Characterizing the fabric of the urban environment: a case study of greater Houston, Texas

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In this report, the materials and various surface types that comprise a city are referred to as the "urban fabric". Urban fabric data are needed in order to estimate the impact of light-colored surfaces (roofs and pavements) and urban vegetation (trees, grass, shrubs) on the meteorology and air quality of a city, and to design effective urban-environmental implementation programs. We discuss the results of a semi-automatic Monte-Carlo statistical approach used to develop data on surface-type distribution and city-fabric makeup (percentage of various surface-types) using aerial color orthophotography. The digital aerial photographs for Houston covered a total of about 52 km2 (20 mi2). At 0.30-m resolution, there were approximately 5.8 x 108 pixels of data.

Four major land-use types were examined: (1) commercial, (2) industrial, (3) educational, and (4) residential. On average, for the regions studied, vegetation covers about 39% of the area, roofs cover about 21%, and paved surfaces cover about 29%. For the most part, trees shade streets, parking lots, grass, and sidewalks. At ground level, i.e., view from below the vegetation canopies, paved surfaces cover about 32% of the study area.

GLOBEIS model data from University of Texas and land-use/land-cover (LULC) information from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) were used to extrapolate these results from neighborhood scales to Greater Houston. It was found that in an area of roughly 3,430 km2, defining most of Greater Houston, over 56% is residential. The total roof area is about 740 km2, and the total paved surface area (roads, parking areas, sidewalks) covers about 1000 km2. Vegetation covers about 1,320 km2.

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