Urban Sprawl


Institution Affiliation:

Urban sprawl


Increasedurbanization, changing social dynamics, and increased developmentsoften characterized by shallow planning have resulted to zoning ofareas in a processes denoted as urban sprawl. In fact, urban sprawldenotes the extension or development of human populaces away fromcentral urban places into formerly rural and remote places or whatmost analysts describe as exurbs. These areas rely heavily onexisting infrastructures such as rail, electricity, roads, andtechnologies thus, they put strain on cities and suburbs. However,urban sprawl extends beyond development as it also denotes theevaluation of the effects of increased exclusion experienced betweencommercial and residential areas as well as the exploration ofnumerous designs and motifs. Governments have to spend huge sums ofmoney to set up infrastructures for use in exurbs as well as layplans on effective administration of land and housing in these areas.In addition, urban sprawl has led to a number of problems such asincreased ecological pollution, increased traffic congestion,increased health problems, decreased social capital and amenities,decreased life quality, increased delays in emergency services andresponse management, and increased infrastructure costs. In thisregards, it is essential to evaluate the economic, social, health,and environment effects of urban sprawl with an objective ofconstructing comprehensive ideas for urban planning.

Urban sprawl is a term that was first thought up by Earle Draper backin 1937. These were among the first city planners located in thesoutheast of the United States of America (Nechyba &amp Randall,2015). In definition, urban sprawl is a multidimensional concept ofcommunity planning, which is mostly used in reference to the urbangrowth of developed nations such as the United States and a number ofother Western Nations. It is more of an unplanned or uncontrolledspread of urban development into neighboring regions. Jacquin,Misakova &amp Gay (2008) also refer to urban sprawl as a complexpattern of land use, including transportation and social planning,which has led to the emergence of modern forms of urbanizationproblems. Since the introduction of the concept of urban sprawl byDraper, there has been a rise of issues over the planning of moderncities and its effects on the society. As such, the issue has widenedits focus into being a research issue in environmental science. Thispaper looks at urban sprawl and its effects.


Whyhas this new urban form developed over the last few decades?

Whatis the environmental social and economic impact of urban sprawl?

Arethere any practical strategies to control and mitigate urban sprawl?

Causesof urban sprawl

There have been a number of studies and scholarly works to assess andascertain the major causes of urban growth. Due to this, there are anumber of causes that have been identified in various literature.Despite the fact that the reasons are diverse, there are certaintrends that seem to unify the main causes. Perhaps one of the mostjustifiable reason for urban sprawl is lack of comprehensiveplanning. According to Ferre &amp Salij (2010), having little or noregional planning is one of the major causes of urban sprawl. Were itthat the municipal officials and other relevant bodies of the denselypopulated urban areas had a contingency plan for controlling rapidgrowth, the problem could have been mitigated. Additionally, lack ofhaving plans to bridge the existing infrastructure and amenities ofsurrounding communities means that the highly populated areas have toincur public expenses for improvement of infrastructure (Ferji &ampSalij, 2010). Therefore, a well-drawn out regional plan wouldanticipate this growth, and a cohesive community could be created intime to control the problem.

Nechyba&amp Walsh (2004) say that rapid population growth is another reasonfor the uncontrollable urban sprawl that is seen in developedcountries. In fact, Ferre &amp Salij (2010 assert that increasedpopulation growth or increased number of immigrants in countries mayhave resulted to urban sprawl as the increased population tend tosqueeze existing houses. Despite the fact that the population is notthe only cause, it is a major factor. The most affected areas bylarge population growth are Western and Southern regions of theUnited States. In cases of a sharp upsurge in the population beyondthe capacity of nearby urban centers, new communities are created,which contribute to the problem of urban sprawling (Nechyba &ampWalsh, 2004).

Increase of the population beyond a certain number forces communitiesto begin spreading farther from the urban areas, contributing to theproblem. Westerink et al. (2013) say that when municipalitiessubsidize the cost of infrastructures such as roads and sewers, thereis creation of conditions that promote urban sprawl. Another problemwith this is that the incentives that create communities on theoutskirts of the cities without providing for comprehensive planscreate the conditions for urban sprawl.

