What Is Urban Sprawl?

It is the movement of human populations away from urban centers and into smaller communities that is referred to as “urban sprawl.” If left unchecked, this expansion has the potential to lead to the urbanization of these small communities in their own right.

When it comes to the effects of urban sprawl on public health, it is now recognized as a significant issue. Furthermore, it is considered to be a significant contributor to a variety of environmental issues, such as climate change, waste production, habitat destruction, and air pollution, among others.

More information on the causes and effects of air pollution can be found here, as well as research on the Top 17 Environmental Issues, which includes climate change as number 12 on our list – click here to see what was ranked first.

Urban sprawl is a problem that many people are familiar with, even if they haven’t come across the specific term that describes it. It is also one that is difficult to explain, particularly when it comes to pinpointing the root causes and potential solutions for the problem.

However, despite these efforts, urban sprawl continues to be a problem that must be addressed. In order to accomplish this, more needs to be done to raise awareness of what it is and the dangers it can pose.

The purpose of this piece is to accomplish that while also proposing a number of potential solutions that may be able to have an impact on the continued spread of urbanization in the future.

What Causes Urban Sprawl?

There is no single factor that contributes to urban sprawl. Generally speaking, it is acknowledged that there are a variety of contributing factors, each of which plays an important role in the continued urbanization of small communities and green spaces in general.

One of the most significant factors is population growth, which is especially significant given the fact that populations in major cities have been on the rise for several decades. According to a chart produced by the United States Census Bureau, this was a significant problem in the mid-1990s, and the situation has not improved since then.

As the world’s population grows, more land is required to accommodate them. Considering the fact that death rates are currently lower than birth rates, it is clear that urban sprawl is a contributing factor to population growth.

However, there are a variety of other factors that can contribute to this increase in population outside of urban areas. The availability of lower land rates makes it easier for developers to acquire and develop land, which is a minor contributing factor.

These rates, when combined with fluctuations in the value of real estate, can make it easier for people who live in urban areas to purchase property outside of those areas.

Besides that, improvements in infrastructure have made it easier to relocate away from urban areas while simultaneously making it easier to commute into them. Because of this, the prospect of living outside of urban centers becomes more appealing, thereby contributing to the spread of human population.

The rise in living standards has also played a role, as attractive housing outside of urban areas has become increasingly in demand and is also within reach of many people who live in urban areas. It is also possible that poor urban planning is a contributing factor in some cases, as people fleeing densely populated and poorly planned urban areas in search of more tranquil settings to live.

As a result, an influx of people into smaller towns and rural areas occurs, which aids in the urbanization of these areas. The irony is that attempts to get away from crowded urban environments can actually lead to more being built in their place.

Last but not least, consumer demands play a significant role. Higher-wage earners have a tendency to prefer to live in less densely populated areas rather than in urban areas.

The result is that they relocate further afield to more peaceful areas. Again, as the number of people who do this increases, the amount of sprawl increases.

What Issues Does It Create?

While none of this appears to be a significant issue on the surface, urban sprawl is actually responsible for a number of issues that affect everything from the environment to public health and everything in between.

One of the most serious problems caused by urban sprawl is the loss of natural habitats for a wide range of wildlife species. As urbanization takes over more and more land, animal species are being pushed out of their natural habitats and may even be driven to the brink of extinction.

Additionally, urban sprawl contributes to an increase in public expenditures as a result of the increased amount of infrastructure and housing that must be constructed to accommodate it. In many cases, this money will be deducted from your tax refund check.

Increased use of automobiles and other modes of transportation to get from point A to point B will result from the previously mentioned longer commutes. This has the potential to have a negative impact on the environment because more cars means higher levels of pollution.

These emissions are so concentrated in densely populated areas that they are causing problems with the ozone layer in those locations. Furthermore, increased traffic contributes to increased air pollution, which results in smog that degrades the quality of the air we breathe.

This poor air quality has been linked to a variety of serious health problems. As a result of air pollution, which is in part caused by urban sprawl, the likelihood of developing respiratory problems such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, and even unexpected pregnancy outcomes increases significantly.

Finally, people who relocate away from densely populated areas may experience negative consequences in their social lives. As a result of urban sprawl, this is a frequently unnoticed consequence that is often underestimated in terms of its dangers, particularly in terms of the psychological effects that the loss of social life can have.

Are There Any Potential Solutions?

One of the most significant problems associated with urban sprawl is that it is difficult to identify potential solutions to the problem. A growing population necessitates the densification of existing urban areas in order to accommodate it, but this creates its own set of problems in and of itself.

But there are organizations that are dedicated to working on the problem, and they have come up with a number of potential solutions that could be implemented.

The first is to actually make use of vacant land and buildings in urban areas that have been sitting vacant for a long time. There are old buildings in almost every urban area that have fallen into disrepair or that are simply not being used for their intended purposes any longer.

These could be revitalized with the appropriate investment, which would reduce the need to construct new structures elsewhere.

Others argue that the lack of small-town community spirit is one of the reasons why urban sprawl is allowed to occur in the first place. Many municipalities have established organizations dedicated to the development of community spirit, which in turn allows for the establishment of boundaries that can help to prevent urban sprawl from occurring.

In order to mitigate the negative effects of urban sprawl on the environment, measures can be taken to protect natural habitats and wildlife. The use of peaceful protest has been shown to be effective in preventing urbanization in green spaces, particularly in extreme cases.

The continued preservation and cultivation of such areas can also be viewed as a means of discouraging sprawl, particularly if those responsible for looking after such areas are extremely passionate about their work and have the support of local communities.

Unfortunately, while all of these are admirable objectives, it is possible that they will fail to address the practical issues that contribute to urban sprawl in the first place.

The Final Word

A complex issue, urban sprawl is one that does not have an easy solution, as is the case with many environmental issues.

A growing population, combined with technological advancements, makes it easier for urban areas to spread out into rural areas and natural habitats, allowing them to become more environmentally friendly. The opposition to these efforts is frequently insufficient to prevent them from succeeding.

In addition to the numerous other factors that contribute to urban sprawl in the first place, this problem is exacerbated. If there is a solution, it will have to take into consideration the need to cater to large populations as well as shifting societal attitudes.

Perhaps you have your own ideas about what could be done to combat urban sprawl. Please share them with us. If that’s the case, please continue the discussion in the comments section below or share this article on social media to spark a discussion among your peers.


Featured Image Credit: Soham BanerJee @ Flickr