Team, Visitors, External Collaborators
Overall Objectives
Research Program
Application Domains
New Software and Platforms
New Results
Bilateral Contracts and Grants with Industry
Partnerships and Cooperations
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Section: Application Domains

Urban economy and land use/land cover changes: assessment of spatial distributions of the pressures

The preceding section was focused on territorial metabolism, in particular on the analysis of supply chains. Here territories are examined with a more prominent emphasis on their spatial dimension, with attention to: the spatial distribution of local pressures previously identified (from a land use point of view), and the modeling of future land use and activity location (from an economic point of view). These two questions correspond to very different modeling strategies: the first one is more statistical in nature, extrapolating future land use from past evolution combined with global territory scenarios; the other one has a more fundamental flavor and focuses on an understanding of the processes driving urbanization. For this, we focus more precisely on the question of household and businesses choices of localization, as well as on spatial fluxes within the territory (transportation of goods and persons). The critical point here is to understand and manage urban sprawl and its environmental effects (GHG emission, loss of arable land, ecosystem fragmentation, and so on).

Land Use/Land Cover Change models (LUCC)

LUCC models are mostly used in environmental sciences, e.g. to evaluate the impact of climate change on agriculture, but they can also be used to analyze urban sprawl. There is a variety of models, static or dynamic, grid- or agent- based, local or global, etc., and with varying degrees of sophistication concerning spatio- temporal analysis or decision structures incorporated in the model.

The models of interest here are statistical in nature but spatially explicit. Following decades of development, they are robust, versatile and mature. In principle, agent-models have a larger potential for representing decision processes, but in practice this advantage results in a loss of universality of the models. Among the most well-known and most mature models, one can mention the CLUE family of models, DINAMIC, or LCM (Land Change Modeler). These models are well described in the literature, and will only be briefly presented here.

These models analyze change in land use in a statistical way; they are structured around three different modules:

Probabilities of change are calibrated on past evolution, from the differences between two past maps of land use in the more favorable cases, or from a single map otherwise (under the assumption that the logic of occupation changes is the same as the logic of land use at this single date). Such changes are then characterized in a statistical way with the help of modeling variables identified by the modeler as having potential explaining or structuring power (typically, a few to a dozen variables are used for one type of land use change). For example, in the case of urban sprawl, typical explaining factors are the distance to existing urbanized zones or distances to roads and other means of transportation, elements of real estate costs, etc. Global scenarios are quantified in terms of global changes in land use over the whole studied area (e.g., how many hectares are transformed from agricultural to urban uses in a given number of years, how does this evolve over time...); this is done either from academic expert knowledge, or from information provided by local planning agencies. Whenever feasible, models are validated by comparing the model predictions with actual evolution at a later date. Therefore, such models need from one to three land use maps at different dates for calibration and validation purposes (the larger the number of maps, the more robust and accurate the model). A large array of statistical tools is available in the literature to perform the calibration and validation of the model.

The horizon of projections of such models is limited in time, typically 20-30 years, due to the inherent uncertainty in such models, although they are occasionally used on longer time-scales. Climate change constraints are included, when needed, through scenarios, as it is not in the scope of such models to incorporate ecological processes that may translate climate change constraints into land cover change dynamics. Note that on such short time-scales, climate change is not dominated by the mean climate evolution but by decade variations which average out on longer time-scales and are not modeled in the global climate models used e.g. for IPCC projections for the end of the century; as a consequence, the various IPCC climate scenarios cannot be distinguished on such a short time horizon.

With regard to LUCC, the STEEP team has been involved for five years in the ESNET project whose funding came to a close in July of 2017, but the scientific production of the project is still underway. This project bears on the characterization of local Ecosystem Services networks; the project has been coordinated by LECA (Laboratoire d’Ecologie Alpine), in collaboration with a number of other research laboratories (most notably, IRSTEA Grenoble, besides our team), and in close interaction with a panel of local stakeholders; the scale of interest is typically a landscape (in the ecologic/geographic sense, i.e., a zone a few kilometers to a few tens of kilometers wide). The project aims at developing a generic modelling framework of ecosystem services, and studying their behavior under various scenarios of coupled urban/environment evolution, at the 2030/2040 horizon, under constraints of climate change. The contribution of the STEEP team is centered on the Land Use/Land Cover Change (LUCC) model that is one of the major building blocks of the whole project modelling effort, with the help of an ESNET funded post-doctoral researcher. In the process, areas of conceptual and methodological improvements of statistical LUCC models have been identified; implementing these improvements will be useful for the LUCC community at large, independently of the ESNET project needs.

