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Investigating landuse and function


  • To investigate land use patterns and change over time

  • To establish the boundaries of the CBD, to investigate retail and commerce within the CBD (see retailing and commerce investigations section, below) and to identify any issues concerning the management of the CBD

  • To undertake a study of the function of a town or of different parts of a town/city, or to compare the function of different towns and cities

  • To investigate spatial differences in function within an urban area, for example, changes in functional dominance with distance from the CBD, or different functions of the retail area of the CBD

  • To study changes in function over time (temporal studies)

  • To investigate industrial land-use, for example reasons for location and impact (linked to environmental quality or transport studies)

Urban land-use transects


  • Base maps of study locations

  • Appropriate land use classification key

  • Pencils and clipboard

  • Notepad or record sheets

  • Digital camera


  1. Decide on your sampling technique, especially if you are investigating a large urban area

  2. Using a large scale map of the study area, select a transect line radiating from the CBD outwards

  3. Develop a land-use classification key for use during the data collection. This should be based on the type of land use (residential, industrial, etc.) and then sub-divided according to the age, style or function of individual buildings. Your key should allow you to easily classify each individual building you encounter on your transect. You may decide to use a GOAD map of the area as your base map

  4. Walk your transect route and gradually build up information on your base map by adding colours or codes from the key which you have developed

  5. The map can be redrawn following your fieldwork to ensure that all of the land uses are clearly shown. You can use a GIS package to create land use maps on the computer. Alternatively, you can complete your maps by hand

Considerations and possible limitations

  • Mapping large areas can be time consuming and labour-intensive, so group work is a good idea

  • A suitable sampling strategy should be devised to reduce bias in your land use survey

  • Obtaining site maps, especially historical ones, can be difficult. There is a cost involved in obtaining GOAD maps of your area

  • Care and thought should go into developing an appropriate land use classification key to make data collection easier and less subjective. However, a degree of subjectivity is inevitable when determining land use classifications, and errors can sometimes be made in judging the age and style of the buildings

Retailing and commerce investigations


  • To examine the distribution of shops and services within a CBD and to use Nearest Neighbour analyses to mathematically describe the distribution as clustered, random or regular

  • To relate the distribution of different retail outlets to functions in different parts of a town, city or CBD

  • To investigate the diversity of shops and services in different urban areas and to compare changes over time

  • To investigate the environmental quality of urban areas

  • To examine retail ‘footfall' by calculating the proportion of people walking past a shop that actually enter the premises. Information gathered could be used to compare different shop types, shops with different frontages (for example; width, colour or display), chain and independent shops or shops with and without sales or promotions. Data collected could also be compared to questionnaire findings on shoppers' age, preferences and perceptions

  • To use mental maps or perception surveys to examine and compare people's perceptions of the CBD

  • To investigate the competition between two neighbouring towns in terms of the diversity of retail services available and the perceptions of consumers


  • Historical and current maps (ideally GOAD maps) of the study areas

  • Key to classifications of the function of shops and services

  • Coloured pencils

Services in the CBD

Devise a suitable key for the different functions of the shops and services within the CBD, for example food, shoe, clothes, chain, independent, charity, etc.
Walk around the CBD and on a GOAD map of the area, carefully code or colour each unit according to your key

Nearest neighbour analysis

  1. Shops or services of a particular function - clothes shops, for example, are identified and marked onto a base (GOAD) map of the CBD area

  2. Each is numbered

  3. The linear distance (in cm) from each unit to its nearest neighbour is measured

  4. Data is recorded in a table

  5. Once all distances have been measured, the average is calculated

  6. The total study area is measured in cm2

  7. The figures are inputted into the formula to generate a number between zero and 2.15

  8. Zero = clustered, one = random, 2.15 = regular distribution

Diversity index

  1. The shops and services in the CBD are classified using a key, according to their function, for example food shops, shoe shops etc.

  2. These should be marked clearly onto a map, perhaps using codes or colour coding

  3. Tallies are made of the number of shops of each separate function, and the total number of shops is recorded

  4. A diversity index could be calculated as follows:

    • DI = ∑ (X / N) 2

    • Where: DI = Diversity index, 

    • X = Number of shops for that category, for example food shops

  5. N = Total number of shops (for that time period if looking at historical changes)

  6. You would calculate X/N for each shop type or function, and then add up all of the squared values to give an overall value

  7. Values of DI are from zero to 0.99. The higher the value the greater the diversity

  8. If looking at changes over time, historical GOAD maps can be used in the same way, and the DI calculated for each time period and compared

Pedestrian flow (footfall) studies

  1. Decide on the criteria for comparison, for example:To compare a chain clothes shop, for example Topshop, with an independent clothes shop

    • To compare shops with large frontage to shops with small frontage

    • To compare shops with promotions, for example a sale, and those without

    • To examine and compare the potential impact of shop appearance, for example; colour, window display, cleanliness

  2. The number of people entering a particular shop is calculated as a proportion of those passing by, and tallies are recorded for each shop being investigated

  3. Data should ideally be tied in with questionnaires

Perception and mental map studies

  1. Mark some main land-marks, shops and services onto a base map of the CBD, and number them

  2. Ask people to attempt to correctly identify which number on the map corresponds to each shop, service and land-mark on the list you present them with

