From: "Urban Sprawl" and the Michigan Landscape: A Market-Oriented Approach(pdf)
Urban planners and other academic researchers have attempted to define
urban sprawl, but few of the definitions have gained general acceptance.
Florida planner Reid Ewing, one of the architects of Florida’s statewide
growth management plan, believes that sprawl can be characterized by
Yet, even this is an incomplete list and an unsatisfactory characterization
of the development process. For example, objections to scattered or
leapfrog development are often rooted in static concepts of urban
development. Scattered sites are eventually connected through the
"in-fill" process — usually commercial and higher density residential
development. The pattern of development in and of itself is not
a primary concern of planners.
Concerns over sprawl, writes Ewing, center on the effects of land
uses, not the specific characteristics of urban development. "It
is the impacts of development that render development patterns
undesirable," he says, "not the patterns themselves." So the problem
with suburbanization is not the mere existence of single family
houses on large lots. Rather, the effects on infrastructure, congestion,
"balanced" economic development, and the environment motivate
concerns about continuous low-density development. However, these
effects are difficult to quantify and provide little justification
for public policy.
Definitions of sprawl in the popular press and public debates
have tended to take on more general meanings than the specific
ones found in academic journals and research monographs.
Urban economist John F. McDonald probably captures the spirit of
most definitions of urban sprawl when he characterizes it as:
- Low-density development, usually consisting of single-family homes on
- Strip commercial development;
- Scattered development, where commercial, residential, and retail
developments are not integrated or close together;
- Leapfrog development where drivers view long stretches of vacant
land between developments.
- Low-density development that is dispersed and uses a lot of land;
- Geographic separation of essential places such as work, homes, schools, and shopping areas; and
- An almost complete dependence on automobiles for travel.
The first two elements of this definition are probably closer to how
policy analysts characterize the problem of urban sprawl in Michigan.
Automobile dependence does not appear to be as important a concern as
in other states such as Oregon, Florida, California, Colorado, or
Arizona except to the extent it affects traffic congestion.
Even this definition is more technical than most media accounts use.
Many, including some urban planners, tend to define urban sprawl as
simply the process of moving out of congested central cities. In most
cases, popular criticism of sprawl is a reaction to the recent
suburbanization and decentralization of people. People are leaving
congested, dense cities for less dense suburban locations, making
suburban locations more crowded and congested.