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Urban settlements and urbanised populations continue to grow rapidly and much of this transition is occurring in less developed countries. Remote sensing techniques are now often applied to monitor urbanisation and changes in settlement patterns. In particular, increasing availability of very high resolution imagery (<1 m spatial resolution) and computing power is enabling complete sets of settlement data in the form of building footprints to be extracted from imagery. These settlement data provide information on the changes occurring in cities, particularly in countries which may lack other data on urbanisation. While spatially detailed, extracted building footprints typically lack other information that identify building types or can be used to differentiate intra-urban land uses or neighbourhood types. This work demonstrates an approach to classifying settlement types through multi-scale spatial patterns of urban morphology visible in building footprint data extracted from very high resolution imagery. The work uses a Gaussian mixture modelling approach to select and hierarchically merge components into clusters. The results are maps classifying settlement types on a high spatial resolution (100 m) grid. The approach is applied in Kaduna, Nigeria; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo; and Maputo, Mozambique and demonstrates the potential of computational methods to take advantage of large spatial datasets and extract meaningful information to support monitoring of urban areas. The model-based approach produces a hierarchy of potential clustering solutions, and we suggest that this can be used in partnership with local knowledge of the context when creating settlement typologies.

Original publication




Journal article


Environment and Planning B: Urban Analytics and City Science

Publication Date





1161 - 1179