Brookings Study Reveals New View of Sprawl. (Special Report)

By Hoene, Chris; Brennan, Christy | Nation's Cities Weekly, July 29, 2002 | Go to article overview

Brookings Study Reveals New View of Sprawl. (Special Report)


Hoene, Chris, Brennan, Christy, Nation's Cities Weekly


This is the third in a series of articles on growth and development trends in American cities, sponsored by NLC's Municipalities in Transition Panel on Community and Regional Development.

When asked to describe Los Angeles' growth pattern, for many, "sprawl" may be the first word that comes to mind. According to a study by The Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, the reality of recent growth in Los Angeles is much different than the low-density, auto-oriented common perception. In fact, this western city, like many others in the region, is considered increasingly "land-efficient."

"Who Sprawls Most? How Growth Patterns Differ Across the U.S.," reveals new realities about growth patterns across the country. It is the first national study measuring sprawl as the rate of land consumed for urbanization compared to population growth. In an analysis of density trends for every metropolitan area in the United States between 1982 and 1997, the study finds:

* Most metropolitan areas in the United States are adding urbanized land at a much faster rate than they are adding population.

* The densest metropolitan areas in the nation are in the West.

* Reliance on public water and sewer systems and high levels of immigrant residents are associated with less land consumed for urbanization, relative to population growth.

* High-density metro areas and fragmented local governments are associated with more land consumed for urbanization, relative to population.

Urbanization Outpaces Population Growth

Although many fast-growing metropolitan areas are adding significant amounts of urbanized land, population increase is occurring at a much slower rate. In the 15-year time span covered by the study, the amount of urbanized land in the United States increased by 47 percent, while the nation's population grew by only 17 percent.

This trend is supported by findings that density in both metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas is declining, with more severe wane in non-metropolitan areas. Only 6 percent of the 281 metropolitan areas examined by the report increased or retained their density level, and include the metropolitan areas of Los Angeles and Savannah, Ga. As land urbanization outpaces population growth, less dense development will result in sprawl.

The U.S. National Resources Inventory defines urban areas as land urbanized to accommodate population and all land use for commercial, residential, industrial, institutional, roads and highways, urban parks and so forth.

Regional Growth Conferences

The general trend discovered by the study indicates that sprawl is a common occurrence in U.S. metropolitan areas. Metropolitan areas in the West in particular, although overwhelmingly marked by sprawl in the past, now show that growth patterns occur in different ways and at different paces across country. …

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