Changing Landscapes in the Garden State

John Hasse, Ph.D AICP
Co-PI, Rowan University

Richard G. Lathrop, Ph.D
Co-PI, Rutgers University

John Reiser
Web Map Designer, Rowan University

Download the ReportView the Maps

This web page provides interactive animated mapping of two decades of urban growth and open space loss in New Jersey from 1986 through 2007. It was produced as a companion to a 2010 research study that summarizes New Jersey’s land base during this two decade period.

This report is part of an ongoing series of collaborative studies between the Geospatial Research Lab at Rowan University and the Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis at Rutgers University examining New Jersey’s urban growth and land use change. The DEP data set utilized for the analysis represents a detailed mapping of the land use and land cover as depicted in high resolution aerial photography that was initially acquired in 1986 and most recently updated in the spring of 2007. The imagery was then classified and mapped providing a window into how the Garden State has developed over the past several decades and the subsequent consequences to its land base. It views land development patterns from several different angles providing a “report card” on urban growth and open space loss.

Executive Summary

Though its population has increased only slightly, urban development in New Jersey continued—and even gained momentum—over a 21-year span ending in 2007.

During the years 2002-07, New Jersey’s development rate averaged 16,061 acres of urbanization each year, a 7-percent increase in acres developed per year compared with the earlier development rate experienced from 1995-2002. Altogether, the data show that, since 1986, a massive 324,256 acres of land (506 square miles) have been urbanized in the state.

New Jersey’s total urban footprint now accounts for more than 30 percent of the state’s five million acres. Most of the state’s development—56.9 percent—is attributed to residential housing. However, New Jersey’s population grew only by 1.2 percent over the past five years. During that same period, urbanization occurred at over four times the growth rate of population.

Most impacting is the significant amount of land consumed for large lot residential housing units on lots of one to two or more acres of land. Those units consume a larger proportion of New Jersey’s remaining natural resources including farmland, forest and wetlands. In spite of many mechanisms put in place in New Jersey to encourage more efficient compact development over the past two decades, two thirds of the acres developed into residential housing were the large-lot, land consumptive units that have encroached on rural landscapes throughout the state.

We have mapped the major land resource impacts of the 21 years of urban growth. View the interactive, animated maps in our Map Gallery.

County and Municipal Analysis

The researchers are pursing funding to expand this project and associated web page to the County and Municipal scales.


The authors would like to acknowledge the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for the Land Use Land Cover (LULC) data, as the primary data set analyzed in this report. The data set production and quality assurance was managed by the NJDEP, Office of Information Resources Management, Bureau of Geographic Information and Analysis, Lawrence L. Thornton, Chief, and co-production managers Craig Coutros and John M. Tyrawski.

The authors would also like to thank New Jersey Future for valuable feedback and assistance.

Funding for this project was provided by a Rowan University non-salary financial support grant and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station.

Finally, invaluable assistance for this report was provided by the research assistants and staff including Carla Burlingame, (Rowan University) and John Bognar, (CRSSA).

© Geospatial Research Lab, Rowan University