Models for Land-Use and Transportation Interactions (LUTI)

Urban transport systems are intricately linked to urban structure and activities, i.e., to land use. Urbanization generally implies an increased travel demand. Cities have traditionally met this additional demand by extending transportation supply, through new highways and transit lines. In turn, an improvement of the accessibility of ever-farther land leads to an expansion of urban development, resulting in a significant feedback loop between transportation infrastructure and land use, one of the main causes of urban sprawl. Transportation models allow us to address questions generally limited to the impacts of new infrastructures, tolls and other legislation on traffic regulation (Congestion, cost and time spent for the transport, etc.), on user behavior (Changes in modality choice.), or on the environment (CO2 emissions, air pollution, noise nuisance, etc.). LUTI models (Land-Use and Transport Integrated models) can answer a much broader spectrum of issues. For example, they allow us to understand how the localization of households and of economic activities (which generate transportation demand) adapt to changes of transportation supply. They also allow us to assess the impacts of such changes on the increase in real estate value, or more generally on their effects on the economic development of a specific sector or neighborhood. An economic vision interprets all these interactions in terms of equilibrium between demand and supply. Modelling the localization of households and employments (companies) relies on capturing the way stakeholders arbitrate between accessibility, real estate prices, and attractiveness of different areas.

State of the art and operability of LUTI models. The first model that proved able to analyze the interactions between transport and urbanization was developed by Lowry. Since then theories and models have become increasingly complex over time. They can be classified according to different criteria. A first classification retraces the historic path of these theories and models. They can be associated with one or several of the approaches underlying all present theories: economic base theory and gravity models, Input/Output models and theory of urban rent, and micro-simulations. A second possibility consists in classifying the models according to their aims and means. Significant scientific progress has been made over the last thirty years. Nevertheless, modelling tools remain largely restricted to the academic world. Today, only seven models have at least had one recent application outside academia or are commercialized or potentially marketable, in spite of the important needs expressed by the urban planning agencies: Cube Land, DELTA, MARS, OPUS/UrbanSim, PECAS, TRANUS and Pirandello.

To guide their choice of a modelling framework, users can rely on various criteria such as the strength of the theoretical framework, the quality and the diversity of the available documentation, the accessibility of the models (is the model freely available? is the code open source? is the software regularly updated and compatible with the recent operating systems?), the functionality and friendliness of user interfaces (existence of graphic user interface, possibility of interfacing with Geographic Information Systems), existence of technical assistance, volume and availability of the data required to implement the model, etc. For example, among the seven models mentioned above, only two are open source and mature enough to meet professional standards: TRANUS and UrbanSim ( These two models are very different but particularly representative of the main current philosophies and trends in this scientific domain. Their comparison is informative.

STEEP implication in LUTI modelling. As yet, very few local planning authorities make use of these strategic models, mostly because they are difficult to calibrate and validate. Systematic improvement on these two critical steps would clearly increase the level of confidence in their results; these limitations hinder their dissemination in local agencies. One of the major goals of STEEP is therefore to meet the need for better calibration and validation strategies and algorithms. This research agenda lies at the core of our project CITiES (ANR Modèles Numériques) that ended in 2017 with the PhD defense of Thomas Capelle . This work is being partly pursued in the QAMECS project.

As for LUTI modeling, we have been using the TRANUS model since the creation of our team. In this framework we work in close collaboration with AURG (, the local urban planning agency of Grenoble (Agence d’Urbanisme de la Région Grenobloise) in order to better understand and to improve the relevance of these tools for such territorial agencies.