using activity; for example, the ratio of residents per hectare, the ratio of sales per square meter, crop yield per hectare
Laws of Thermodynamics There are two basic laws of Thermodynamics which are used in the study of the economy-environment relationship – the First and the Second law (see the corresponding lemmas in this glossary).
Location theory A body of theories which seek to describe, explain, and prescribe the location of economic activities in space. Most of the theories are based on notions of neoclassical economics. For a concise, "bird’s eye" presentation, the reader is referred to the relevant lemma in the Dictionary of Human Geography (Johnston et al. 1994).
Marginalization The process of an entity (e.g. person, social group, organization) or activity (e.g. agriculture) becoming marginal within – moving to the margins – of the larger context it exists and operates. A marginalized entity or activity looses its importance within this broader system, it is ignored, underrepresented and under-served.
Materialist Denotes a philosophical position which emphasizes the material basis of human entities, activities, processes and development.
Metaproblem A problem whose definition involves an indefinite, infinite, and incompletely known (and defined) number of variables.
Mode of production The set of relationships through which a society structures and organizes productive activities. It is a characteristic which distinguishes societies on the basis of their socio-economic organization. Representative modes of production: precapitalist, capitalist, socialist.
Modifiable areal unit problem The problem created in the analysis of spatial data when the size and the boundaries of the zones used change. It is analyzed in two components: "(a) the scale effect is the tendency, within a system of modifiable areal units, for different statistical results to be obtained from the same set of data when the information is grouped in different levels of spatial resolution … (b) the zoning effect is the variability in statistical results obtained within a set of modifiable areal units as a function of the various ways these units can be grouped at a given scale and not as a result of the variation in the size of those areas – i.e. the difference in results which follows from merely altering the boundaries or configurations of the zones at a given scale of analysis" (Wrigley et al. 1996, 23).
Multicollinearity In statistical multiple regression models, when the independent variables are related between them, the problem of multicollinearity arises. It results in regression coefficients which may not be statistically significant as the coefficients of interrelated independent variables reflect – to a lesser or greater extent – the influence which one variable exerts on another.
Multiple regression analysis A statistical technique for analyzing the mathematical relationship between two or more variables. One of the variables is called the dependent variable as its values are assumed to depend on changes in the values of the other (one or more) independent (or, explanatory) variables.
Multivariate statistical techniques An umbrella term which includes a variety of statistical techniques which analyze the relationships between many variables. Multiple regression analysis belongs to these techniques.
Neighborhood effects A term used to denote the unintended – positive or negative – impacts of an activity upon other activities. They are also called externalities, external effects, side-effects.
Ordinary Least Squares A commonly used technique for estimating the coefficients of a regression equation.
Parameterization The process of expressing relationships among variables as a function of parameters and studying these relationships as functions of changes in the parameters.
Pareto-efficiency criterion The criterion of choosing among the solutions in a multiobjective optimization problem. A solution is Pareto-efficient if there is no other solution which improves one objective, at least, without reducing the value of the other objectives.
Pareto optimal A solution in a multiobjective optimization problem which satisfies the Pareto-efficiency criterion. Equivalent to the term "Pareto-efficient". Applied to the efficient allocation of resources, Pareto optimality is achieved when it is impossible to change an allocation that would increase the satisfaction of some people without reducing the satisfaction of some others. In the case of income distribution, a pareto optimal income distribution is one which cannot be changed to make one individual better off without making at least one other individual worse off.
Phenology The study of the temporal aspects of recurrent natural phenomena. Equivalently, manifestations of a biological phenomenon (particularly of an organism) as a function of time. Example, the phenology of pollimation. (Based on Lincoln et al. 1982)
Phenomenology A philosophy emphasizing the importance of reflecting on the ways in which the world is made available for intellectual inquiry; it stresses the role of language and discourse in making the world intelligible. It claims that "observation" and "objectification" are not as simple as assumed in conventional scientific analysis. It rejects the separation of "subject" from "object" and stresses their being intimately interrelated.
Physiographic determinism The philosophical approach to the study of the various aspects of the nature-society relationship that gives priority to the influence of the physiographic characteristics of an area (relief, climate, hydrology, geology, etc.). It can be considered equivalent to the term "environmental determinism." It is also used to guide decision making in the context of planning in which case the physiographic characteristics of the study region determine the possibilities for and constraints on the development of various activities.
Positivism A philosophy of science which was proposed originally by August Comte in the early 19th century. Its primary purpose was to distinguish science from metaphysics and religion. Broadly, it accepts that: (a) scientific statements should be based on empirical observations and facts; (b) the (quantitative mostly) methods of the natural sciences can be extended to the study of social phenomena; (c) general, universal laws is the ultimate goal of scientific inquiry; i.e. the search for empirical regularities, for "law" and "order".
Postmodernism A recent movement in philosophy, the arts and social sciences characterized by scepticism towards the grand claims and grand theory of the modern era, and their privileged vantage point, stressing in its place an openness to a range of voices in social enquiry, artistic experimentation and political empowerment (Johnston et al. 1994).
Predictor (or, explanatory) variables The variables which are used to explain the variability of another variable (the dependent variable). Equivalently, they are called independent variables.
Propulsive industry In growth pole theory, the industrial sector whose growth diffuses over the whole area and causes the growth of other sectors and activities.
Ratio variable A variable measured on the ratio scale – i.e. a scale which has an absolute origin (the zero point), it distinguishes intervals in a variable and the distances between intervals are comparable. All four arithmetic calculations (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) are possible on a ratio scale. Ratio variables are known broadly also as quantitative variables.
