August 10

5 Negative Effects of Urban Sprawl

News & Events


Urban sprawl development is the main type of development in the United States. This type of land development occurs on the outskirts of a city. It is described as being low density and automobile-dependent, creating an endless outward expansion, and consuming significant amounts of natural resources. 

Many factors are identified as the main drivers of urban sprawl. These factors include population growth, the rise in household incomes, individual preferences favoring low-density development, physical constraints on development continuity, and structural density. 

The unrestricted growth characteristic of urban sprawl spreads structures out across large distances, resulting in increased automobile dependency, inefficient water and energy use, and less community cohesiveness.

Consequences Of Urban Sprawl

The lack of planning for a city’s expansion leads to high land use which is not good for the environment. Historically, a city consisted of a strategic point for commerce. The city was developed around the main point and grew with a high population density.  

Today, residents now want more of an isolated dwelling which results in expanding the surrounding land by building homes in a disorganized way. The consequences of this type of development are widespread. Below is a summary of the negative effects of urban sprawl.

1. Water Pollution

Sprawl creates large amounts of pavements that are covered by water-resistant materials such as asphalt, concrete, brick, and stone. These hard areas, such as roads and parking lots,  don't allow water to seep into the ground. Instead, the water runs off the impermeable surface, picking up many types of pollution in the process, and then flows into a storm drain or a nearby body of water.

Urban sprawl development fills or buries many small streams in underground pipes to make way for buildings, roads, and parking lots. Economic impacts of increased impervious surfaces include increased water treatment costs, fisheries impacted by increased pollutants, reduced residential and municipal water supplies, and increased occurrences and intensities of floods.

2. Agriculture

Agricultural economies are threatened by urban sprawl development. Farmland has been lost to development. Farms closest to urban areas grow most of the produce and remain in harm's way.  The loss of agricultural land means loss of local food production in most urban areas.

3. Automobile-Dependent Transportation

Traffic is more severe in sprawl developments because everyone is dependent on a car to get to their destinations. Whether it’s school, grocery stores, or other services, these developments are set up for you to drive rather than walk. 

There are few town centers where multiple errands can be accomplished during one trip. Those days are long gone. Now there are too many cars on the road contributing to an increase in traffic and pollution

4. Monetary Costs

A sprawling pattern means that the road transportation system must expand to accommodate the increased traffic. This adds up to higher financing costs for the residents and the city. Families will spend more on gasoline, car purchases, and maintenance costs. For the local government, money will be spent on building roads and repairs which equates to an increased tax burden for everyone. 

5. Loss of Rural Heritage and Open Space

Rural communities might lose something important when the effects of urban sprawl continue unabated. The rural heritage is valued from a sociological point of view. Rural living is a particular culture that not only provides food, but also a particular way of life that many families cherish.

The smaller subdivisions that intrude on rural land are damaging to the rural landscape. If you live near a forest rather than a series of farms, you also are suffering a loss that shouldn't be taken lightly. The effects of urban sprawl gradually eat away at the forest line. Walking in the forest or mountains is a restorative pleasure that is precious to a a large percent of the population.

The ecological value of your open space or agricultural land is important too. It absorbs your air pollution and gives the environment a break from various kinds of chemical pollution. 

Urban Sprawl Solutions

To solve the problem of urban sprawl, cities must implement better planning policies that concentrate growth and prevent sprawling into rural areas.  A few solutions to help combat the effects of urban sprawl include:

  • Compact building designs
  • Walkable neighborhoods
  • Accessible transportation options
  • Sustainable planning improvements
  • Sprawl-prevention policies: land development measures and urban growth boundaries

Trusted Planning Experts

Growth and development is not always a negative aspect. However, it can become detrimental to natural resources and open spaces. At Pickett, Ray, & Silver, we can help developers and cities plan the smart way by surveying the land to help you make informed decisions. Our civil engineering division can guide your team for commercial, industrial, and residential projects.  Contact us today for a consultation. 


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