A group of urban researchers from Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University, Abdelmalek Essaadi University, and University of Minnesota came together to analyze the relationship between urbanization and land use changes, with the objective of understanding their impact on the cityscape in Fes and the importance of the increase in impervious surface areas. The Northeastern city, the second largest in Morocco, is home to 1.1 million people and the world’s oldest university founded in the ninth century, The University of Al Quaraouiyine (also known as The University of Al-Karaouine).

Maps show that urban sprawl ate up green landscapes in Fes, the colonial Moroccan capital. As a result of increasing from 484,300 people in 1982 to 1,129,768 in 2014, the amount of urban land increased by about 121 percent between 1984 and 2013. Fes’s rural cover decreased by 11 percent in terms of agriculture and three percent in terms of forestry.

People wearing the traditional jilabah on a hillside near Fes.

People on a hillside near the city, in March 1993. CC: Berkeley Geography

To analyze the city’s urban sprawl, the researchers used GIS technology and remote sensing while capturing still images of the landscape. The land use maps between 1984 and 2013, based on automatic classification and visual interpretation, respectively, illustrate land use changes in terms of residence, agriculture, industry, water bodies, forestry, etc. The growth of urban area accompanied by increases in amount of impervious surface area are clear.

The maps captured in the summer show the Fes urban area unplanted and easily distinguishable from forests and orchards. However, those captured in spring had significant amounts of asphalt, concrete, and other impervious surfaces to separate vegetated areas from urban areas. Multi-temporal imagery has proved to be very important for determining the transformed divergences for the maps. Compared to the single dates, both the average and the minimum separability of landscapes were increased by the combination of spring and summer images.

Map of the urbanization of Fes.

The land cover maps of Fez in 1984 and 2013. Courtesy of International Journal of Sustainable Built Environment.

“According to our observations, urban sprawl has a negative impact on infrastructure and the sustainability of Fes,” write the researchers. Due to urban expansion, Fes lacks vegetation cover, which is the most important parameter in examining the quality of an urban environment. The researchers call for growing more trees and developing green belts to reduce the city’s ecological footprint and carbon emissions significantly. The researchers call on Fes’s city planners to come up with a suitable strategy to reclaim industrial wastelands.

The study concludes that urban development in Fes should be guided by a sustainable planning and management vision that promotes interconnected green spaces, a multi-modal transportation system and mixed-use development. Diverse public and private partnerships should be used to create sustainable and livable communities that protect historic, cultural and environmental resources. One of the old quarters in Fes, Fes el-Bali, is listed as a World Heritage Site and is believed to be one of the world’s largest urban pedestrian zones. Researchers also call on policymakers, regulators and developers to support sustainable site planning and construction techniques that reduce pollution and create a balance between built and natural systems.