Sprawl: A Compact History

By Robert Bruegmann | Go to book overview
Save to active project


What can we conclude from this history of sprawl and the campaigns to stop it? It appears that sprawl has been a feature of urban life since time immemorial. In the past when cities reached a certain level of economic maturity and affluence, densities began to decline at the center as many people who had a choice moved farther out to escape the congestion and pollution of the city, reduce costs, or gain more space. This resulted in a corresponding rise in density at the edge as rural land became exurban or suburban. Within the last century this process has been visible in cities throughout the affluent industrialized world, producing a marked flattening and—until very recently—lowering of the density gradient (fig. 1).

This flattening of the density gradient seems to have happened because a more dispersed landscape has afforded many people greater levels of mobility, privacy, and choice than they were able to obtain in the densely settled large cities that were the norm through the end of the nineteenth century. A great many people have concluded from exactly this kind of analysis that sprawl is inevitable and that efforts to stop it are doomed.

However, in any analysis, it also pays to look at what we don't know or can't explain. For example, there is considerable evidence that—at least in the central city and regularly developed suburbs of many fast-growing American urban areas—the longstanding process of decentralization has actually reversed itself. The line on the chart that records density gradient is still flattening but it is no longer falling. Densities are actually rising sharply both at the center and at the edge in places like Los Angeles, Phoenix, or Las Vegas and more slowly elsewhere in the country. New suburban development at the edge of most American cities is now considerably denser than it was in the decades after World War II.


Notes for this page

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this page

Cited page

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited page

Bookmark this page
Sprawl: A Compact History


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this book

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen
/ 301

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?