What Causes Urban Sprawl?

Urban sprawl is created by economic growth and population expansion. The term “urban sprawl” refers to low-density commercial and residential development on land previously unencumbered by human inhabitants and structures such as offices, apartment complexes and shopping centers. Wealth is a primary driver of sprawl: the improvement of local economies brings workers and their families, who then branch out farther and farther from town centers as space becomes increasingly limited.

In the United States, many factors have historically contributed to the shift from urban living to suburban living. Economic improvement is the primary reason for this change: it has given Americans greater access to cars and methods of transportation, which makes living outside city borders easier and more realistic. The automobile industry and technology sectors, which provide the cars and technologies people rely on to commute and conduct business, have played key roles in fueling the growth of urban sprawl. Furthermore, many people are drawn to areas further outside cities for lower housing prices and more bucolic settings. In some areas, government policies enable, if not encourage, the growth of urban sprawl. Higher quality of education in suburban schools, mandated by government policies, is one such example. Lastly, taxes are generally much lower in suburban areas, which makes them attractive living spaces for families and city workers.