Exploring land use dynamics in rural areas. An analysis of eight cases in the Global North

Ewa Grabska-Szwagrzyk, Pegah Hashemvand Khiabani, Melisa Pesoa-Marcilla, Vineet Chaturvedi, Walter Timo de Vries

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rural areas are pivotal in the global economy, hence rural development planners and decision makers face significant technical and information management challenges, hindering their ability to assess sustainable development and formulate strategies. These challenges, coupled with shifts in traditional rural activities, aging populations, and climate change impacts, create inequalities and threaten rural communities. Therefore, developing approaches for the assessment of changes in rural areas are required. In recent years, remote sensing has emerged as a useful tool for monitoring the complex dynamics of rural regions, with a notable increase in the accessibility and use of freely available satellite data and platforms for tracking changes in land use and land cover (LULC). In light of this trend, this article analyzes the spatio-temporal trends in eight different development regions in Japan, Germany, Poland and Spain and integrates them with population data. This research relied on the utilization of openly available datasets - satellite imagery from Landsat and WorldPop population data, processed in Google Earth Engine (GEE). The time series of Landsat imagery were employed to analyze changes in LULC over a 20-year period from 2000 to 2020 in each test site. Unique combinations (i.e. each pixel history) were systematically examined and categorized based on established rules, with improbable scenarios marked as “uncertain.” The comparison demonstrates that all eight regions have unique spatial, temporal and thematic characteristics. The most significant changes observed include the transformation of tree-covered areas into built-up areas in the case of Tsukuba and into agricultural lands in Shibushi. In the Bodzentyn and Połaniec communes in Poland, agricultural lands have transitioned into forested areas. In Spain, there is an increase in built-up areas, particularly at the outskirts of established towns. In Germany, the results indicate an expansion of built-up and agricultural areas in the Fürth region, while the Regen region experienced an increase in agricultural land. Incorporating population data reveals relationships between different types of LULC conversions and population trends, showing clear positive trends in areas transformed from agricultural and tree-covered land to built-up areas, with the most profound changes observed in Spanish cases and Tsukuba. The findings from automatic LULC classification highlight the usefulness of this tool in identifying socio-economic changes, especially when it is integrated with and compared to statistical data. Policy makers and planners at local levels should consider these specific values as a foundational reference point for shaping their plans related to sustainable development, land use, environmental preservation, and resource management.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107246
JournalLand Use Policy
StatePublished - Sep 2024


  • Google earth engine
  • Landsat
  • Remote sensing
  • Rural development


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