Urban Sprawl: The Futuristic Considerations

Leo Park underscores the important considerations that policymakers must take in face of urban sprawl.


According to “The Urban Transformation of the Developing World” by Mark R. Montgomery, “the world’s population as a whole is expected to undergo substantial further growth over the period and the total urban population of these countries was estimated by the UN Population Division to have been 1.97 billion persons in the year 2000, but the total is projected to increase to 3.90 billion by 2030 and further to 5.26 billion by 2050” (Montgomery, 2008). This notion of rapid urban development evokes the idea of urban sprawl, the unhampered growth of urban areas characterized by the University of Chicago Press as “poor land management or automobile-driven, uncontrolled growth eliciting deleterious impacts on the people living in these areas, the ecosystems, and the wildlife that have been displaced” (Bruegmann, 2008). Originating in the early 1950s, urban sprawl began with positive implications including economic benefits, increased employment opportunities, and improved living conditions, and has experienced prodigious growth and prevalence as Montgomery had described. Urban growth offers the facilitation of principal utilities such as transportation and recreational facilities, sewage disposal, and water quality, along with further specialist conveniences including better academic and healthcare facilities for a wider population. Nonetheless, in many circumstances, its adverse impacts retain more emphasis because of the uncoordinated nature of this growth, which ultimately prompts human health, environmental, and social issues. This devastating phenomenon, recognized by the United States government several decades ago, is caused by a variety of factors including technological development, population growth, and various socio-economic factors.

Health Repercussions

Substantial analysis of the phenomenon conveys the vital necessity for the enforcement of urban growth boundaries by the federal government in order to mitigate the pernicious effects of urban sprawl. The continuance of health reparations, more particularly obesity and overweight, epitomizes the detrimental influence of urban sprawl on the American population. The central cause of the impacts of urban sprawl on obesity roots back to the auto-dependent lifestyle supported by urban sprawl, which ultimately engenders physical inactivity. Data from the 2017 California Household Travel Survey was used by the Sol Price School of Public Policy from the University of Southern California to explore the connection between automobile dependence and physical immobility. Evidence from this study revealed that “auto-dependence has been linked to the physical inactivity epidemic across U.S. cities, resulting in unprecedented increases in incidences of obesity, cardiovascular diseases, depression, etc” (Chakrabarti 2017). This correlation between auto-dependence and the risks of obesity demonstrated by the conclusions of this study portrays that urban sprawl is the underlying cause to a substantial number of health risks today. In the case of urban sprawl, this auto-dependent lifestyle portrays its calamitous human health implications and thus reveals the need for government intervention to mitigate such costs. Due to the magnitude of such issues, this evident correlation between urban growth and obesity risks warrants further attention by the federal government.

Disturbance of Natural Habitats

In addition to the increased risks of obesity, the uncontrolled nature of urban sprawl prompts the assemblage of human existence in residential and industrial environs to alter the natural operation of the ecosystem. The development which uncontrolled urban growth elicits not only diminishes the load of greenwood area, agricultural land, and rich-soil reserves, but also breaks up the residues into compact chunks that impede fragment habitat growth. This outstretch of “rapid urban growth into rural natural areas such as woodlands and wetlands ranks as one of the primary forms of wildlife habitat loss” (Strong, 2008). The National Wildlife Federation, Smart Growth America, and Nature Serve projected that “over the next 25 years, more than 22,000 acres of natural resources and habitat will be lost to development in 35 of the largest and most rapidly growing metropolitan areas” (Kostyack, 2005). Technological innovations such as new roads, buildings, and pipelines cut into the natural regions, disintegrating wildlife habitation and interrupting natural ecosystem patterns. This blatant disintegration of natural species distorts wildlife development and truncates the availability of living for innumerable inhabitants. The extension of human innovations into the natural habitats of these environmental species interrupts the energy flow of the ecosystem, ultimately impeding wildlife growth at a prodigious scale. Thus, attention by the federal government to enforce urban growth boundaries will significantly reduce the impact of human development in ravaging wildlife habitat.

Air Pollution

Urban sprawl is associated with promoting air pollution due to the automobile-dependent lifestyle urged by the growth. The “increase in fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emission” (Bhatta 2010) due to this auto-dependency to the atmosphere deteriorates the air quality of the environment. According to a book published by renowned author Basudeb Bhatta in 2010, “urban sprawl contributes to poorer air quality by encouraging more automobile use, thereby adding more air pollutants such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic carbons, and microscopic particles. These pollutants can inhibit plant growth, create smog and acid rain, contribute to global warming, and cause serious human health problems” (Bhata). This evidence not only exhibits the direct impacts of urban sprawl and automobile use on the degradation of air quality, but also the connections and implications this has to a variety of other perspectives including human health and environmental well-being. Additionally, urban growth also elicits indirect impacts on air quality. As more households take up housing spaces in these urban areas, the demand for energy to power homes, facilities, and equipment increases as well, prompting energy plants to extend their overall output. “The majority of power plants burn fossil fuels, so increased demand of power results in higher emissions of the pollutants they generate, including carbon dioxide, particulate matter, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and air toxics” (Kahn, 1970). Thus, it is imperative for the federal government to enforce urban growth boundaries to mitigate the impact of urban sprawl on the quality of the atmosphere.


Urban sprawl rouses a series of health dangers and detriments to the environment which emphasize the necessity for a change in federal policy regulations. The implications from the environmental, scientific, economic, and social lenses all connect and point to the detrimental nature of urban sprawl. One potential solution — and possibly the most effective solution — for combating this phenomenon is the proposal of urban growth boundaries by the federal government. Urban growth boundaries can be implemented as a method for municipalities to appoint specific areas in which urban expansion will accordingly be encouraged or restricted. To exemplify, “the city of Portland and the state of Oregon have been pioneers in the development and implementation of urban growth boundaries as a tool for the better planning and management of urban growth” (Christensen, 2019). This solution is functional, as it proves to be practical and will profoundly advance the alleviation of the calamitous risks affiliated with urban sprawl in America. If the government were to establish urban growth boundaries at a national scale, the uncontrolled growth of urban sprawl will be effectively limited, ultimately allowing for smart growth for all parties. Nonetheless, the fundamental limitation to this solution is the unwillingness from smaller urban authorities throughout the country to abide by such rules — rules that seem to hinder their temporary economic growth. Despite the unwillingness of smaller parties to follow the rules of urban growth boundaries, a firm rule established by the federal government will indubitably mitigate the impacts of urban sprawl at a national scale. Additionally, the detrimental effects of urban growth can be limited through an increase in awareness and education of this phenomenon. Through the implementation of the knowledge on this phenomenon into public education and even environmental organizations, the public will become more aware and cautious of the detriments of urban sprawl. The limitation to this proposed solution, however, is the very gradual impact of this solution, as it will take a long time for impacts through academic encouragement to actually begin making a difference in mitigating urban sprawl costs. This phenomenon and its brutal effects have been a prevalent issue since the emergence of urbanization, thus this topic is vital for discussion, due to its pervasive and influential role in society today. In spite of the economic intention of increasing housing affordability and its social intention of improved academics and lower crime rates, the environmental and human health detriments substantiate the impermissible nature of urban sprawl. The future of the American health and environmental wellness relies on the efforts of the government, the public, and the people. Together, this idea signifies a whole new context for urban sprawl federal regulations in America to mitigate its destructive nature.

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