The One Minute Geographer: Connecticut’s Urbanized Land

Jim Fonseca
4 min readFeb 2, 2023
Map from portal.ct.gov

Connecticut is a good state to talk about the concept of urbanized land. Urbanized land or urbanized area is a very different concept from that of metropolitan areas. The combined territories of the 384 US Metropolitan areas take up almost half (47%) of the United States, so that figure makes it sound as if much of the country is somehow “filled up.” But, metropolitan areas are defined as clusters of counties and, as we know, counties on the fringes of cities can be quite sparsely populated with widely spaced housing, agricultural land and forests. Almost every metropolitan area extends out to include counties that are only urban on the fringe closest to the big city.

The Census Bureau came up with the concept of “urbanized areas” to identify densely populated urban areas that are filled up with buildings and roads. Map makers use this category to highlight urban area on maps, so think of them as the yellow areas you see on traditional state highway road maps. You can also think of urbanized areas as the densely built-up areas of cities you could draw a line around if you were looking at a satellite photo of a city. (Try it on the aerial photo of New London below.)

Urbanized areas are often shown in yellow on state highway maps. Map from adopteerightslaw.com

Since most of us spend most of our time surrounded by people within these dense patches of built-up areas, it’s amazing to realize that only 3% of American land is urbanized in the formal definition of that word. That 3% compared to the territory of the contiguous US (the 48-states) is about the size of Michigan. Now consider that 81% of Americans live on this 3% of territory. We’re pretty much all crammed into a space the size of Michigan!

In Connecticut, as you would expect of a small, densely populated northeastern state, 38% of the land is urbanized. This is about the same percentage as in three other territorially small, densely populated states in the Northeast: New Jersey, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. In Connecticut, 88% of the state’s population lives on this 38% of the land. Connecticut is not a big agricultural state (only 11% of state territory is in farmland), so most of that non-urban land is forested. Between 56% and 61% of the state…

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Jim Fonseca

Geography professor (retired) writes The One Minute Geographer featuring This Fragile Earth. Top writer in Transportation and, in past months, Travel.