Seminal NC urbanization study expands to Asheville, Triad and Triangle

CHARLOTTE, NC–Researchers at the Renaissance Computing Institute (RENCI) at UNC Charlotte will expand their study of development patterns in North Carolina to rapidly-growing counties in western North Carolina as well as the Triad and Research Triangle regions of the Piedmont.

The expansion of the urban growth study by RENCI at UNC Charlotte, the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute and the UNC Charlotte Center for Applied Geographic Information Science (CAGIS) is made possible by a grant from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and by funding from the City of Asheville, the U.S. Forest Service and RENCI’s home office in Chapel Hill.

The original study, released in 2008, demonstrated rapid rates of urbanization, and resultant conversions of natural and rural lands, in the Charlotte region using satellite images.  That study found development in the Charlotte region had increased over 850 percent between 1976 and 2006 at a rate of 105 acres per day. The study also forecasted an additional 2.2 million acres to be developed by 2030, or 30 percent of the region’s landscape, with Mecklenburg County expected to convert all unprotected lands within 25 years. These findings resulted in a series of maps that can be viewed at the RENCI at UNC Charlotte website. Researchers at RENCI and UNC Charlotte’s Visualization Center are also developing the maps as interactive applications that can be manipulated with gestures on a touch-sensitive display.

“Since the 2008 study was released, policymakers throughout North Carolina have contacted us about expanding the urban growth model to cover the entire state,” noted Jeff Michael, director of RENCI at UNC Charlotte and the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute.  “We’re pleased that these funders, along with our research partners at RENCI at UNC Asheville, have given us this incredible opportunity to expand the project.”

Ross Meentemeyer, lead researcher for the UNC Charlotte team, added, “We are really excited about the ways in which this research can be used to understand how development impacts the state’s natural systems and its infrastructure, such as transportation and water.  Already, our researchers are looking more closely at the data covered in the original 2008 study and assessing such issues as the loss of forest cover and increasing per capita land consumption. We hope our findings will serve as a foundation for other research studies that will enhance our knowledge of growth’s impact on North Carolina.”

New study results will be available this fall with the release of data on four counties surrounding Asheville (Buncombe, Henderson, Madison and Transylvania) followed by a full report on land conversion rates in western North Carolina in the spring of 2010.  Reports on the Triad and Triangle areas will be available later in 2010.  Efforts are underway to secure funding to expand the analysis into eastern North Carolina.
The RENCI at UNC Charlotte engagement center is part of the statewide network of RENCI facilities that bring together researchers from the state’s academic institutions to address issues important to North Carolina and its economic competiveness. RENCI at UNC Charlotte involves faculty and staff from three UNC Charlotte research centers: the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, the Center for Applied Geographic Information Science and the Charlotte Visualization Center. RENCI also operates facilities at UNC Asheville, East Carolina University, UNC Chapel Hill, Duke University and NC State University as well as its flagship site off campus in Chapel Hill.

For more information, see the RENCI at UNC Charlotte website or the main RENCI website.