Date of Award


Level of Access

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Spatial Information Science and Engineering


Max J. Egenhofer

Second Committee Member

M. Kate Beard-Tisdale

Third Committee Member

Deirdre Magean


The term rural is used to describe people, places, traditions, and spaces. It is often employed as a setting for study as well as an object of study. People’s perceptions of rural are confused and differ considerably. For over a century researchers have attempted to define more precisely this term using social, economic, and or ecological components. However, problems of interpreting official definitions and measurements exist. These definitions require extensions in order to capture a more objective meaning of the word. This thesis presents the foundations of a new approach to measuring and defining rurality. A spatial based approach is taken in which explicitly spatial data instead of social or economic data are collected and indexed. The index is divided into two clusters, a connectivity cluster and an access-to-service cluster. The indicators in the clusters are chosen based on a list of criteria taken from the Institute for International Development. The model employs mathematical foundations of both topology and metrics. The use of fuzzy measures to determine a degree of rurality, instead of classical set theory, enhances the model. A degree of connectivity, a degree of accessibility, and an overall degree of rurality is determined. The model also incorporates scale. The granularity of an indicator depends on a user-required level of detail. The data are manipulated and analyzed in a GIS. The spatial index is tested on a number of towns throughout Maine. A graphical user interface illustrates the results in an easy to understand format. The results of this thesis show that a spatial approach to defining rural extends formal definitions to capture a different facet of rurality, a degree of rurality. Furthermore, spatial, temporal and attribute queries are possible enabling users a choice given a particular task.