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Contact 52 North


In this application the suitability for urban expansion in the city of Villavicencio, Colombia will be analysed. The selection of suitable sites is based upon a specific set of local criteria. The characteristics of a site (e.g. present land use, slopes, water availability, distance to employment, development costs) influence its suitability for a specific land use type. To assess the overall suitability a scoring and weighting system is applied to the various aspects of suitability. By applying a risky scenario and a safe scenario a point in time is calculated where there is no more non-urban land available in the area of Villavicencio for urban expansion.


One of the main concerns of physical planning is the proper designation of suitable sites for appropriate land uses. Certain characteristics like steep slopes, religious values (old graveyard), or designation as government-reserved land may lead to non-suitability of a site for a specific type of land use. Moreover, a site may be rated highly suitable for several land uses, which then compete for the same site. Suitability ratings unavoidably contain an element of subjectivity and caution should be observed to their application.


A natural hazard is defined as the probability of occurrence within a specific period of time in a given area of a potentially damaging natural phenomenon (Varnes 1984). These phenomena can be earthquakes, mass movements, floods, droughts, hurricanes, etc. All of them occur with different intensities and frequencies, producing different levels of environmental impact. In the Villavicencio area the natural hazards flooding, landslide and land subsidence are present.

Hazard map of Villavicencio

Hazard map of Villavicencio


A natural risk can be defined as the vulnerability of the area in terms of expected number of lives lost, persons injured, damage to property and disruption of economic activity due to a natural hazard. In other words, a natural hazard becomes a natural risk when population and property might be affected.

Modelling land requirements for urban expansion

To evaluate urban expansion, a time series of land use information was examined. Land uses were reclassified in a new table on the basis of a new domain and used to create an attribute map.

Landuse map Villavicencio

Landuse map Villavicencio

From the histogram of the attribute map the areas occupied by different land uses can be expressed in hectares. Urban expansion is estimated by using the exponential growth formula:

Af = Ab * (1+%/100)(f-b)

where: A is the area, f is the future, b is the base year and % is the growth rate per year. In this application the basic assumption is that all non-urban land in the study area in 1991 is available for urban expansion and that the annual increase in urban land uses in the years after 1991 is 6.0%. Since the growth formula must be repeated several times, it could be convenient to express it as a function. Optionally urban expansion in time can be visualized in a graph.

Urban expansion graph

Urban expansion graph

For simplification a number of factors, such as municipal plans, road and bridge construction projects, reserved land, ownership, environmental constraints, socio-economic classes, political and commercial factors, urban developments in proximity, but outside the study area, are not considered in this application.

Risky and safe scenarios

Urban expansion may be limited by natural hazards and the corresponding risks within certain areas. In this exercise two urban expansion scenarios for the period 1991-2006 have been considered:

  • the risky scenario based on urban growth nearly everywhere, except in high risk zones, and
  • the safe scenario based on urban expansion in relatively safe areas.

To analyse the relation between hazard zones and urban expansion, a cross operation is performed on the hazard map and the landuse map. After that the resulting cross table is evaluated on the basis of the two above mentioned scenarios.

Scoring, weighting and classifying suitability factors

To assess the overall suitability a scoring and a weighting system is applied to the suitability factors:

  • Hazard zones,
  • Distance to city center, and
  • Slopes.

These suitability factors are available in maps. To assign proper suitability scores to each class in each map new tables have been created with a score column and these tables have been used to create attribute maps. The three suitability maps are combined into an overall suitability map with a weighting system using a MapCalc operation. Weighting should be applied when not all aspects have an equal importance. Creation of a graph from the overall suitability map can help in defining score boundaries to group the values into the suitability classes unsuitable, marginally suitable, moderately suitable and highly suitable. Reclassification is performed on the basis of this new group domain.

Suitability classes for urban expansion

Suitability classes for urban expansion

Applying the suitability models

Parts of the existing urban area are located in unsuitable or marginally suitable zones, because of the factors distance to city center (far), slopes (steep) or hazards (high flooding risk or high land slide risk). The urban land uses in those areas in principle should be relocated to more suitable zones.
To quantify the present urban area located on unsuitable or marginally suitable land, the overall suitability map is crossed with the land use map of the year 1991. A conditional IFF statement allows you to visualise the location of the areas with higher susceptibility.

Urban area located on unsuitable and marginally suitable land

Urban area located on unsuitable and marginally suitable land

With a MapCalc statement it is also possible to quantify the non-urban moderately and highly suitable area available for urban expansion in the future.

Suitability for future expansion

Suitability for future expansion

From the analysis of the information the years are calculated when all highly and moderately suitable non-urban areas have become urban area and when all highly, moderately, and marginally suitable non-urban areas will be built-up area.


  • Varnes, D.J. (1984). Landslide hazard zonation: a review of principles and practice. Commission of Landslides of the IAEG, UNESCO, Natural Hazards No. 3, 61 pp.

For more information on this case study, contact:

Drs. P. Hofstee and Ir. M. Brussel
Urban and Regional Planning and Geo-information Management,
International Institute for Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC),
P.O. Box 6, 7500 AA Enschede, The Netherlands.
Tel: +31 53 4874237, Fax: +31 53 4874575, e-mail: hofstee@itc.nl,
Tel: +31 53 4874497, Fax: +31 53 4874575, e-mail: brussel@itc.nl