  3. Additional information could be obtained from each person, for example their age category, gender and ethnicity, plus information about their shopping habits and how often they visit the area

  4. Tally the results in a table to show the percentage of correct answers given for each location

  5. The results could be linked to information on peak land values, for example, is there a greater awareness of places closer to the PLVI (peak land value intersection)? Or accessibility - do more people correctly identify the locations which are more accessible compared to those which are less accessible? Or desirability - link to information on the environmental quality of different areas

  6. People could also be provided with a base map of only a few key landmarks, for example a main road or a park, and asked to draw their own ‘mental maps', showing whichever locations you ask them to mark or the areas that they like to visit within the urban area

Considerations and possible limitations

  • There is huge scope within this fieldwork theme for interesting and relevant investigations - your imagination is the main limit! However, it is important to ensure that you have clear aims before you begin to avoid the investigation becoming vague and unfocused

  • This type of study may be time-consuming, and require more than one person to carry out data collection. For example, footfall surveys should ideally take place at the same time at each location for direct comparison, and two people are really needed at each site to count in each direction

  • Pedestrianised areas of the CBD can be very busy and make surveys more problematic.

  • Obtaining historical GOAD maps will incur a cost

  • Perception studies should be approached carefully in order to obtain valid results. Sampling technique should be decided upon before the study is undertaken so as to reduce bias

  • Some questions are sensitive and should be approached as such, for example the age, ethnicity and social background of respondents.

Urban changes and issues investigations


  • To investigate industrial change over time

  • To investigate changing retail provision and shopper behaviours

  • To investigate a proposed new retail development, the case for and against the development and potential positive and negative impacts

  • To investigate issues such as crime and personal safety within an urban area using perception studies and mental mapping techniques as well as questionnaires and environmental quality surveys

  • To investigate the effectiveness of management strategies in the CBD, for example the designation of pedestrianised areas

  • To conduct route enquiries along transects to examine, account for and evaluate the changes which have taken place along this route over time

  • To investigate the impact of regeneration and redevelopment

  • To investigate chewing gum as an urban issue

  • To investigate planned housing developments and their potential impacts


  • Historical maps of the study areas

  • Current base maps (preferably GOAD maps) of the areas

  • Keys to different land-uses / functions

  • Coloured pencils

  • Digital camera

  • Questionnaires or interview questions

  • Other survey sheets, for example environmental quality, perception surveys, mental maps

Investigating urban changes

  1. Using historical maps and photographs, identify changes in land use, shops and services over time

  2. Mark current land-uses, shops and services should be marked onto a base (GOAD) map using a suitable key or classification system

  3. Carry out questionnaires to obtain opinions on changes, and investigate people's perceptions about the area through mental mapping techniques

  4. Complete environmental quality surveys to investigate the urban quality of the area as it is today

  5. Arrange interviews with representatives from companies in retail parks or industrial areas. Ask about the reasons for company's location and investigate the sphere of influence (for shoppers and work force) as well as the impacts of the park on the local area

Changing shopping provision and habits

  1. Investigate changes in the diversity of shops and services over time using historical maps and by applying a diversity index (see section on retailing and commerce)

  2. Compare out of town shopping centres with the CBD of local towns, the sphere of influence, pedestrian flows and ‘user' perceptions may all differ, along with factors such as accessibility, desirability, parking and other facilities at each location

  3. Use footfall surveys to determine which shop types are most attractive to shoppers. Perhaps this differs between different parts of the town, or is related to age, gender or social background

  4. Use questionnaires to evaluate people's opinions and feelings about the shopping environment, for example, how it has changed or is changing and the extent to which this influences their shopping behaviour

Investigating issues using mental maps

  1. Provide respondents with a base map of the study area, with a few key features marked on. Depending on the aims of your investigation, ask them to shade the areas:

    • Where they feel safest

    • Where they perceive there to be greatest risk to their personal safety

    • Which they consider to be the most attractive or desirable (in terms of living / shopping / working environment)

    • Which they consider to be cleaner, more polluted or run down

  2. Ask respondents to rank particular locations in the area according to certain criteria, for example safety, desirability, attractiveness, cleanliness

  3. Examine any links between the age, gender, ethnicity and social background of the respondents and their perceptions

  4. Obtain secondary data on planned developments and, where possible, conduct interviews with developers or company representatives

  5. Conduct questionnaires amongst the public, with shop owners and representatives from companies to obtain people's opinions and perceptions about these developments

  6. Use traffic and pedestrian surveys to highlight the potential impact of a proposed development

Considerations and possible limitations

  • Definite and clear aims should be established or the investigation becomes vague and unfocused. Once you've decided on your aims, you can then identify the exact data collection requirements to meet those aims

  • Time and labour are both considerations, do not bite off more than you can chew

  • Obtaining historical GOAD maps will incur a cost. Secondary data regarding historic industrial activity may not be publicly available

  • Perception studies should be approached carefully in order to obtain valid results. A sampling technique should be decided upon before the investigation is undertaken to reduce the chance of bias

  • Some questions are sensitive and should be approached as such, for example age category, ethnicity and social background

  • Arranging interviews with representatives from companies or retailers can be tricky too, especially as you may want to interview someone who is quite high up in the company rather than just the Saturday job person