Urban sprawl definition is a contested one but is often defined as the expansion of towns and cities rapidly, in a way that it leads to the creation of low-density residential places and an increase in the usage of private cars or other transports for travel.
In other words, urban sprawls can be seen as the movement of large populations to populous towns or low-density housing in cities by leaving their spacious rural land. Hence, urban sprawl refers to the commercial development of low-density residential areas in undeveloped land.
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Urbanization and urban sprawl are often used interchangeably. However, there is a slight difference between the two terms. Urbanization is a process where people from rural areas move to urban areas for better life opportunities.
It is referred to the growth of metropolitan areas in response to a set of forces like political, social as well as economical as well as the physical geography of an area.
Urban sprawl can also be understood as a form of urban development that has a direct impact on the ecological balance, open space, agricultural land, and other things that impacts individuals directly. When the boundary of a city keeps expanding in order to accommodate the growth, this expansion is known as a “sprawl.”
Therefore, urban expansion can also be known as urban sprawl.
What leads to urban sprawl?
Some of the causes of urban sprawl can be stated as follows:
- Population Growth
There is no doubt that the urban population has been on the rise for a long time. One of the major reasons for this population growth is rural to urban migration when people are on the lookout for better life opportunities and comfort.
So, when urban land explodes and is not able to provide space for the population, people start moving to the suburbs. This leads to urban sprawling.
- Patterns of Infrastructure
The patterns of infrastructure also lead to an increase in urban sprawling. With urban development, connectivity, and roads to the suburbs also improve, and that leads to an increase in the movement towards the suburbs.
In addition to that, roads and transports in the city make it too contaminated and are also responsible for noise pollution. Therefore, people move towards the suburbs to find a calmer environment as well as surroundings.
- Consumer Preferences
A change in consumer preferences also leads to urban sprawling. People who come from high-income groups usually have stronger preferences when it comes to larger homes, bigger balconies, more bedrooms as well as bigger lawns.
This is usually not a viable option in crowded cities, which is why it also leads to urban sprawl. More often than not, individuals are on the lookout for residential areas that have a low population density.
In this manner, they can usually find a property as per their tastes and preferences.
- Lack of Urban Planning
As discussed above, people usually tend to look for less congested areas that are calmer than the more chaotic and crowded cities. This leads to urban sprawling to other parts of a town.
The cutting of trees, unprecedented development, long traffic jams, and loss of green cover, as well as poor infrastructure, are other reasons for people to consider moving out to newer areas.
These are some causes of urban sprawl. As an immediate effect of urban sprawl, there is a change in land usage as well as the land cover in the region.
This affects the biodiversity as well as the ecology of the region. Therefore, there is a need for better land management in order to make it more sustainable.
Urban Sprawl and Sustainability
Urban sprawl threatens the ecological balance immensely. When people move out to the suburbs, their relationship with flora and fauna also change.
Sustainability is definitely a serious issue when it comes to the topic of urban sprawl.
A growing population today is condemned to living in neighborhoods of cans and cardboard or, in the best case, of cement, which causes the destruction of the most fertile agricultural land. This destruction leaves the inhabitants of these neighborhoods in almost complete disconnection with nature, or at the mercy of their most destructive effects, when they occupy areas susceptible to suffer the consequences of natural disasters.
These include beds of torrents or the unprotected hillsides of mountains devoid of their trees. The news of houses dragged by the waters or buried by avalanches of mud follow one another almost without interruption.
This environmental destruction does not only affect the land occupied by the cities but also cuts the entire territory through the “inevitable” network of highways, which requires massive deforestation, making the survival of many animals unfeasible.
It also introduces dangerous barriers in the natural course of waters and contributes, ultimately, to the degradation of ecosystems.
The urban centers that arose centuries ago, as centers where civilization was born, have been transformed into places threatened by overcrowding, noise, waste, etc. These are problems that get worse in the so-called “metropolis” with the number of inhabitants whose number does not stop growing.
The urban challenge of which the World Commission on Environment and Development speaks, therefore, has to face numerous and serious problems. These problems include pollution, of course, but also those posed by the exacerbated consumption of energy resources, the destruction of agricultural land, the degradation of historical centers, etc.
Our future is in building sustainable cities
It can be said that cities today constitute the paradigm of unpredictability and speculation, i.e., of unsustainability. It will be in the cities of the 21st century, where more than half of the world's population lives, where human destiny is decided, and the fate of the biosphere is dictated.
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There will not be a sustainable world without more sustainable cities, built and managed with eco-friendly technologies.
It is necessary, then, to reconcile urbanization and sustainability, developing proposals that guarantee progress towards cities that contribute to the transition to sustainability, and with it, the continuity of the human species and future generations.