Integrated Spatial Simulation of Population and Urban Land Use: a Pan-European Model Validation

Related GLP Member: Vasco Diogo


Spatial models jointly simulating population and land-use change provide support for policy-making, by allowing to explore territorial developments under alternative scenarios and resulting impacts in the environment, economy and society. However, their ability to reproduce observed spatial patterns is rarely evaluated through model validation. This lack of insight prevents researchers and policy-makers of fully grasping the ability of existing models to provide sensible projections of future land use and population density. In this article, we address this gap by performing a model validation of the LUISA Territorial Modelling Platform, a spatial model jointly simulating population and land use at a fine resolution (100 m) in the European Union and United Kingdom. In particular, we compare observed and simulated patterns of population and urban residential land-use change for the period of 1990–2015, and evaluate the model performance according to different degrees of urbanisation. The results show that model performance can vary depending on the context, even when the same data and methods are uniformly applied. The model performed consistently well in urban areas characterized by compact urban growth, but poorly where residential development occurred predominantly in scattered patterns across rural areas. Overall, the model tends to favour the formation of densely populated, highly accessible urban conglomerations, which often do not entirely correspond to the observed patterns. Based on the validation results, we propose directions for further model improvement and development. Model validation should be regarded as a critical step, and an integral part, in the process of developing models for policy support.