Characterizing urban landscapes using fuzzy sets
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Citation (published version)Sucharita Gopal, Xiaojing Tang, Nathan Phillips, Mallory Nomack, Valerie Pasquarella, Joshua Pitts. 2016. "Characterizing urban landscapes using fuzzy sets." COMPUTERS ENVIRONMENT AND URBAN SYSTEMS, Volume 57, pp. 212 - 223 (12). https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compenvurbsys.2016.02.002
Characterizing urban landscapes is important given the present and future projections of global population that favor urban growth. The definition of “urban” on a thematic map has proven to be problematic since urban areas are heterogeneous in terms of land use and land cover. Further, certain urban classes are inherently imprecise due to the difficulty in integrating various social and environmental inputs into a precise definition. Social components often include demographic patterns, transportation, building type and density while ecological components include soils, elevation, hydrology, climate, vegetation and tree cover. In this paper, we adopt a coupled human and natural system (CHANS) integrated scientific framework for characterizing urban landscapes. We implement the framework by adopting a fuzzy sets concept of “urban characterization” since fuzzy sets relate to classes of object with imprecise boundaries in which membership is a matter of degree. For dynamic mapping applications, user-defined classification schemes involving rules combining different social and ecological inputs can lead to a degree of quantification in class labeling varying from “highly urban” to “least urban”. A socio-economic perspective of urban may include threshold values for population and road network density while a more ecological perspective of urban may utilize the ratio of natural versus built area and percent forest cover. Threshold values are defined to derive the fuzzy rules of membership, in each case, and various combinations of rules offer a greater flexibility to characterize the many facets of the urban landscape. We illustrate the flexibility and utility of this fuzzy inference approach called the Fuzzy Urban Index for the Boston Metro region with five inputs and eighteen rules. The resulting classification map shows levels of fuzzy membership ranging from highly urban to least urban or rural in the Boston study region. We validate our approach using two experts assessing accuracy of the resulting fuzzy urban map. We discuss how our approach can be applied in other urban contexts with newly emerging descriptors of urban sustainability, urban ecology and urban metabolism.
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