What Is Sprawl Development?


Sprawl development is the outward expansion of low-density housing units on the outskirts of cities, far from commercial centers.

Within the Bay Area, sprawl development has threatened to destroy the greenbelt of natural and agricultural lands that surround cities and towns. Learn more about what a greenbelt is here.

What Are the Impacts of Sprawl Development?

Sprawl development impacts cities in many ways ranging from transportation to community development. When a city develops beyond its limits and onto the undeveloped land beyond it, it carries with it unforeseen consequences. Sprawling housing developments cause environmental, financial, social, and psychological effects for residents.

Infrastructure and Costs

Low-density sprawl costs local governments more in the long run than “infill” development, which is the growth within existing urban areas. Sprawling outward requires that new roads, water mains, sewer pipes, and other infrastructure be extended into greenfield areas—undeveloped land outside of cities and towns—while infill development usually requires simply upgrading existing city infrastructure.

Sprawl development is an expensive proposition.

Multiple studies show that sprawl is more expensive than infill growth within cities. A 2015 study found that sprawl costs America over $1 trillion, and can increase per-capita land consumption by up to 80% and car use by up to 60%. Providing water, sewer, roads, and other services to far-flung neighborhoods is very costly for local governments. Smart growth allows more affordable housing types at increased densities, reduces land requirements per household, has lower public service costs, and reduces transportation costs. The higher housing prices that residents may pay will be offset by lower transportation costs, energy costs, and better access to jobs, services, and amenities in more centralized locations.

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