Accordingto Westerink et al. (2010), not all causes of urban sprawlingare easy to quantify. One such problem is consumer preference. Whenthe community has enough to spend on luxuries, many people will gofor the biggest and most spacious amenities. This is the reason manycities in the developed countries have very large houses, spaciousgardens, and expansive yards to accommodate luxuries such as swimmingpools and mini-golf field. This desire by people to acquire biggerproperties and more home square footages than what can be comfortablybe accommodated by the available space adds to the problem of urbansprawl. Most nations have experienced lack of space in most citiesand with the increased desire to live luxuriously within cities,cities have experienced urban sprawl. In fact, most people want tolive within walking distances from major cities, which haveexacerbated the issue of urban sprawl as those desiring to live incities but cannot afford to do so, look for spaces in areas borderingthe cities.


Threecategories of impacts of urban sprawl are discussed. These areenvironmental impacts, social impacts, and economic impacts. Assuggested, urban sprawl has resulted to negative effects especiallyin regards to social, environmental, and economic sense. In fact,urban sprawl has a close association to ghettoization in developingnations where people who cannot afford to pay for services in citiesmove to settlements close to the cities, but which lack socialamenities. Due to poor planning, overcrowding, lack of enhancedinfrastructures, poor policies, and disintegration in these areas,people living in exurbs lack the quality life that people living incities enjoy.


Effectson the air quality

Several academician have undertaken researches to evaluate theeffects of urban sprawl on the quality of air at and around thecities that are affected (Borego et al., 2006). Most of theseresearches have been conducted on the integration of data on landattributes and air quality trends, which is a quantitative index ofurban sprawl associated with emissions. Additionally, a number ofthese researched have demonstrated that there is an associationbetween various attributed to urban development and vehicle emissions(Stone, 2008). However, Stone (2008) asserted that there is needfirst to assess the implication of sprawl for an ambient measure ofregional air in a number of urban areas, keeping in mind controls forpopulation, emissions and other attributed affecting the ozone.

Ithas been established that urbanized regions that are characterized byabnormally high levels of sprawl have the greatest quantity of yearlyozone emissions (Borrego et al., 2006). This level is not thesame as urban places that are recording recent surges in populationor unpopulated cities. Also, controls on the average ozone seasontemperatures for urban centers with high spread rates are higher thanthe rest of the urban places. Additionally, there is a directassociation between urban forms and ozone exceedances.

Accordingto Westerink et al. (2013), there is a significancerelationship between land use and vehicle travel. This furthercreates a connection between population density and fuel usage inurban areas. Likewise, there is a significant correlation betweenpopulation density and vehicle ownership in large urban centersacross the world. Once there are a great number of automobilesreleasing carbon dioxide simultaneously, the quality of the air, andthat of the ozone layer around the affected urban places is adverselyaffected. The carbon footprint of regions experiencing urban sprawlis much higher than that of other urban places. According to Stone(2008), as a study conducted on land use, transportation and airquality indicated in urban places in the United States indicated thatthe air quality deteriorated as the population grew over time.

Inaddition, there is also a substantial relationship between thespatial structure of metropolitan areas and certain meteorologicalphenomena that are responsible for the quality of air. According toKleerekoper, Esch &amp Salcedo (2012), there is a phenomenon knownas “heat island effect’, which is a result of excessiveurbanization. This phenomenon is defined as the difference in airtemperatures of the urban areas, relative to the air temperatures inadjacent un-populated/rural areas. This phenomenon is driven by themigration of natural vegetation facilitated by impervious surfacessuch as roads and pavements in the urban area. This combination ofurban properties leads to the raise of the average air temperature inthe large cities.

Impacton wildlife habitat

Urban sprawl affects the wildlife habitat in a number of ways. Assuch, there are studies that have been conducted to assess the leveland ways in which the wildlife habitat has been affected by urbansprawl. Hess et al. (2014) say that despite the fact thaturban sprawl has led to the conversion of croplands, pastures, andother natural environments into built environments in massive scales,there is little that has been done to ascertain the level ofbiological organization through the landscapes (Blair, 2014). Giventhis, the growing interest in the ecological functioning of urbanareas has been necessitated by the increased suburbanization acrossthe world, which has made nations move away from rural settlements tourban settlements.

