Urban Sprawls to Sustainable Communities

Urban sprawl is another name for suburbanization or suburban sprawl. It is basically the movement of human population from densely populated metropolitan urban towns and cities to low density, monofunctional and car dependent communities. This kind of movement results in encroachment of farmlands, the geographic expansion and spreading of a town or a city, eating up the biodiversity and threatening the earth’s sustainability. Migration and urban sprawl is not something which has been recognised of late. It has been around since the beginning of the human existence.

Cities and their suburbs are now becoming overcrowded because of this sprawl. The term urban sprawl is always seen with negative connotations as it is believed to cause environmental degradation and loss of habitat and biodiversity. Experts believe that sprawl is ubiquitous and that it is expanding with the rising population. The term has become a rallying cry for endeavours for sustainable urbanization.
What causes urban sprawls?

Lack of Strategic Housing Planning

Little to no housing planning at regional and local level is the major cause of urban sprawl. Instead of adopting the technique of renovating and retrofitting the existing infrastructure and utilities of surrounding communities, these monofunctional and low population areas demand new public expenses for improvement of amenities without any comprehensive planning and well-organised resources. A well-structured and robust housing planning would anticipate the expansion and development of new areas and gradually execute the requisite planning efforts to create a well-integrated community.

Rising Population

Increasing population is the major contributor to urban sprawl. New communities and cities emerge as a result of growing population and begin to spread farther and farther away from city centres.

Consumer Preference for More Space


One cause of urban sprawl that is difficult to quantify is people preference. There are people who prefer larger home square footage, bigger bedrooms, large lawns than what is available in more crowded urban centres.

Higher Taxes in Fully Developed City Centres

Higher property and business taxes in the core city centres and towns have resulted in the settlement of business establishments in the outskirts or the suburbs where taxes are generally low. This is another contributor to sprawl.

Urge for Land Ownership

Many agencies, builders and even individuals have the greed and urge for owning more and more land which is often left vacant without any construction and this makes infill policies unsuccessful. Due to this, the city grows and expands outward leaving the vacant and undeveloped land within the core city.

Legal Disputes

Legal disputes like tax problem, property ownership problem, tenancy issues, subdivision complications etc often result in vacant spaces, lands or single-storied buildings within the core city space.

Major Effects of Sprawl

Increased Racial and Economic Inequality

When residents migrate to the outer parts of the city, they take their tax dollars also with them. The poor residents are the ones who are left behind and this leads to economic incongruity and inconsistency in societal arrangements based upon location. Urban sprawl accentuates ethnological segregation of the rich and middle-class from the poor, which further leads to poverty. Sprawl gives rise to concentrated wealth in the favoured sectors of the city and leaves the poor geographically isolated in the central city. The concentration of poverty stricken community poverty leads to an even more bleak future and desperate choices.

Increase in Air Pollution

Air Pollution

Sprawl results in increased driving hours as residents are car-dependent. There is a lack of walkability as people drive longer and more frequently and spend a huge amount of time behind the steering wheel, which results in more traffic and hence more air pollution.

Increase in Water Consumption

Expansion and growth of population lead to water distribution problems resulting in overconsumption of water. Suburban communities or suburban sprawls have bigger lawns and large backyards and thus consume more water. Landscaping is the major culprit for this excessive use of water as in the suburban areas, an insane quantity of water is used to landscape and make everybody’s yard look green and beautiful.

Loss of Wildlife Habitat

Wildlife endangerment and biodiversity destruction are the major negative effects caused by sprawl. As the suburbs or densely populated cities and towns slowly engulf the outskirts of an urban area, the wildlife faces tearing down and there is increased eating up of the woodland and forest areas, potentially threatening the survival of the biodiversity. As more and more area is being encroached for creating new urban cities, there is an increase in threat to the survival of the wildlife. It is like somebody wrecking your house and paving over it. Animal species live and thrive in the untouched and non-concrete areas around cities, and once humans start to intrude and interfere, all the flora and fauna in that region gets impacted and suffers. Urban sprawl is endangering wildlife all over the globe.

Sprawls Trigger Increase in Public Costs

Sprawls have been criticized for increasing public costs. Public tax money is spent on developing redundant infrastructure in the outskirts of the city centres at the cost of neglecting the infrastructure within the core cities that is either not utilized or underutilized.

Loss of Rural Heritage

Sprawls result in loss of the sociological and ecological benefits of rural heritage, local food production, and open space.

Policies and Methods of Controlling Urban Sprawl

Creation of urban boundaries along the edges of cities will control urban sprawl. This means that any construction will take place only in the inner districts and the urban size will not be extended. Increasing the resident’s share of costs towards schools, housing, public services can control the sprawl to a great extent as new establishments demand more costs for developing infrastructure and other amenities.

Move to or support polices to create places that use land use tools to curb urban sprawl.

Another way is considering a higher density living arrangement. Commonly, sprawling places are low-density, where housing is separated from official and commercial establishments. Higher density places discourage sprawl by mixing uses, means the above-mentioned establishments are generally in close proximity to the housing. One can walk, bike or ride transit to get to where one needs to go instead of driving.

Reinvent, repair and redevelopment of the existing inner core areas and establishments will control sprawl to a great extent. Usage of blank commercial plots and metro stations spaces and rehabilitation of abandoned properties and historic buildings are some examples of this policy
Betterment of downtrodden and poor. Paying financial credits, increasing access to affordable housing and regional subsidies are some solutions for improving their living condition and that will curb the movement of people who migrate to outskirts for better living conditions.

Leaving the City

Robust and efficient institutional framework will result in an appropriate growth and the planners will get a direction towards housing planning and its costs.


Urban sprawl is a growing problem in addition to other global issues which need immediate attention. If proper policies, robust planning and enculturation of right sustainable practices are in place, that would prevent sprawl and the further deterioration of our physical urban environment.


Bhatta, B. (2010). Causes and consequences of urban growth and sprawl. In Analysis of Urban Growth and Sprawl from Remote Sensing Data (pp. 17-36). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.

Brueckner, J. K. (2000). Urban sprawl: diagnosis and remedies. International regional science review, 23(2), 160-171.

Glaeser, E. L., & Kahn, M. E. (2004). Sprawl and urban growth. Handbook of regional and urban economics, 4, 2481-2527

Habibi, S., & Asadi, N. (2011). Causes, results and methods of controlling urban sprawl. Procedia Engineering, 21, 133-141.

Storper, M., & Scott, A. J. (2009). Rethinking human capital, creativity and urban growth. Journal of economic geography, lbn052.

One Comment

  1. Greetings! This was a great exploration of symptoms of a key problem we face with non human ideologies. Permaculture (it is true we need to Perm-A- Culture; so apt as many cultures are directly destroying the Planet.) Should be applauded right there next to the Venus Project. Two Last Hopes For Hu-manity to emerge!

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