Spatio-temporal analysis of the urban–rural gradient structure: an application in a Mediterranean mountainous landscape (Serra San Bruno, Italy)
Abstract. The most recent and significant transformations of European landscapes have occurred as a consequence of a series of diffused, varied and often connected phenomena: urban growth and sprawl, agricultural intensification in the most suitable areas and agricultural abandonment in marginal areas. These phenomena can affect dramatically ecosystems' structure and functioning, since certain modifications cause landscape fragmentation while others tend to increase homogeneity. Thus, a thorough comprehension of the evolution trends of landscapes, in particular those linked to urban-rural relations, is crucial for a sustainable landscape planning.
In this framework, the main objectives of the present paper are: (a) to investigate Land Use/Land Cover (LULC) transformations and dynamics that occurred over the period 1955–2006 in the municipality of Serra San Bruno (Calabria, Italy), an area particularly representative of the Mediterranean mountainous landscape; (b) to compare the settlement growth with the urban planning tools in charge in the study area; (c) to examine the relationship between urban–rural gradient, landscape metrics, demographic and physical variables; (d) to investigate the evolution of urban–rural gradient composition and configuration along significant axes of landscape changes.
Data with a high level of detail (minimum mapping unit 0.2 ha) were obtained through the digitisation of historical aerial photographs and digital orthophotos identifying LULC classes according to the Corine Land Cover legend. The investigated period was divided into four significant time intervals, which were specifically analysed to detect LULC changes.
Differently from previous studies, in the present research the spatio-temporal analysis of urban–rural gradient was performed through three subsequent steps: (1) kernel density analysis of settlements; (2) analysis of landscape structure by means of metrics calculated using a moving window method; (3) analysis of composition and configuration of the urban–rural gradient within three landscape profiles located along significant axes of LULC change.
The use of thematic overlays and transition matrices enabled a precise identification of the LULC changes that had taken place over the examined period. As a result, a detailed description and mapping of the landscape dynamics were obtained. Furthermore, landscape profiling technique, using continuous data, allowed an innovative and valuable approach for analysing and interpreting urban–rural gradient structure over space and time.