Realism/realist A philosophy of science which uses abstraction to identify the necessary/causal powers of specific structures which are realized under contingent/specific conditions. It regards the world as differentiated, stratified, and made up not only of events (as positivism does) but also of mechanisms and structures. Structures are seen as sets of internal relations which have characteristic ways of acting; i.e. they possess "causal powers and liabilities" (Sayer 1984) by virtue of what they are and which are, thus, necessary. Realist analysis tries to identify causal chains which place particular events within these deeper mechanisms and structures.
Reductionist An approach to the study of a phenomenon in general which reduces its multiple dimensions and facets into a few ones which can be manipulated within some form of a formal model of the phenomenon.
Salinization The accumulation of salts in soil which may lead to a form of serious soil degradation. The causes of salinization are mainly: (a) poorly drained soils – the excess water remaining in the soil evaporates and the salts contained in it are deposited in the soil; (b) excess water logging causes saltwater intrusion to the water table which is taken up by the roots of the plants, thus increasing the salt content of the soil.
Saltwater intrusion Intrusion of saltwater into the water table caused by overpumping of water. This lowers the water table below the sealevel causing, thus, the intrusion of sea water into the (fresh) water table.
Semantic Refers to meaning. A semantic category is a category of meaning. E.g. one semantic category is that of a "cause" while another is that of "effect".
Seminet revenues The profit available from each activity at a site which does not include the rents paid to the owners of land and capital (Koopmans and Beckman 1957).
Social area analysis A theory and technique developed by two American sociologists – Shevsky and Bell (1955) – to relate changing urban social structure and residential patterns to the processes of economic development and urbanization.
Soil nitrate pollution A form of soil pollution caused by the retention and overconcentration of nitrates contained in the fertilizers applied to soils.
Spatial autocorrelation The presence of strong relationships among observations taken from points in space. It results in biased regression coefficients. Special statistical techniques, known as Spatial Statistics and Spatial Econometrics, need to be applied to correct the problems associated with spatial autocorrelation.
Stochastic process A process whose outcomes depends on chance elements – i.e. they are expressed as probabilities.
Stratospheric ozone depletion The reduction in the thickness (density) of the ozone layer which is at the stratosphere – the layer of the atmosphere which is above the troposphere, about 10km above the earth’s surface. The stratospheric ozone layer protects living organisms from the excessive ionizing radiation of the sun.
Structuralism/structuralist A dominant current in postwar French philosophy originating in the work of Raymond Barthes in literary theory, Jean Piaget in psychology, and Claude Levi-Strauss in anthropology. It involves moving beneath the visible and conscious designs of social phenomena in order to reveal an essential logic which is supposed to bind these designs together into enduring, underlying structures.
Succession A concept borrowed from ecology and used in Human Ecology to describe the process of spatial change whereby one group moves into (invades) the area occupied by another group and succeeds it.
Sustainability The property of a (mostly living or human) system to maintain its functions and productivity constant over time. The related term sustainable development builds on the concept of sustainability but considers the conditions under which sustainability can be achieved. Briefly, these are: economic efficiency, environmental protection and social justice.
System of simultaneous equations A system of equations which are solved simultaneously. It is used to model (interdependent) processes which occur simultaneously in the real world; e.g. the simultaneous determination of demand and supply, the simultaneous determination of the land use and transportation characteristics in a metropolitan region.
Systems analysis/theory Refers to a group of mathematical techniques – developed mostly in control engineering – for the analysis of systems; i.e. of groups of elements which are related to one another directly or indirectly to some degree.
Technical coefficients (in Input-Output Analysis) Quantities that show the amount of the output of one sector necessary for the production of a one unit of output of another sector. They reflect the state of technology at the time the Input-Output Table is constructed.
Theorization tradition A term used in this contribution to denote the particular way theory is constructed for the description and explanation of a phenomenon. It involves the way of thinking about and conceptualizing reality which is influenced, among others by: (a) the broader value system adopted which affects the mode of conceptualizing real world entities and the relationships between them, (b) the value system, the culture of the discipline within which the theory is developed. The latter reflects certain epistemological positions and influences the choice of the spatial and temporal frameworks, the objects of analysis, the level of abstraction at which reality is represented.
Total system A term used in this contribution to denote the totality of interactions between nature (or, environment), economy, society (including politics and institutions), and culture.
T-period competitive equilibrium model A competitive general equilibrium model structure where agents are assumed to decide on current and future periods over a finite time horizon, t = 1, 2, … T.
Two-Stages Least Squares Analysis A special technique for estimating the regression coefficients in simultaneous equation statistical models
Utilitarian Adhering to utilitarianism, a philosophical approach according to which the moral criterion of human action is the personal interest; ethical choices are made on the basis of personal benefits. The utilitarian motto is: the most good for the most people".
Utility The satisfaction an individual derives from the consumption of a bundle of goods and services (including those which are particular to a location).
Utility function A function which relates levels of utility to the attributes of the goods and services associated with these levels. The utility function of an individual is assumed to reflect his/her preferences for the goods consumed.
Walrasian After Leon Walras, one of the founders of neoclassical economics. Refers to the model of an ideal market economy.
Welfare Economics The branch of economics which deals with the analysis of social, aggregate welfare at the level of a community (of any size). It involves the thorny task of aggregating individual utility functions into a social welfare function expressing the preferences of the community for various goods and services.
Xerophylic A plant which grows in arid areas (where water is in short supply).