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Causes and Effects of Urban Sprawl

A rise in the population and changes in the income of an average American family, has led to an increase in urban sprawls. Some view it as an opportunity to lead a better life in larger homes, away from the congested city life, while some think it burdens the economy and the environment. Let us look into this issue in greater details through this Buzzle article.
Urbanization refers to the migration of the population from rural regions to towns and cities. Man has always moved to newer places in search of better opportunities and amenities. Hence, migration is not a new phenomenon. Studies report of a steep rise in urbanization that came about in the late 19th and early 20th century. This sudden increase in urbanization can be attributed to the Industrial Revolution, which provided better economic opportunities in the cities, owing to the newly set up factories and industries.

As the cities and towns reap most of the benefits of innovations in the fields of science and technology, urbanization still continues to take place in them. As a result of this, the cities and its suburbs spill over to the rural areas along their boundaries. This spread is termed as urban sprawl. In the following Buzzle article, we will study the causes, effects, and consequences of urban sprawl and what it signifies.


The following are the main causes of urban sprawl.
  • Cheaper land and housing costs in the suburbs as compared to urban centers has lured many to settle in these areas.
  • There has been an increase in public spending for the development of infrastructure like roads, water, and electricity in the suburbs than in existing urban centers, thus adding benefits to life in sprawls.
  • There has been an increase in commercial lending practices that favor suburban development.
  • Increase in family income of an average American has raised his standard of living. Owning a car and paying for gas to transit from the suburb to the city is affordable for many Americans.
  • Sprawls are characterized by low density populations and less traffic congestion. Therefore, even in the absence of any federal policies that would encourage growth of sprawls, these centers have proliferated due to the willingness of a growing number of people to live in sprawls, where they find life more calm and peaceful than in the cities.
  • Higher property and business taxes in the cities have pushed businesses to the suburbs where taxes are generally low.


The following are the main effects of urban sprawl.
  • Sprawls have been criticized for increasing public costs. Some view sprawls as a venue where public money is being spent on redundant infrastructure outside the urban areas at the cost of neglecting the infrastructure in the cities that is either not utilized or underutilized.
  • People living in urban sprawls commute to cities in their automobiles. This has resulted in heavier traffic on the roads, leading to traffic congestion, increase in air pollution, and automobile-related accidents.
  • Increasing dependence on automobiles has led the sprawl population to use their vehicles even for short distances. Such practices have, no doubt, led to an increase in obesity and hypertension in the population living in sprawls than those in the cities.
  • Sprawls have triggered concerns over environmental issues as well. Houses in sprawls are larger than those in urban centers. This is viewed, by some, as a waste of cultivable land and displacement of wildlife. Since large areas of land are covered with impervious material, such as concrete, there is lesser percolation of rainwater into the groundwater.
  • Sprawls are believed to cause disintegration in the social capital of America. Houses in the sprawls are more spacious than those in the city and usually come with large backyards―this set up tends to separate neighbors. Hence, social interactions among neighbors is lesser in these regions than in the cities.
  • People residing in sprawls depend heavily on automobiles to commute to the main city, thus, city planners are compelled to spend more money on building larger highways and parking spaces. This is considered as an additional burden on the state treasury because this reduces the area of taxable land.
Despite widespread anti-sprawl sentiments, urban sprawls have their own benefits. With a considerable portion of the population preferring to live in sprawls, houses have become more affordable in cities. Reduced housing costs in sprawls is believed to have provided minorities and recent immigrants better housing opportunities as well.

Urban sprawl is the later stage of urbanization and is an inevitable phenomenon. Just like every other process, urban sprawls have their own pros and cons. However, the negative effects of urban sprawls can be neutralized by monitoring their growth in a planned manner, such that they are not a liability, either to the society, economy, or the environment.