With significant economic development in the last decade in China, urban land has increasingly expanded and encroached upon arable land in the last decade. Although many papers have analyzed the characteristics of urban land expansion, relatively less attention has been paid to examining the different expansion features of different-tier cities at a regional level. This paper analyzes the spatio-temporal differences of urban land expansion and arable land loss among different-tier cities of the BTH (Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei) region in China in the 1990s, and identifies social, economic, political and spatial factors that led to these differences. Based on urban land change data determined by interpreting Landsat Thematic Mapper (TM) imagery, it was found that the urban land area in the BTH region expanded by 71% between 1990 and 2000. Different-tier cites, however, had enormous differences in urban development, such as speed of urban land expansion, speed of urban land per capita growth, and so on. These differences were closely related to rapid economic development, strict household registration systems, urban development guidelines (chengshi fazhan fangzhen), and national land use policies. Of all the new urban land, about 74% was converted from arable land, and there was a general tendency for smaller cities to have higher percentages. One of the important reasons for this result is that urban land is highly correlated with arable land in spatial distribution. (c) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
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