Urban Sprawl: Meaning, Causes, Effects of Urban Sprawl and Solutions

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Urban sprawl which is also called suburban sprawl or sprawl has been an alarming situation facing agricultural land use in many developed and developing nations. Urban sprawl is an occurrence that has attracted much national interest in recent years. It is not only an issue of land use, but also a legal, political, and social concern. It affects our schools, the physical environment, and race relations.As urban sprawl continues to widen the underlying areas of the city, the outlying areas become even more crowded, shifting the suburbs farther into rural areas. In this case, more peripheral agricultural lands are converted to sprawl development while the remaining peripheral lands are worked more intensively to feed the immediate needs of the large urban population leading to loss and degradation of farm space.

The increasing cause of urban sprawl in most cities in developing countries is due to the fast rate of urbanization and it has continued to attract attention of national and international agencies but the efforts had not realized tangible result at checking the sprawl. One of the alarming effects of urban sprawl in the city is overpopulation, which leads to shortage of basic social amenities and continuous conversion of agricultural land. However, there is the need therefore to put a check on this and make necessary suggestions that would reverse the trend.

Urban sprawl definition

Urban sprawl is defined as the rapid expansion of urban development such as houses, shopping centers, industriesand offices away from the centralurban areasinto low-density, undeveloped land near a city and usuallycar-dependentcommunities in a process calledsuburbanization. Sprawl is a common word used to describe physically expanding urban areas; such modified landscape reveals a situation where cities are spreading, thereby minimizing the time and distances between and in-and-out of the cities. However, it is a condition whereby, large structures (large number of houses, schools, companies, industries, stores. etc) are established in an area around the city that initially had none or few people living in it. Sprawl normally occurs due to disconnected developments and single-family homes that are established outside urban areas well beyond city limits, but usually within commuting distance to the urban core. For instance, in Nigeria, sprawl is characterized by informal housing developments on the urban periphery, on land that is mostly privately owned, sold in single small plots and also on marginal lands along rivers and seashore. Few examples are the cases of Lagos State and Bukuru Jos in Nigeria. These newly developed areas have been called peri urban areas and the intermetropolitan periphery. The exurban areas beyond the suburbs are sometimes called fringe developments.

Human population worldwide is considered as the main factor directly responsible for the unprecedented rate of urban sprawl being witnessed across the world. As the population of an urban center increases, its need for social infrastructure such astransportation, water, sewage, etc. and facilities such as housing, commerce, health, schools, recreation, etc. increases as well, most often resulting to the phenomenon known as urban sprawl.

Settlements represent the most profound human alteration of the natural environment through a spectrum of urban land use activities which include, transportation, commercial, industrial, residential, institutional, and recreational land uses. The expansion that ensues as a result of increase in the demand for these land uses explains the underlying and fundamental causes of urban sprawl (population increase). Several researches (UNCHBP, 1974; Lambin et al., 2003; European Environment Agency, 2006; Ifatimehin and Musa, 2008) reveal that the proliferation of urban centers has been phenomenal from the turn of the 20th century. Urban sprawl is considered synonymous with unplanned, incremental urban development, characterized by a low-density mix of land uses on the urban fringe.

Causes of Urban Sprawl

  1. Urbanization- increasing population growth is one of the major factors that contribute towards urban sprawl. As number of people in a city grows beyond carrying capacity, the local communities continue to spread farther and farther from city centres.
  2. Lower Land costs:Lower cost of land and houses in the outer suburbs of the cities trigger people to move further away from the city centres to where land is far cheaper and convenient.
  3. Poor climates– the presence of unfavourable climate in the city areas triggers people to expand to the nearby city for a better and conducive atmosphere.
  4. New development– the establishment of several agro-allied industries, factories and construction companies in the outer suburbs tend to create new job opportunities which attracts more people seeking employment in the city to move to such areas, since employment in the central cities are already occupied. New developments in the cities such as cutting of trees for houses and roads, bridges, construction lead to loss of green cover, long traffic jams and overcrowding, all these force people to move out to area that is less congested and where the natural ecosystem is well preserved
  5. Improved Infrastructure:There is increased spending on certain types of infrastructures, including roads and electricity could cause people to migrate to area of low cost.In some cases, these infrastructure are overcrowded in the city and not enough to support the existing city population, therefore people move to area of low cost and
  6. Fertility of the soil– some parts of the cities have rich fertile alluvial soil which favours good yield of agricultural crops thereby contributing to urban sprawl.
  7. High standard of living:There is high-rise in the standard of living especially in very large cities, these rapid increases force average income earners to relocate from the city centre to suburban areas. Which means that people prefer to pay more to travel and commute longer distances to work and back home than remaining in the city which is more costly.
  8. Lack of Urban Planning:People love to find areas that are less trafficked and more calm, which leads them to sprawl out to the outer town.
  9. Lower Tax Rates on Property:Cities naturally have high property taxes and one of the ways to avoid these high taxes by living in the outer suburbs because the taxes are usually lower than they are in the city centres.
  10. Consumer Preferences:People in high income groups have stronger preferences towards larger homes, more bedrooms, bigger balconies and bigger lawns which are not possible in the city. People generally look out for low-density residential areas where they can get home according to their preference this also contributes to urban sprawl.