Accordingto Blair (2014), urbanization affects the heterogeneity of thelandscape. It, therefore, affects the presence, distribution, andnumbers of resources upon which wildlife depends on. However, Blairsays that not all levels of development negatively affects thewildlife. He says that moderate urbanization increases heterogeneityand does not effectively affect certain wildlife resources such aswater and grassland. Yet, extreme urbanization, which is dense enoughto be qualified as urban sprawling, decreases heterogeneity andavailability of natural resources. It also decreases the amount ofedge between the wildlife habitats.

Accordingto Hess et al. (2014), not only the number, but also species`diversity are negatively affected by urban sprawling. Research hasshown that the community and life history of wildlife species aresignificantly correlated with the degree of urbanization in a certainurban place. Whenever there is an increase in population of humanbeings and subsequent increase in buildings and infrastructure, thewildlife numbers decrease significantly. This is because the peoplemove out to the wildlife’s original habitat and bring down thevegetation that supports their lives, at the same time depletingcrucial natural resources such as rivers and streams. The result is amass movement of the species into other habitats or even death of theweakest wildlife. This problem has affected major U.S and WesternNations’ cities, which have grown beyond the capacity.

Hesset al. (2014) says that urban sprawl may not only dramaticallydecrease the amount of wildlife in their natural habitat, but alsoaffect them through the degradation of light, noise, and air quality.Other activities such as timber harvesting may severely reduce thecomfort of wildlife in their natural habitat. It is the tendency ofurban developers to cut down forests so as to obtain naturalresources and give space for the growth of the urban centers. Assuch, the home of wildlife is destroyed, which consequently has adirect negative impact on their survival.

Impacton water quality

Several contributions have been made to studies about urban sprawldynamics at various geographical scales, with comments on therelationships with the quality of the environment’s naturalresources. In regards to this, empirical evidence has been collectedthat demonstrates the negative effects of urban sprawl on the qualityof water in the affected areas. The quality of the water is affectedin several ways. For instance, Tu (2011) says that individualminerals such as limes and sands that are used for making cement andbuilding large structures affect the groundwater of the places wherethey are obtained. Accordingly, shifting operations from the site tosite in attempts to give room for more development destroys theecological and esthetic integrity of the natural water resources.

Naturalresource consumption is another factor in the deteriorating waterqualities around urban centers. Poor water quality thus stems fromurban “non-point” pollution sources. Non-point pollution sourcesoriginate from a wide range of diffuse sources. It is caused bymovement of water through the ground, in the process carrying with itpollutants that lower the water quality. According to Tu (2011),destabilization of stream channels and flooding that is caused byexcessive surface runoff from the developed areas pollutes thenatural ware resources. Change of land-use modifies surface andgroundwater interaction too.

The recharge and discharge points are negatively affected to thelevel that a number of the small watersheds around the urban centersshow signs of hydrological impairment. Should there be a decrease inthe capacity the groundwater to serve the community, three definitelywill be overuse of the resource, resulting in conflict, which isassociated with eventual lowering quality of the fresh water. Rija etal. (2014) note that there is a tendency to mass migration toplaces that have abundant fresh water. This in turn leads to overuse.Consequently, by reducing the ground water recharge, the hydrologicaldynamics of the wetlands are misused, resulting in poor waterquality.

Rija et al. (2014) say that sprawling low-density developmentis one of the leading causes of imperviousness, which is associatedwith low water quality. Of this, automobile related infrastructure,such as roads and runways, account for a large percentage of the netimperviousness of city grounds. Studies have indicated that theimpervious surfaces are in excess of actual need, with some roads notbeing used for the purposes they were built for. Nevertheless, theinitially existing ground water becomes oversaturated with mineralsand natural salts, rendering their use for definite drives such asdrinking and catering useless. This water ends up being unutilizedfor the most important purposes because of its sub-standard quality.

