The University of Utah
College of Architecture + Planning
Mapping and Measuring the Urban-Wildland Juxtaposition

Mapping and Measuring the Urban-Wildland Juxtaposition

One of the distinctive features of many U.S. western cities is their close proximity to large natural areas and wildlands. Salt Lake City personifies these characteristics, with urban amenities adjacent to unbuilt natural spaces including mountains, deserts, and marshes. This juxtaposition of urban characteristics and wildland characteristics influences and permeates local culture, economies, lifestyles, and overall quality of life. While anyone who has spent time in a city where wildland features are close to urban areas has likely understood its importance, there has not been an established method to measure this unique characteristic that allows for comparison across cities, and also enables exploration of the relationships between urban and wildland characteristics. Therefore, this research has developed a quantifiable metric that maps and measures the juxtaposition of urban and wildland areas. The metric in this study was applied across 32 urban areas in the United States, stratified by population and geography.

The newly developed Urban-Wildland Juxtaposition (UWJ) metric is based on intensity of urbanization and the quantity and proximity of various protected lands within 10 five-mile-wide distance bands from the urban area. The intensity of urban areas was measured through a composite of variables associated with population, density, demographics, infrastructure development, and culture. The intensity of the wildland areas was measured by the amount of unbuilt protected area within spatial buffers at increasing distances. A high UWJ score indicates both a high level of urban intensity and a relatively close proximity to large areas of wildland. The metric was initially applied to 32 geographically representative cities in four population size classes. Data for each city were obtained from national datasets and could be subsequently calculated for any urban area in the United States. The final products for each of the 32 cities in this initial round consist of: metrics of urban intensity, metrics of wildland intensity, UWJ scores, and a map for each city and its surrounding area that provides a visualization of the metric.

Table 1: Ranking of cities based on urban-wildland juxtaposition scores. Deeper blue shades indicate larger city population size classes.

The development of this metric provides a starting point for comparison between cities, further enabling the exploration of the value of wild, open, and protected lands to a wide range of urban and socioenvironmental outcomes, including economic vitality, quality of life, public health, community engagement, real estate values, development of amenities, education quality, and others.

Project Investigators:

Jeff Rose, Ph.D.                                                    Sarah Hinners, Ph.D.

801-585-6297 (o)                                                801-585-5289 (o)                                     


Student Research Team:

Dong-Ah Choi, Keunhyun Park, Debolina Banerjee, Emily Guffin

The initial development of this metric was supported by a Scholarship Incentive Program grant from the College of Architecture + Planning at the University of Utah.