Urban sprawl has led to environmental problems and large losses of arable land in China. In this study, we monitor and model urban sprawl by means of a combination of remote sensing, geographical information system and spatial statistics. We use time-series data to explore the potential socio-economic driving forces behind urban sprawl, and spatial models in different scenarios to explore the spatio-temporal interactions. The methodology is applied to the city of Wuhan, China, for the period from 1990 to 2013. The results reveal that the built-up land has expanded and has dispersed in urban clusters. Population growth, and economic and transportation development are still the main causes of urban sprawl; however, when they have developed to certain levels, the area affected by construction in urban areas (Jian Cheng Qu (JCQ)) and the area of cultivated land (ACL) tend to be stable. Spatial regression models are shown to be superior to the traditional models. The interaction among districts with the same administrative status is stronger than if one of those neighbors is in the city center and the other in the suburban area. The expansion of urban built-up land is driven by the socio-economic development at the same period, and greatly influenced by its spatio-temporal neighbors. We conclude that the integration of remote sensing, a geographical information system, and spatial statistics offers an excellent opportunity to explore the spatio-temporal variation and interactions among the districts in the sprawling metropolitan areas. Relevant regulations to control the urban sprawl process are suggested accordingly.
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