Landscape changes associated with urbanization can lead to many serious ecological and environmental problems. Quantifying the vertical structure of the urban landscape and its change is important to understand its social and ecological impacts, but previous studies mainly focus on urban horizontal expansion and its impacts on land cover/land use change. This papers focuses on the residential landscape to investigate how the vertical dimension of the urban landscape (i.e., building height) change through time, and how such change is related to changes in the horizontal dimension of the landscape, using Beijing, the capital of China, as a case study. We quantified the expansion of the residential neighborhoods from 1949 to 2009, and changes in vegetation coverage, building density, and building height within these neighborhoods, using 1 m spatial resolution imagery. One-way ANOVA and correlation analysis were used to examine the relationships of building height to vegetation coverage and building density. We found: (1) The residential areas expanded rapidly and were dominated by outward growth, with much less within-city infilling. The growth rate varied greatly through time, first increasing from 1949–2004 and then decreasing from 2005–2009. The expansion direction of newly built residential neighborhoods shifted from west to north in a clockwise direction. (2) The vertical structure of residential neighborhoods changed with time and varied in space, forming a “low-high” pattern from urban central areas to the urban edges within the 5th ring road of Beijing. (3) The residential neighborhoods built in different time periods had significant differences in vegetation coverage, building density, and building height. The residential neighborhoods built in more recent years tended to have taller buildings, lower building density and lower vegetation coverage.
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