Effects of urban sprawl

  1. Urban sprawl brings about so many negative impacts on the environment which include loss of natural habitats, loss of agricultural land and reduction in biodiversity.
  2. New roads are created into agricultural land- thousands of hectares of agricultural land are covered by concrete and asphalt as new roads are created and existing ones are extended into new areas.
  3. Sprawl leads to increased miles of driving and increased driving in turn leads to vehicle emissions (greenhouse gas emissions) that contribute toair pollutionand its attendant negative impacts on humanhealth.
  4. New housing development created to accommodate the demands of the increasing population is also taking large portions of agricultural lands.
  5. Sprawling takes away many advantages provided by natural open spaces
  6. It brings about increasing transport costs and transformation city centers into decayed areas.
  7. Many villages are swallowed into the city and have lose their historical identity
  8. Poor public transport means more people resort to private cars hence leading to traffic congestion.
  9. Urban sprawl leads to overcrowding and this turn spread of communicable diseases, which affects both young and old residents.
  10. Urban sprawl and poor environmental conditions impacting the quality of life and health of residents.
  11. Waste disposal problems associated with Landfill and Incinerators
  12. Lack of job opportunity for young people also contributes to anti-social behaviour
  13. Public facilities such as schools, hospitals and water are also overcrowded, making it impossible for easy access.
  14. Other negative impacts of urban sprawlincludeincreased traffic accidents and casualties, congestion, long commutes that areassociatedwith negative health outcomes.

Urban sprawl solutions

  1. Urban redevelopment– this process enables the rebuilding and construction of new and existing urban structures so that people can be re-housed in new suburbs and the inner city areas can be used instead for commercial uses.
  2. New and affordable houses within the cities– building more housing that is accessible to the most vulnerable populations can also reduce the amount of urban sprawl and vehicle miles traveled between the central city and outlying areas.
  3. Urban renewal– Governments should form partnerships with the private sectors and nongovernmental organizations to support the renewal and renovation of old housing. This will go a long way to reduce homelessness and the growth of slums or informal settlements, especially in urban areas around parts of the world that are rapidly urbanizingand also encourage citizens to stay within the city.
  4. New towns should be well planned to cater for the growing populations of the city- These towns should be well connected with access road and rail transportso that they dont experience urban sprawl.
  5. Birth control– Another way to curb urban sprawl is to enforce birth control. For instance, the root cause of urban sprawl in America is the increasing large population. As the population rises and people move, new developments must be created to suit their needs. If there werent so many people buying houses, there wouldn’t have to be as many new housing developments made.
  6. Boundaries should be created around the cities that limit the growth of development of unplanned sprawl.
  7. Another way to solve the problem of urban sprawl is to use new technology to allow more people to be able to walk from home to their work places.
  8. Provision of city buses to reduce the dependencies on private cars– urban sprawl occurs due to people dependency on cars in other to get their workplaces to curtail this, government should limit the use of private car and people should be encourage to trek from home to their various work places or make use of the city. This will go a long way to reduce over crowdedness and traffic congestion.
  9. There is an incentive to live near the city because of the benefits that the city offers its inhabitants. But if we were to somehow take those perks and allow people to access them at home, eliminating the dependency of living in or near the city, people would have the option to spread out and live in small neighborhoods far from the city itself, dramatically slowing down urban sprawl.
  10. Making use of remote access technology– workplaces could incorporate this to allow their employers to get what they need to be done from home, making it unnecessary to live close to work, and getting rid of the incentive to live near the city.
  11. Smart growth– The term ‘Smart Growth’ refers to a development and planning philosophy designed to create and maintain attractive, convenient, safe and healthy communities. It is all about a decision to create an attractive and convenient communities either rural or urban in which we can walk our children to school or travel to lively downtowns for shopping and dining while preserving our rural landscapes or historic structures. Below are 10 principle of smart growth are geared towards developing sustainable communities that provide a greater range of transportation and housing choices and prioritize infill and redevelopment in existing communities rather than development of “greenfield” farmland or natural lands.
  • Mix land uses
  • Taking advantage of compact building design
  • Creating housing opportunities and choices for a range of household types, family size and incomes
  • Creating walk able neighborhoods
  • Foster distinctive, attractive communities with a strong sense of place
  • Preserving of open space, farmland, natural beauty, and critical environmental areas
  • Reinvesting in and strengthening of existing communitiesand achieve more balanced regional development
  • Providing a variety of transportation choices
  • Making development decisions predictable, fair and cost-effective
  • Encouraging of citizen and stakeholder participation in development decisions