Impacton birds

One of the most affected wildlife by urban systems is the birdcommunity. This has created an area of research in environmentalscience over the recent decades, with the scholars attempting to findfacts about excessive urbanization and the bird community (Gargiulo,Sateriano, Bartolomei &amp Salvati, n.d). Likewise, studies havebeen conducted to examine a number of development intensities bycomparing the differences in population and the effects on the wildenvironment. Results indicate that with growing rates ofurbanization, the bird community has either reduced significantly orwandered to other areas in the exploration of enhanced habitat.

According to Gargiulo et al. (n.d), with the growth of parksand urban cultivated green areas, the natural environmental nicheupon which birds thrive is negatively affected. The species diversityof birds depends on the age and storey-structure of the plants. Inthe parks and urban cultivated green areas, most of the plants arenot old enough to have the structure that can support the birds. Inaddition to this, there are a number of factors such as soil andfertilizing regime and intensity of trampling that are crucial indetermining the number of nesting sites and shelter for many speciesof birds. There also exist a great number of birds that requireindigenous trees to build their homes, for example, birds that resideinside tree trunks. With excessive urban growth, it becomesimpossible to support these birds’ habitats, even with efforts tocopy their natural living conditions.

Justas other world-life, urban sprawl affects the bird population at thespecies level too. Sprawl affects the local patterns of extinctionand invasion and the density of the species at different urbanizationlevels. The species richness at the community level declines sharplywith an increase in urban size. This is because there is low-nestingof the species, with multiple broods increasing with the increase insize of the city centers. At the same time, there is a negativeimpact on the number of species as related to landscape-levelpatterning. A combination of spatial heterogeneity and density ofwoody plantation affects the richness of bird species in and arounddensely populated urban areas.


Impacton commute time

In effect to the society, one most commonly identified negativeconsequences of urban sprawl is the amount of time that people taketo commute from home to other places, such as work. The correlationbetween traveling patterns and urban sprawl has been subject to studyover the last few decades (Sultana &amp Weber, 2007). Commutingpatterns in densely populated cities does not necessarily reflect thetraditional inward commuting, rather the dispersal of jobs and homes.This leads to commuting patterns, which do not respond to thestandard urban models.

According to Sultana &amp Weber (2007) Brueckner &amp Largey(2008), the geographic locations of homes and places of work have asubstantial influence on the duration of commuting. It has beenthought that the duration between home and place of work in a sprawlurban center normally has a longer mileage than that within urbanareas. Given this, the mileage patterns of sprawl centers is not thesame as the rest of the urban places. Brueckner &amp Largey (2008)also say that there are more traffic jams in huge urban centers,which also take longer than usual to clear. As such, people areforced to hit the road at odd hours, such as very in the sunrise orlate night. At the same time, the shortest commuting lengths andtimes are seen in the people who commute within the urban centers.This is the same intention why various people have resorted to livingin the urban centers, with the aim of reducing the commuting timeon-route to their places of work.

Sultana &amp Weber (2007) assert that the discussions about sprawlare quick to argue that there are negative consequences for travelwithin the urban area. Carmona (2010) says that the lower densitiesand less compact urban plans imply that homes, social amenities and anumber of other destinations for the travelers are located furtherapart from each other. Therefore, the longer distances and dispersedpopulations favor the use of motor –vehicle transportation overanother form of public transportation. In the contemporary urbanliving styles, commuting consist of about a quarter of the dailytrips (Sultan &amp Weber, 2007). This means that any impacts on thesame carry a significant social concern. This has led to theassumption that longer commutes are not desirable as they are asocial problem to the people living in the densely populated urbanareas, as well as reducing the time that is available for otheractivities. However, according Marique et al (2013), despitethe fact that travel times may be strongly influenced by urbansprawl, the length of travel should be consistent with the time thatis set aside for average home to work trip.

