What Is Urban Growth?

Donnie Ozone/CC-BY 2.0

Urban growth, also known as urban sprawl, refers to the expansion of a metropolitan or suburban area into the surrounding environment. It is often controlled by an Urban Growth Boundary (UGB), which is a clearly defined and legally enforced zoning tool.

According to Randall G. Holcombe of the Property and Environment Research Center (PERC), there are three distinct kinds of urban growth or sprawl:

  • Leapfrog development: building on cheaper land at some distance from the existing urban area, and therefore requiring additional infrastructure to connect it with the city
  • Strip or ribbon development: building along the course of major roadways that radiate from the main urban area, sometimes leading to traffic congestion
  • Low density, single-dimensional development: for example, building houses on large lots with no commercial zones nearby, ultimately forcing residents to drive everywhere