Developed Land per Capita

Desired Trend


Current Trend

Baseline (2006): 0.255 acres
Current (2016): 0.266 acres

Theme Green


Number of developed acres per capita

Why is it Important?

Land is a finite and valuable resource in every community. Both developed land and undeveloped land provide benefits to society. Developed land provides space for housing, offices, retail, and industry. In addition, developed land includes areas planted with lawn grasses, such as residential yards, parks, and golf courses.1 Further, for the St. Louis region, land classified by NLCD as “barren” is included as developed because a large portion of this category is quarries. Undeveloped land, such as agricultural and natural resource land, benefits society by providing plant and wildlife habitat, air and water filtering, open space viewsheds, and recreational opportunities. The benefits of undeveloped land include these positive externalities, which benefit the society at large but are not reflected in market valuation. This indicator measures the number of developed acres per capita.2 Decreases in this measure could be achieved by redevelopment of abandoned properties or by more compact new development. The benefits of reducing the number of developed acres per capita include decreasing the loss of agricultural and natural resource land, reducing the costs of providing infrastructure3, and meeting market demand for more compact development.4

How are we Doing?

In the baseline year 2006 there were 0.255 acres of developed land per capita in the St. Louis region. That number increased to 0.260 acres per capita in 2016. In 2001, developed land per capita was even lower, at 0.250 acres per person. Developed land per capita increased by 1.7 percent over the last decade. The change in land use from 2006 to 2016 is due to the development of 26,000 acres of land and the net gain of 56,700 residents. The amount of newly developed land per new resident was 0.459 acres.

The map below shows where agricultural and natural resource land was converted to developed land over the last decade. Between 2006 and 2016, a majority of the land that was newly developed was previously cultivated cropland or hay/pastureland (16,000 acres).

In comparison with the peer metropolitan regions the St. Louis region has one of the highest levels of developed land per capita, with 0.29 acres in 2016, ranking 6th among the 50 peer Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs). The St. Louis region also ranks near the top for change in developed land per capita with a 0.3 percent increase for the 15-county metropolitan area from 2011 to 2016. Despite increases in developed land over the last decade, the United States and most of the peer regions experienced decreases in developed land per capita due to increases in population as well.

Geographic Level

St. Louis eight-county bi-state region, including Franklin, Jefferson, St. Charles, and St. Louis counties and the city of St. Louis in Missouri and Madison, Monroe, and St. Clair counties in Illinois. View map.


1Land classifications for this indicator are based on the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) classification system, which is a modified version of the Anderson Land Cover Classification System.

2Developed land per capita is based on the HUD Flagship Sustainability Indicator Growth through Reinvestment. The Flagship Indicators were created for the Sustainable Community Initiative in an effort to develop a common national framework for measuring long-term progress toward sustainable communities. The Growth through Reinvestment indicator measures net acres of agricultural and natural resource land lost annually to development per new resident. In instances when the population increase is small or population declines the HUD Flagship indicator method appears to distort the scale of development that occurred in a region. Thus, the indicator was changed to a measure of developed land per total population, which more accurately accounts for the change in developed land. Both indicators measure the efficient use of land, and indicate the extent to which development consumes undeveloped land.

3Litman, Todd. Smart Growth Savings: What We Know About Public Infrastructure and Service Cost Savings And How They are Misrepresented By Critics, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 24 April 2014; accessed on 19 June 2014 at

4Riggs, Trisha. The Future of Housing Demand is Compact, Urban, and Transit-friendly. UrbanLand: the Magazine of the Urban Land Institute, 15 May 2013; accessed on 19 June 2014 at


5In 2018, in order to record a trend, the “baseline” year was revised to 2006. 


Data Sources

Multi-Resolution Land Characteristics (MRLC) consortium, National Land Cover Database; U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division