Tools for mapping multi-scale settlement patterns of building footprints: An introduction to the R package foot

Spatial datasets of building footprint polygons are becoming more widely available and accessible for many areas in the world. These datasets are important inputs for a range of different analyses, such as understanding the development of cities, identifying areas at risk of disasters, and mapping the distribution of populations. The growth of high spatial resolution imagery and computing power is enabling automated procedures to extract and map building footprints for whole countries. These advances are enabling coverage of building footprint datasets for low and middle income countries which might lack other data on urban land uses. While spatially detailed, many building footprints lack information on structure type, local zoning, or land use, limiting their application. However, morphology metrics can be used to describe characteristics of size, shape, spacing, orientation and patterns of the structures and extract additional information which can be correlated with different structure and settlement types or neighbourhoods. We introduce the foot package, a new set of open-source tools in a flexible R package for calculating morphology metrics for building footprints and summarising them in different spatial scales and spatial representations. In particular our tools can create gridded (or raster) representations of morphology summary metrics which have not been widely supported previously. We demonstrate the tools by creating gridded morphology metrics from all building footprints in England, Scotland and Wales, and then use those layers in an unsupervised cluster analysis to derive a pattern-based settlement typology. We compare our mapped settlement types with two existing settlement classifications. The results suggest that building patterns can help distinguish different urban and rural types. However, intra-urban differences were not well-predicted by building morphology alone. More broadly, though, this case study demonstrates the potential of mapping settlement patterns in the absence of a housing census or other urban planning data.

Authors Warren C. Jochem, Andrew J. Tatem
Published February 2021
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