Impacton the poor families

Another important aspect of studying the impact of urban populationis in the scope of equity. First, the substantial decrease in thecentral cities relative to the suburbs has a relationship with thesurge in concentration of poverty in the urban centers. In the wakeof the cease of the Second World War, a number of factors wereconverged to give change to the nature of the relationship betweenthe urban centers and poverty levels. Jargowsky (2001) says thechanges that were made to the modes of travel, especially automobiletravel, reduced the worker’s reliance on proximity to the publictransport systems. As such, the economy’s harsh reality dawned uponthe poorest of the community, who would not afford the high rates oftransport within the urban centers. As well, the differentiation ofsocial amenities in the urban centers meant that the rich in thecommunity had to use different ones, and the poor had to use theirown. As such, development efforts were concentrated on making betteramenities for the rich in the urban centers while the poor had nooption than to utilize the degraded ones. For example, modern andbetter schools were built in the posh areas of the urban centerswhile crowded and low-quality schools were built in the overpopulatedplaces in the urban centers.

Jargowsky(2001) argues that the United States is one of the developedcountries which is unique in terms of the concentration of poverty.According to him, however, substantiating this claim empirically isquite difficult, as neither the poverty rates nor the census tractscan be substituted consistently. Despite this, most cities in thecountry are quite segregated by race and class. This is the reasonthe affluent and the middle-class people reside in posh areas, whichare located far from their workplace. On the other hand, the poor areconcentrated in slums and other poorly planned residential areas,which are put up by the government for the purpose of controlling thepopulation. Jargowsky (2001) asserts that sprawl is related topoverty and inequality in more than one way, mainly because thephenomena creates a great degree of separation between the socialclasses. In the light of this, the key element of this separation isexclusionary. This mean that any new development, be it planned orunplanned, highlights natural selection between the rich and the poorin the society, and thus contributes to the growing gap between therich and the poor.

Economic impact

Costof infrastructure

The economic assessment of infrastructure costs that are associatedwith urban sprawl is a concept that has been around for a while now.Such assessments have been conducted in the United States and otherdeveloped countries. However, the main challenge is in interpretingthe assessments, as the costs of infrastructure in the moderneconomies are determined by a number other variables, such as costsof fuel and the design (Blais, 2011). Conversely, it is irrefutablethat the level and degree of urban growth has a direct effect on thecost of the infrastructure. For instance, the cost of roads in urbanareas is determined by the size of those urban areas, the cost ofsewerage is determined by the population of the urban area inquestion, and a number of another infrastructure depends on variablesdetermined by the level and extent of urbanization. Additionally,studies in the area have shown that some infrastructure costs areconstantly changing, given the government induced taxes and policiesin developed countries.

According to Blais (2011), most developed countries’ governmentsare concerned more with affordability of infrastructure in the urbancenters. This is the reason most state treasuries concentrate ondeveloping infrastructure subsidies that establish suburbs decadesbefore there is any need for renovation. As such, whenever problemssuch as access to far parts of the cities arise, the public bears thefull cost of having to pay to connect the city. Moreover, once theinfrastructure has been established, there are a number of ongoingoperational costs that are associated with transport. Most of thesecosts are settled by the public coffers through tax and other fees.Intrinsically, as the cost of building public transport links inurban centers purportedly goes down for the government, the privatecitizens bear the responsibility of paying for everything. As such,infrastructure and transport costs in sprawling urban centers callfor the need to focus on re-investment in infrastructure,highlighting the major negative impact of urban sprawling oninfrastructure development.

Impacton land taxes

According to research by Song &amp Zenou (2006) an increase in theproperty tax unambiguously decreases both urban sprawl and utility.These were results of a model that was adopted to show therelationship between urban sprawl and land taxes in the UnitedStates. The research study was conducted using secondary data thathad been collected from cities and townships from state and localgovernments. Additionally, at the state level, tax rate surveys havebeen conducted to collect effective tax rates from a number oflocalities. It has also been established in such researches that oneof the major purposes of collecting tax rates by the state is to givethe state authorities one standard for comparing tax rates withinthemselves (Song &amp Zenou, 2006). This qualifies the statementthat the land tax rates for various municipalities is a function ofthe state’s land policies, which may directly or indirectlyinfluence by urban growth and urban sprawling.

