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control sprawl will lead to high density, compact and more constrained cities, at
least in the foreseeable future.
Much of the confusion over the characteristics and impacts of sprawl stems largely
from the inadequacies of definition. However it is illusory to believe that more data
whether remotely sensed or census based can help in solving
the debate over what sprawl is or is not, and whether it has only
negative or also some positive impacts. Definitions of sprawl
are highly dependent on the cultural, geographic and political
context where sprawl is taking place to the point where what is
perceived as suburban sprawl in Europe might be described as
dense and urban in the US. Differences also exist between dif-
ferent European countries due to their different histories of land
use planning. This is to say the solution to the problem of defining
urban sprawl does not rest on more data and better methods to
treat them, but in the meaning that is assigned to it in different
contexts and times. To this purpose the importance of urban
sprawl in the public policy agenda has generated an area of misunderstanding between
descriptive and explanatory approaches on one side and normative ones on the other.
This is a much broader issue than can be addressed within the limits of this chapter,
but it should be kept in mind when exploring the literature that has been developing
around urban sprawl in the last 20 years. Often, sprawl has been defined in terms of its
negative effects and impacts, even though these are sometimes taken as underlying
assumptions rather than empirically demonstrated facts.
Here we will present some possible definitions of urban sprawl based on form,
density and land use patterns. As a caveat, it must be noted that none of these
approaches alone can identify urban sprawl, rather sprawl is comprised of a combination
of multiple aspects. Causes of sprawl (e.g., changing location preferences and decreasing
costs of private individual transport, for example) and its impacts (e.g., land consump-
tion, traffic congestion, social segregation based on income or ethnic origins) should
also be taken into account, especially if the purpose of a definition is to support the
design of policy measures to tackle urban sprawl. We will subsequently illustrate these
issues at the end of the chapter with reference to the EU SCATTER project.
local connota-
tions of urban
sprawl are
highly depen-
dent on the
geographic and
political context
where sprawl is
taking place
Defining Sprawl Through Form
forms can be
considered to
lie along a
continuum from
fairly compact
to completely
The term “urban sprawl” has been used to describe a variety of
urban forms, including contiguous suburban growth, linear
patterns of strip development, and leapfrog or scattered devel-
opment. These forms are typically associated with patterns of
clustered, non-traditional centers based on out of town malls,
edge cities, and new towns and communities (Ewing 1994 ;
Pendall 1999 ; Razin and Rosentraub 2000 ; Peiser 2001 ).
These various urban forms are often presented in the literature
as poorer, less sustainable or less economically efficient
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