Urban sprawl is a term for the expansive, rapid, and sometimes reckless, growth of a greater metropolitan area, traditionally suburbs (or exurbs) over a large area.
Sprawl is characterized by several land-use patterns which usually occur in unison:
Commercial, residential, and industrial areas are separated from one another. Large tracts of land are devoted to the same type of development. Zoning areas are segregated from one another by roads, green space, or other barriers. As a result, the places where people live, work, shop, and recreate are necessarily far apart from one another.
Low-density land use
Sprawl consumes much more land than traditional urban developments because new developments are of low density. Buildings usually have fewer stories and are spaced further apart separated by lawns, landscaping, roadways or parking lots. Lots of land are larger and because of the greater use of automobiles much more land is designated for parking. The impact of low density development in many communities is that developed or "urbanized" land is increasing at a faster rate than the population. In some places a population increase of one or two percent can produce an increase in developed land of as much as thirty percent.
Car dependent communities
Areas of urban sprawl are also characterized as being extremely dependent on automobiles for transportation. Most activities, such as shopping, commuting to work, concerts, etc. require the use of a car as a result of both the area's isolation from the city and the isolation the area's residential zones have from its industrial and commercial zones. Walking and other methods of transit are not practical.
Scale of development
Development in these areas tends to be on a larger scale than that is older established areas. This typically involves larger houses, wider roads and larger stores with expansive parking lots.
Homogeneity in design
Because developments are built as large-scale tract projects or massive office parks, neighboring buildings tend to resemble one another. Built from similar design principles, sprawled cities also lack diversity, sometimes creating a sense of uniform design.
In examples of this phenomenon, such as Los Angeles, California, the Washington DC metro area, and Atlanta, Georgia, new development is often low-density, where the metropolis grows outward instead of 'upward' as with higher densities. Environmentalists and an increasing number of urban planners disapprove of urban sprawl as a sustainable model of growth for several reasons.
A number of metropolitan areas may lay claim to the title "most sprawling urban area." The New York City urbanized area covers more land area than any other, at approximately 8,684 square kilometres (3,353 sq miles). The lowest density large urbanized area (over 1,000,000) in the world is Atlanta, which covers 5,084 square kilometres (1,963 sq miles), with a population of 3,499,840 for a density of 690 people per square kilometre (1,783 people per square mile). This is approximately one-third the density of the New York urbanized area. The world's most dense major urbanized area is Hong Kong, with about 3,500,000 people in 70 square kilometres (27 sq miles), for a population density of 48,571 per square kilometre (128,000 per sq mile).
The term "Los Angelization" is also sometimes used for urban sprawl, though some believe it is an inaccurate term. Los Angeles was one of the world's first low density urbanized areas, as a result of achieving wide automobile ownership long before others, but has become more dense over the past half-century, principally due to small lot zoning and a high demand for housing due to population growth. According to United States Census Bureau data, the Los Angeles urbanized area (area of continuous urban development) increased its density by one-half from 1950 to 2000. In 2000, the Los Angeles urbanized area was the most dense urbanized area in the United States, at 7,068 persons per square mile. This compares to second place San Francisco at 6,127 and New York at 5,309. There is often confusion about this fact, since core densities in New York are considerably higher than in Los Angeles. The higher density of Los Angeles is the result of much higher suburban population densities, which are nearly as high as Paris suburban densities.
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