Research has been conducted which incorporates land market and theconnection between urban spatial expansion. In the light of this,there are two major countervailing effects of property tax on thesize of the huge cities. The improvement effects in discussion arethe impact of the property tax on the balancing of improvements byurban developers. If a certain developer has low improvement ratesper acre, it means that there has been a reduction in the intensityof development, and this is directly associated with the levels oftax in those specific urban areas. Moreover, there are dwelling sizeeffects on the rate of taxes in the urban areas. Lower dwelling sizesare an indication of increasing population density. This means thatthe net effect of urban sprawling on property tax is quite ambiguous.Additionally, no empirical study has been conducted so far thatformulates the equation for determining the direction of tax ratingsof the major sprawl centers in the developed countries.

Controland mitigation of urban sprawl


A number of proposals for controlling and mitigating urban sprawlinghave been forwarded in various literature. Shaw (n.d) proposespromotion of private protection of open space, addressing trafficcongestion, encouraging flexible zoning, challenging “nimbyism”and “monkey wrenching”, and doing away with subsidies and unfairburdens. Promotion of private protection of open space entailsrecognizing that private organizations are in a position of comingforward and protecting their open space, and countering the myth thatthe phenomenon is consuming large tracts of farmland (Shaw, n.d).Additionally, it has to be recognized that there are a number ofwildlife populations which can thrive even in suburbs. Secondly, theissue of traffic can be addressed by noting that mass transit alonedoes not relieve the traffic and that there are policies that can beput in place to regulate the flow of traffic. Better roads can alsobe designed to ease the flow of traffic, and considerations forcongestion pricing have to be affected.

As an effort of encouraging flexible zoning, the municipalauthorities of the congested townships can adopt “as of right”zoning and nuisance standards (Shaw, n.d). At the same time, therecan be streamlining of the zoning process to ease congestion. Shawcoins the term “nimbyism” (which stands for not-in-my-backyard),to describe the tendency of selfishness when it comes to public spacerationing. By doing away with this, growth can be affected withoutcongesting the urban centers. Finally, the municipal officials canavoid subsidies and unfair burdens by having the developers pay forthe full costs of their projects. Fees and other taxes on developerscan also be impacted to penalize those who do not operate in thespirit of sustainable growth.


In modern day, municipal planning, one of the best ways ofcontrolling urban sprawling is regulation through laws and policies.Many developed countries have policies such as the resurgence of citycenters and mixed-urban regeneration, which are formulated to controlthe growth of the urban centers and creating boundaries for thesprawling (Couch &amp Karecha, 2006). Additionally, there areefforts, which have been put not to control but to reverse theeffects of the already over-populated urban centers. This is inresponse to emerging environmental agenda in the developed countries.For instance, England published policies which were intended toprovide a continuous supply of housing land which addressed themarket demands. According to Couch &amp Karecha (2006), thesepolicies and regulations are used by municipal governments toencourage maximum use of the available land.

Danziger (2015) firmly asserts that the ultimate effect of thedevelopmental lands approach is the imposition of restriction is onthe use of available land through condemnation. This reflects theambition of the public in taking interest in protecting the publicspace, and preventing the development by persons who do not mindabout controlling the problem. As such it is essential for theparliaments and other legislative bodies to put in place strictregulations to control excesses by certain developers. At the sametime, Danziger (2015) speaks about the importance answering thequestion as to whether it is within the power of the legislature tocontrol excessive urbanization or not. However, as things stand, thelegislature has all the powers of formulating and pushing forregulations for controlling urban sprawling.


Asaforementioned, urban sprawl urban sprawl has allowed the developmentof exurbs near cities, which has led to negative economic, social,and environmental effects. In addition, urban sprawl brings intocontext the tension between commercial and residential uses of landand infrastructures such as electricity and rail. In this regards,cities need integrated and definite policies to govern theacquisition and utilization of lands near cities to ensure properplanning. In fact, due to urban sprawl, governments have to devotehuge sums of money to set up substructures for use in exurbs as wellas lay procedures on effective administration of land and housing inthese areas. As such, it is essential to undertake future andcomprehensive studies on urban sprawl to evaluate the economic,social, health, and environment effects further.


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