Urban Sprawl

Urban sprawl can be defined as the rapid expansion of the geographic extent of cities and towns, often characterized by low-density residential housing, single-use zoning, and increased reliance on the private automobile for transportation combined with lack of public transport, which is in high demand for land.

In India, with an unprecedented population growth and migration, an increased urban population and urbanisation is inadvertent. For instance, Urban areas increased by 70 percent, in Chennai, India, between 1991 and 2016, mainly towards the periphery. Forecasts predict urban sprawl to swallow almost all valuable forests, mangroves and agricultural land by 2027

  • The process of urbanisation is fairly contributed by population growth, migration and infrastructure initiatives resulting in the growth of villages into towns, towns into cities and cities into metros.
  • However, in such a phenomenon for ecologically feasible development, planning requires an understanding of the growth dynamics.
  • Nevertheless, in most cases there are lot of inadequacies to ascertain the nature of uncontrolled progression of urban sprawls.
  • Sprawl is considered to be an unplanned outgrowth of urban centres along the periphery of the cities, along highways, along the road connecting a city, etc.
  • Due to lack of prior planning these outgrowths are devoid of basic amenities like water, electricity, sanitation, etc.
  • Provision of certain infrastructure facilities like new roads and highways, fuel such sprawls that ultimately result in inefficient and drastic change in land use affecting the ecosystem.
  • With respect to the role of technology in urbanisation, studies have illustrated a new linkage between transport infrastructure development cycles and spurts in urbanisation.
  • This phenomenon poses many challenges for development, livelihood and policy making.
  • Environmental costs: air pollution resulting from automobile dependency, water pollution caused in part by increases in impervious surfaces, the loss or disruption of environmentally sensitive areas, such as critical natural habitats (e.g., wetlands, wildlife corridors), reductions in open space, increased flood risks, and overall reductions in quality of life
  • Unsustainable living: the reliance on automobiles has contributed to reductions in air and water quality as well as the accelerated depletion of fossil fuels
    • Lacks basic amenities: Often basic infrastructure like clean drinking water, sanitation, electricity etc are absent from such areas denying decent living conditions to masses and sudden outbreak of diseases which can pose a bigger threat for surrounding areas
    • Increased Traffic: Populations will begin to use their cars more often, which means that there is more traffic on the roads, and there is also more air pollution and more auto accidents that you have to worry with.
    • Structural changes: Structural changes in land use like commercialization of agricultural land, increases pressure on land and threatens the ecosystem and biodiversity as well
    • Community costs: urban sprawl diminishes the local character of the community. Ubiquitous retail chains with extravagant signage and façades are often the first to move into newly developed areas. Small local businesses are often hidden by the visual noise of larger stores.
    • Pockets of development: Development by private contractors are limited to certain pockets like gated communities putting the larger population in peril eg. water logging in Gurgaon
  • A 2013 World Bank report, Urbanization Beyond Municipal Boundaries, found that rural areas adjacent to municipal boundaries are generating higher economic growth and emploAdvantages of Urban Sprawlyment than the city.
  • It can help policymakers in identifying areas of growth and can be developed under various governmental schemes like Rurban Mission, AMRUT etc.
  • Providing low cost housing to urban poor has always been a challenge, urban sprawls provide an opportunity to provide housing to poor, this needs to be supplemented with cheap transport network.
  • Land development prescriptions, such as subdivision regulations, zoning provisions, building permit limits, and urban growth boundaries can prohibit or direct growth away from undesirable locations.
  • Incentive-based techniques, including special taxing districts, clustering houses, development density bonuses, and transfer of development rights from rural to urban settings can encourage the containment of growth to areas within a central business district.
  • Infrastructure-based policies, such as targeted public investments, capital improvements programming, phasing of development, and urban service areas can provide proactive approaches to guiding growth away from environmental sensitive areas.
  • Land acquisition techniques, which range from fee-simple purchase of parcels to conservation easements, enable local governments to acquire and protect ecologically critical areas.
  • Educational and outreach programs aimed at helping a variety of audiences understand the adverse impacts of sprawl and the ways to mitigating it can also be of value.

While the causes and consequences of sprawl may seem daunting, there are multiple policies and techniques that can reduce the proliferation of unsustainable growth patterns. Local planning policies can help guide growth in a more ecologically sustainable fashion and assist local communities in attaining the intended spatial design and land use intensities. Specifically, planning policies and techniques can help concentrate growth within targeted areas, restrain development from sprawling uncontrollably into rural settings, and help protect or restore a region’s natural resource base. Several terms are used to identify this type of development, including “smart growth,” “compact development,” and sometimes “new urbanism”.