In recent year, the geographical boarders between urban space and the countryside are difficult to identify. Intense sprawl of urban forms in the periphery of cities and beyond is a reality raising several concerns about the consequences of urban development on the environment (Burchell et al., 1998; Lopez and Hynes, 2003; De Ridder et al., 2008). Ex-urban areas are being transformed rapidly becoming places of sustaining various, very often conflicting uses (Burchell et al., 1998; EEA, 2006). The new patterns of urban expansion seem random and unintentional not matching to any of the well-known urban geometric models proposed at the first half of the 20th century. The aforementioned developments have brought about considerable changes in the relationship between urban and exurban areas. The volume of exchanges between urban and rural areas has escalated whereas the types of exchanges have been enriched (EEA, 2006).
Several scholars and planners argue that the boarders amongst urban areas and the countryside have already collapsed (Burchell et al., 1998). Urban sprawl is a phenomenon that affects sizable areas far beyond city suburbs (Theobald, 2001). In that respect, there is general consensus that urban sprawl holds some identifiable characteristics (Zhang, 2000):
* Vast special dispersion of urban activities and forms in the countryside, even in remote areas,
* Distinctive linear developments across road infrastructure,
* The emergence of large open areas with scattered urban forms, patches of urban activities and housing units of no particular pattern in space.
In most cases sprawl is a the process of urban change that leads to undesirable urban development patterns making space more homogenous and at the same time even more unstable. Moreover, the intensity of land use antagonism creates constantly new urban forms and also influences the social aspects of rural areas. Land fragmentation emerges as a side-effect, the established dynamic equilibrium amongst urban network, rural space and natural ecosystems gets disrupted and the local communities start changing their structure seeking an different role in the regional context (Burchell et al., 1998; Grimm et al., 2008). Therefore, urban sprawl affects not only existing land uses but also natural equilibriums and social institutions, norms and behaviors (Glaeser and Kahn, 2004; Fan et al., 2008; Grimm et al., 2008). To extend knowledge and understanding of the causes of observed variability and changes regarding urban expansion and to design effective urban planning policies presuppose thorough understanding of past and current urban sprawl trends. The mechanisms by which the observed expansion of the built-up area happens might be a crucial matter (Razin, 1998).
As regards the driving forces of the phenomenon, there is a need to identify and estimate the all major factors that influence not only the per capita consumption of land but also the factors that determine the special characteristics of that land. The relevant literature (Fujita, 1996; Burchell et al., 1998; Brueckner, 2000; Theobald, 2001; Veldkamp and Lambin, 2001; Glaeser and Kahn, 2004; Foley et al., 2005; EEA, 2006; Fan et al., 2008) suggests that the level of experience in the filed urban planning in each region, transportation policy, preferences of individuals regarding the characteristics of their homes and the location decisions of certain economic activities, influence considerably the magnitude and patterns of urban sprawl.
In this article, we attempt to approach the new urban sprawl geography in Greece by mean of an empirical analysis. The particular goals of this paper are a) to identify and evaluate the spatial variations in the magnitude of urban sprawl and b) to examine the likely factors that explain this variability of sprawl as well as the relative importance of each factor. The aforementioned goals are pursuit by means of an empirical model that simulates and analyzes the interactions between urban sprawl and a range of economic, social, environmental and policy factors. …