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MSU professor develops national land use index

A Mississippi State professor of sociology is leading an online project that will serve as one-stop shopping for those searching for land development options across the U.S.

The Land Developability Index is now online at www.landdevelopability.org. It provides researchers, elected officials and developers an index that will help them identify land available for conversion and/or development. It allows anyone concerned about land use to determine what percentage could be developed at county and state levels. The research that led to the website was done by MSU’s Social Science Research Center and the College of Arts and Sciences’ department of sociology.

Guangqing Chi, the MSU professor spearheading the project, said it was initially designed for researchers, but could benefit transportations planners, community developers and forestry and natural resource officials.

“The unique thing about this index is that it is just one number representing the overall characteristics and status of land use and development,” Chi said in a school news release. “For people who are interested in land use and development, they can just go online and use it. There are other projects that share a similar methodology, but they are for different purposes.”

Chi and his team, which includes professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Minnesota and other MSU professors, generated the land maps using spatial overlay methods to identify undeveloped lands. Examples include wetlands, steep slopes, surface water, built-up lands and Native American reservations to go with state- or federal-owned land. The index is compatible with Microsoft’s Excel spreadsheet software.

“It takes lots of effort to get all those components together in one data set, one platform,” Chi said. “Users may skip these intermediate steps and simply use the final product of the Land Developability Index.”

The index has been in the works for a decade. During his doctoral studies, Chi developed a similar index for Wisconsin to help that state improve its population forecasting.

Chi’s next step is to refine his latest index into categories separated by metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas, municipalities, census tracts, block groups and ZIP codes. His overall goal is to produce an index that covers the planet. That will require additional funding from external sources, Chi said.

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