Changing Landscapes in the Garden State: Land Use Change in New Jersey, 1986–2012

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Funding for this project was provided by the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station and the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Hatch program. The authors would like to acknowledge the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) for the Land Use Land Cover (LULC) data, as the primary data set analyzed in this report.


This report is part of an ongoing series of collaborative studies between Rutgers and Rowan Universities examining New Jersey’s urban growth and land use change.

The New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) Land Use/Land Cover (NJLULCC) GIS data set utilized for the analysis represents a detailed mapping of the land use and land cover as depicted in high resolution aerial photography.  The imagery was then classified and mapped providing a window into how the Garden State has developed over the past several decades (from 1986 through 2012) and the subsequent consequences to its land base.  The full report examines land development patterns from several different angles providing a “report card” on urban growth and open space loss.

Looking first at urban (i.e., developed) land, the analysis reveals that New Jersey continued to urbanize but its historic high pace of development slowed during this last mapping time period.  Between the year 2007 and 2012 (T4) New Jersey expanded the amount of urban land by 24,250 acres to a statewide total of 1,558,862 acres total urban land (Table 1 in report). During this same time period, New Jersey generated 6,425 acres (10.0 square miles) of additional impervious surface representing an annual rate of 1,285 acres of impervious surface increase per year or nearly 3 football American fields per day (including end zones).

The open space land category that saw the conversion of the greatest number of acres, primarily to human altered land uses such as urban, barren or agriculture, was upland forest with 21,045 acres (32.9 sq. miles) converted statewide during T4 (‘07 - ‘12). After Upland Forest, Agriculture showed the next highest conversion to other land uses human, primarily barren, forest and urban, with 19,438 acres (32.9 sq. miles) converted statewide during T4 (‘07 - ‘12).

The urban growth In the coastal (CAFRA) zone increased 6.8 % in the ten year period between 2002 and 2012, which is only slightly less than the NJ statewide average of 7.3%.  While annual development in coastal municipalities was at a slightly higher rate than the statewide average (1.23% vs. 1.13% in T3 and 0.39% vs. 0.32% in T4), development in the CAFRA zone was slightly lower than the statewide average (1.06% vs. 1.13% in T3 and 0.30% vs. 0.32% in T4).

One notable success story has been the near complete halting of coastal wetlands destruction. The NJLULCC data set shows a steady decline in the rate of coastal wetland conversion to urban land uses. During the two and half decades between 1986 and 2012, 1020 acres of coastal salt marsh were mapped as converting to urban uses with 30 acres of that change occurring between 2007 and 2012, equating to a percentage loss of less than one half of one percent (or - 0.48%).

The source GIS data set is available through the NJDEP Bureau of GIS website and the NJ Geographic Information Network (NJGIN) website. This project updates our earlier work on this same topic that examined urban growth and associated land use change from 1986 to 2007 time periods.

While efforts have been made to ensure that these data are accurate and reliable within the state of the art, Rowan University and Rutgers University cannot assume liability for any damages, or misrepresentations, caused by any inaccuracies in the data, or as a result of the data to be used on a particular system. Rowan University and Rutgers University make no warranty, expressed or implied, nor does the fact of distribution constitute such a warranty.  Any maps, publications, reports or any other type of document produced as a result of an associated project utilizing Rowan University and Center for Remote Sensing and Spatial Analysis (CRSSA), Rutgers University, data will credit the original author(s) as listed in the report and web site.