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What is urban sprawl?

Urban sprawl is widely spread-out development outside city centers, usually on previously undeveloped land. It is characterized by having few people per acre, homes that are separate from commercial and industrial areas, and branching street patterns. Urban sprawl, also called suburban sprawl, is often created by developing farmland, forests, and wetlands. 

Many environmental problems are associated with urban sprawl, which results in a loss of open space and agricultural land, increased dependence on automobiles and other vehicles, and high energy and water use. The spread-out nature of urban sprawl does not support public transportation. Because homes developed in urban sprawl are separate from places of work, stores, and services, residents must usually drive for all their travel. 

Urban sprawl can cause increased traffic, worsening air and water pollution, threats to ground water supplies, high rates of polluted water runoff, destruction of wildlife habitat, and increased flooding. Urban sprawl also contributes to longer commutes, high costs of services, and blighted and dying city centers. 

Smart growth is a concept developed as an alternative to urban sprawl. Smart growth in new development is town-centered and encourages walking, bicycling, and using subways, buses, and other forms of mass transportation. Smart growth promotes exercise and cardiovascular health. It includes a mix of housing, commercial, and shopping uses. It is development that provides business opportunities and jobs, balances development and environmental protection, and encourages strong neighborhoods.

This description is based on the information found in the Web links listed with this topic.

More Links
About Smart Growth (Environmental Protection Agency)
Active Living by Design home page (UNC School of Public Health)
Designing and Building Healthy Places home page (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
Growth and Water Resources (Environmental Protection Agency)
Smart Growth and Urban Heat Islands (Environmental Protection Agency) (PDF — 162.10 KB)
Smart Growth home page (Environmental Protection Agency)
Smart Growth Information Clearinghouse homepage (Maryland Department of Planning)

Last Updated: August 17, 2016

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