Exploring the role of compactness in path-dependent land-taking processes in Italy

Francesco Orsi*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Land take, namely the conversion of natural land into impervious surfaces, is partly driven by path dependency, whereby dispersed settlements tend to spread more than compact ones over time. Yet there is limited knowledge about the extent to which specific aspects of compactness are associated with land take: a link that is instead crucial to formulate effective policies. This study investigates the impact of density, centrality, contiguity and degree of imperviousness by regressing land take data from 100 Italian NUTS3 administrative units for the period 2006–2012 against measures of the above-mentioned aspects as of 2006. Results indicate that higher shares of people in the 2000–2500 people km−2 density class, greater proximity of the population to urban centres, more contiguous urbanization patterns all help contain land take over time, whereas no significant effect was found for imperviousness. Increasing distance from protected areas reduces the positive effect of having more people live at densities of 2000–3000 people km−2, while steeper slopes enhance such effect. Planning interventions aimed at raising the share of people living at densities of 2000–2500 people km−2 as well as improving the degree of centrality or contiguity of urbanization patterns can lead to a decline in land take (measured as area of new land take per unit area of current land take) over a 6-year time span comprised between around 6 and 35% depending on location. Further research is needed to confirm the validity of our results and explore the feasibility of such interventions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)69-87
Issue number1
Early online date29 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 29 Jan 2022


  • Centrality
  • Contiguity
  • Density
  • Impervious surfaces
  • Sprawl


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