Future suburban development and the environmental implications of lawns: A case study in New England, USA

Document Type

Book Chapter


Lawns cover more land than irrigated corn in the United States according to the most recent estimates (Milesi et al. 2009). The associated ecological ramifications-such as habitat fragmentation, water quality and availability-may be far-reaching. The way lawns are maintained, especially intensive fertilization and watering, also presents risks for water use and quality, nutrient cycling, urban climate regimes, and even human health. However, the lack of broad-extent, high-resolution land cover data has limited the ability of researchers to measure or project the extent of lawns. In this chapter, we first produce a high resolution (0.5 m) land-cover classification to quantify existing lawn extent for the year 2005 in the Plum Island Ecosystem (PIE), a collection of 26 suburban towns northeast of Boston, MA, USA. We then use this dataset in conjunction with the GEOMOD land-change model to project lawn extent under two scenarios of urban growth for the year 2030. We find that in 2005, 76 km2 of lawn “defined as grass on residential land “existed in the PIE study region. Under a Current Trends scenario, we project residential lawns may increase by 7.0 % to 81 km 2, while under a Smart Growth scenario we project a 1.6 % increase to 77 km2. We estimate this could result in up to 61 million additional liters of annual water use under the Current Trends scenario, and 14 million under Smart Growth, putting additional stress on utilities that already face regular water shortages.

Publication Title

Modeling of Land-use and Ecological Dynamics

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land cover, normalize difference vegetation index, urban growth, residential land, residential development