Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl, also called suburban sprawl or urban fringe, is a phrase used to describe how settlements spreads in to areas that surround high-density population cities. In industrialized countries, urban sprawl is usually formed as people opt to move further from city centres, yet choose to live within a distance that they can travel daily to their workplace. People usually decide to move due to a number of factors which include desire to escape from the city's pollution, noise or poor infrastructure, while improved financial well-being, and the ability to buy or rent a larger, better appointed home, is also required to allow the move to take place. Improved transportation and communications have also made it easier for people from urban areas to live in the suburbs.

Urban sprawl has different characteristics and means of formation in the developing world, where such sprawl is formed due to influx of new residents from elsewhere, and on arrival at the city, are unable to find, or afford, accommodation at the centre. Cities in the developing world are often still growing at a rapid rate, and so follow a development pattern seen in the United States and European cities during the industrial revolution of the 19th century.

In the region of Sahel (the southern rim of the Sahara), for example, the population migrates to cities like Nouakchott, as agricultural and grazing areas are turning into desert. The cities expand rapidly, but since they are too poor to establish the necessary infrastructure, people are forced to live in urban sprawls lacking essential services like running water, electricity supply and sewage.

Not all residents choose to move to the outskirts of a city. Suburban areas that create the urban sprawl are often built thanks to subsidies from governments or local authorities, who are seeking to provide new housing away from the downtown area. Urban sprawl may bring certain benefits for its inhabitants, but it is also seen to have various negative consequences.

For those living in the suburbs of a city who have to travel to work each day, often by road or rail, the stress felt due to commuting and the time spent traveling to and from work each day can undermine the positive aspects of living outside the city centre. Commuters in major European cities might spend at least 15 hours each week just traveling between their home in the suburbs and their workplace, which decreases relaxation time and affects social skills such as parenting. Urban sprawl has a usually permanent effect on the green environment around the city's fringes, the building of housing estates, roads, railroads and other infrastructure reducing easy access to parks and nature.

This type of settlement has increasingly affected animal and plant habitats. According to environmentalists, industrial agriculture and urbanization are among the leading causes of habitat loss.

Residents living in urban sprawl areas spend three times as much time driving as the residents of city centres, therefore significantly increasing levels of pollution. Water pollution can also be due to urban sprawl, as bacteria come from overloaded sewer systems or leaking home septic systems. Soaring traffic levels and higher speeds have also led to higher number of pedestrian accidents. Poorly maintained infrastructure in some suburban areas, including fewer sidewalks, as well as higher speeds prevalent in suburban roads have contributed to this trend.

There has also been negative impact, albeit indirect, on the quality of life of citizens in central urban areas. An example for this is that hospitals often have to choose where to expand and usually pick up areas with growing population, such as the sprawl. In the developing world, where population densities in urban sprawl areas is considering higher than in the suburbs of cities in the developed world, there are also significant public health issues, with the often insanitary living conditions enabling the spread of environmental diseases, while the lack of safe drinking water, poor drainage and sewage systems are part of everyday life.

Some of the issues caused by urban sprawl can be addressed by careful town planning. The use of green belt, an area where development of new houses or industrial sites has been banned, effectively halted the spread of urban sprawl around London, England, after World War II. But as demand for new homes continues, planners then have to provide alternative sites for redevelopment within the existing boundaries of the city.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Sprawl: A Compact History
Robert Bruegmann.
University of Chicago Press, 2005
Sprawl, Justice, and Citizenship: The Civic Costs of the American Way of Life
Thad Williamson.
Oxford University Press, 2010
Putting a Stop to Sprawl: State Intervention as a Tool for Growth Management
Attkisson, Lesley R.
Vanderbilt Law Review, Vol. 62, No. 3, April 2009
The Other Side of Sprawl: A County-Level Analysis of Farm Loss in Florida
Basu, Pratyusha; Chakraborty, Jayajit.
Southeastern Geographer, Vol. 48, No. 2, August 2008
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Nature in Fragments: The Legacy of Sprawl
Elizabeth A. Johnson; Michael W. Klemens.
Columbia University Press, 2005
A Preface to Urban Economics
Wilbur R. Thompson.
Johns Hopkins Press, 1965
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 8 "Housing and Land Use Patterns: Renewal, Race, and Sprawl"
Housing, Sprawl, and the Use of Development Impact Fees: The Case of the Inland Empire
Bluffstone, Randy; Braman, Matt; Fernandez, Linda; Scott, Tom; Lee, Pei-yi.
Contemporary Economic Policy, Vol. 26, No. 3, July 2008
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
What Will It Take to Halt SPRAWL?
Sheehan, Molly O'Meara.
World Watch, Vol. 15, No. 1, January-February 2002
Towards Smart Growth? the Difficult Implementation of Alternatives to Urban Dispersion
Filion, Pierre.
Canadian Journal of Urban Research, Vol. 12, No. 1, Summer 2003
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Hot 'Lanta's Urban Expansion and Cultural Landscape Change [*]
Stewart, Dona J.
The Geographical Review, Vol. 89, No. 1, January 1999
PEER-REVIEWED PERIODICAL
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Regulating Place: Standards and the Shaping of Urban America
Eran Ben-Joseph; Terry S. Szold.
Routledge, 2005
Librarian’s tip: "Zoning Is a Major Cause of Urban Sprawl" begins on p. 223
Metropolitics: A Regional Agenda for Community and Stability
Myron Orfield.
Brookings Institution, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "'From Spatial Mismatch' to Urban Sprawl"
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