The fragmentation of urban landscapes: Global evidence of a key attribute of the spatial structure of cities, 1990-2000

Shlomo Angel, Jason Parent, Daniel L. Civco

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


The fragmentation of urban landscapes - or the inter-penetration of the built-up areas of cities and the open spaces in and around them - is a key attribute of their spatial structure. Analyzing satellite images for 1990 and 2000 for a global sample of 120 cities, we find that cities typically contain or disturb vast quantities of open spaces equal in area, on average, to their built-up areas. We also find that fragmentation, defined as the relative share of open space in the urban landscape, is now in decline. Using multiple regression models, we find that larger cities are less fragmented, that higher-income cities are more fragmented, that cities with higher levels of car ownership are less fragmented, and that cities that constrain urban development are less fragmented. We recommend that making room for urban expansion in rapidly growing cities should take into account their expected fragmentation levels.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)249-283
Number of pages35
JournalEnvironment and Urbanization
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 1 2012



  • cities
  • fragmentation
  • infill
  • landscape metrics
  • leapfrogging
  • metropolitan areas
  • open space
  • sprawl
  • urban expansion

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Urban Studies

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