FUTURES Urban Growth Model

FUTURES is an open source urban growth model specifically designed to capture the spatial structure of development. Learn how you can implement FUTURES in your own research.

What is FUTURES?

FUTURES simulation

FUTURES stands for FUTure Urban-Regional Environment Simulation and was originally developed by the Landscape Dynamics Group led by our center’s director, Ross Meentemeyer. The simulation was designed specifically to address the regional-scale ecological and environmental impacts of urbanization and is one of the few land change models developed to explicitly capture the spatial structure of development. It can accommodate the input of a variety of datasets with different spatial extents and can be coupled to other models.

The 2013 publication introducing FUTURES describes how the simulation works and presented the first case study for its use: Meentemeyer, R.K, W. Tang., M.A. Dorning, J.B. Vogler, N.J. Cuniffe, and D.A. Shoemaker. 2013. FUTURES: multilevel simulations of emerging urban–rural landscape structure using a stochastic patch-growing algorithm. Annals of the Association of American Geographers 103(4):785-807.

A 2017 publication compared FUTURES with several other land change models to examine tradeoffs in quantity, allocation, and configuration accuracy: Pickard, B., J. Gray, and R. Meentemeyer. 2017. Comparing quantity, allocation and configuration accuracy of multiple land change models. Land 6(3):52–72.

What can FUTURES do?

The publication introducing FUTURES has been cited dozens of times, and the model has been used in a variety of applications. At the Center for Geospatial Analytics, use of FUTURES has mainly focused on research concerning conservation and ecosystem services. For example:

Computational Steering of FUTURES

An award-winning method to interact with and steer geospatial models like FUTURES in real time has been developed by doctoral student Ashwin Shashidharan (jointly advised by Raju Vatsavai, the center’s associate director of spatial computing and technology, and center director Ross Meentemeyer). His computational steering techniques allow users to pause, play, rewind, and add new information to a geosimulation as the model is running.

Several publications introduce methods for computational steering with FUTURES using one computer or using distributed cores in a High Performance Computing (HPC) framework.

Integration with Agent-Based Models

New work recently introduced a hybrid agent-based modeling (ABM) – cellular automata (CA) modeling approach that integrates an ABM with FUTURES. The approach was developed to analyze dynamic feedbacks between landowners’ decisions to sell their land to developers and patterns of landscape fragmentation:

Koch, K., M.A. Dorning, D.B. Van Berkel, S.M. Beck, G.M. Sanchez, A. Shashidharan, L.S. Smart, Q. Zhang, J.W. Smith, and R.K. Meentemeyer. 2019. Modeling landowner interactions and development patterns at the urban fringe. Landscape and Urban Planning 182:101-113.

Interaction with Tangible User Interfaces

Researchers at the Center for Geospatial Analytics have also integrated FUTURES with the center’s signature tangible user interface system, Tangible Landscape. The videos below demonstrate some of the system’s uses for interacting with FUTURES and visualizing outputs.

How can I use FUTURES?

Developers at the Center for Geospatial Analytics have made it possible to run FUTURES in an open source environment using GRASS GIS and have crafted workshops and materials that interested members of the geospatial community can use to implement FUTURES for their own work. Explore the online tutorials below to start using FUTURES, and read more about the GRASS version of FUTURES in this case study:

Petrasova, A., V. Petras, D. Van Berkel, B.A. Harmon, H. Mitasova, and R.K. Meentemeyer. 2016. Open Source Approach to Urban Growth Simulation. The International Archives of the Photogrammetry, Remote Sensing and Spatial Information Sciences, Volume XLI-B7:953-959.

Who do I contact for more information?

A headshot of Ross MeentemeyerDirector Ross Meentemeyer continues to oversee FUTURES research at the center.




A photo of Anna PetrasovaThe center’s current lead developer of FUTURES is postdoctoral scholar Anna Petrasova.