Land Use Sustainability Index for Puerto Rico

EPA Grant Number: X3832209
Title: Land Use Sustainability Index for Puerto Rico
Investigators: Juncos-Gautier, Marìa , Gonzalez-Toro, Antonio C. , Padin, Carlos M. , Santana, Jose R
Institution: Universidad Metropolitana
EPA Project Officer: Bauer, Diana
Project Period: May 1, 2005 through April 30, 2009
Project Amount: $287,400
RFA: Collaborative Science & Technology Network for Sustainability (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , Sustainability


The proposed research project addresses a pressing environmental issue on the island of Puerto Rico: unsustainable land use due to unplanned suburban growth. As a relatively small island in the Caribbean, land is a scarce and highly valuable resource. Measuring 8,874 square kilometers, with a population density of 429 inhabitants per square kilometer, one of the highest in the world, Puerto Rico is running out of space and out of time. In 1999, Universidad Metropolitana obtained a Sustainable Community Challenge Grant from EPA for the groundbreaking project Puerto Rico’s Road to Smart Growth. This project facilitated the study and dissemination of crucial information to advance the state of knowledge about urban sprawl. The most staggering result of the study was the revelation that if urban sprawl continued at the same rate it had in the last five decades, the whole island of Puerto Rico would become a suburban megalopolis within 75 years, the life span of one generation. Sustainability of Land Use in Puerto Rico will focus on preventive approaches to strengthen and continue Puerto Rico’s Road to Smart Growth project’s initiative, which was designed to diagnose the problem and create awareness.


The main goal is to develop a geographic information system (GIS) based framework to establish a benchmark and measure the impact of land use trends of urban growth projects on the quality and availability of land, ecosystems and water on the island of Puerto Rico.


The model will use four municipalities in Puerto Rico for a case study, all within the limitations of different watersheds, in order to establish the parameters that will be used later for other municipalities on the island, as well as other tropical islands or other islands under the jurisdiction of the United States. The following steps will be followed to develop the model: (1) site characterization and assessment (includes the construction of a conceptual model); (2) collection and analysis of available data; (3) analysis of analog maps, aerial photographs and satellite data; (4) data integration for sustainability index determination (construction of land use and land cover ratio, construction of population rate images, calibration and validation of land cover and population images, and development of sprawl index); (5) analysis of outcomes (integration of all spatial data); (6) documentation of findings and preparation of reports; and (7) dissemination and transferability. Lessons learned will be transferred through an educational publication and its distribution to key stakeholders, a Spanish and English version in PDF format for the Internet, and a one-day seminar in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Expected Results:

The expected result is the development of a geographic information system (GIS) scientific model with a land use sustainability index within a tropical island scenario. The model will be systems-oriented to allow the study of the relationship between different land use patterns and the complex system of interdependent environmental components that are related to one another in a quantifiable way. It will also provide a scientifically reliable tool that will be forward-looking and preventive in the practice of sustainability to measure and monitor the impacts of the expansion of the urban built environment and the quality and availability of land, ecosystems and water in Puerto Rico for long term sustainability in the Caribbean region.

In addition, since the results of this study are going to be available through the Internet in both Spanish and English, it will benefit leaders that deal with policy and decision–making processes on land use and the protection of the environment, as well as the community at large, researchers and specialists in the Caribbean, U.S. mainland, Latin America and elsewhere. It will also provide the EPA with an excellent opportunity to expand its portfolio of studies by geographic regions, resources, systems, and scientific approaches within the dynamics of a tropical island.

Supplemental Keywords:

land, bioavailability, cumulative effects, indicators, ecological footprint, integrated assessment, sustainable development, environmental policy, land use policy, environmental decision making, socioeconomic, natural resources conservation, ecosystem and watershed management, island biography, landscape ecology, conservation biology, Smart Growth, environmental planning, urban and regional planning, urban sprawl, urban expansion, green infrastructure, modeling, monitoring, measurement methods, analytical, environmental education,, RFA, Scientific Discipline, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Sustainable Industry/Business, cleaner production/pollution prevention, Monitoring/Modeling, Environmental Monitoring, Urban and Regional Planning, sustainability assessment, watershed, urban planning, land use model, ecosystem management model, geo-spatial internet system, developmental stability, conservation, water supply, GIS, pollution prevention, ecological models

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2005 Progress Report
  • 2006 Progress Report
  • 2007
  • Final Report