Sprawl. Spraaaaaahhhhl. Even if you’re not a city planner, just saying the word clues you into its meaning. It spills off the tongue all slow and aimless–like molasses on a cold day. In the real world sprawl behaves in a similar manner, spreading across the landscape in a way that far outpaces population growth. It may sound innocent, but it’s not.
“Sprawl is irresponsible, often poorly-planned development that destroys green space, increases traffic and air pollution, crowds schools, and drives up taxes,” challenges the Sierra Club. Sprawl is development that eats up the rural (often agricultural and environmentally sensitive) land on the edges of an urban area. Sprawl happens even though there isn’t yet a population to necessitate the growth. And because sprawl is all spread out, stores and parking lots akimbo, it forces people to depend on personal vehicles to get around.
Just this week, Smart Growth America released its second landmark report on the state of sprawl in America. Measuring Sprawl 2014 [PDF] analyzes development patterns in 221 metropolitan areas and 994 counties in the United States as of 2010, looking to see which communities are more compact and connected, and which are more sprawling.
“Researchers used four primary factors: residential and employment density; neighborhood mix of homes, jobs and services; strength of activity centers and downtowns; and accessibility of the street network to evaluate development in these areas and assign a Sprawl Index score to each,” explains a press release.
To arrive at a national ranking, each metro area was evaluated on four main factors: 1) development density; 2) land use mix; 3) activity centering; and 4) street accessibility. These four factors were then combined in equal weight and controlled for population to calculate each area’s Sprawl Index score. The average index is 100, meaning areas with scores higher than 100 are more compact and connected while areas with scores lower than 100 are more sprawling.
Here are the results.
10 U.S. Cities with the Most (and Least) Urban Sprawl
The metro areas with the MOST sprawl are:
1. Kingsport/Bristol/Bristol, TN-VA 60.0
2. Augusta/Richmond County, GA-SC 59.2
3. Greenville/Mauldin-Easley, SC 59.0
4. Riverside-San Bernardino/Ontario, CA 56.2
5. Baton Rouge, LA 55.6
6. Nashville-Davidson/Murfreesboro/Franklin, TN 51.7
7. Prescott, AZ 49.0
8. Clarksville, TN-KY 41.5
9. Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Marietta, GA 41.0
10. Hickory/Lenoir/Morganton, NC 24.9
The metro areas with the LEAST sprawl are:
1. New York/White Plains/Wayne, NY-NJ 203.4
2.San Francisco/San Mateo/Redwood City, CA 194.3
3. Atlantic City/Hammonton, NJ 150.4
4. Santa Barbara/Santa Maria/Goleta, CA 146.6
5. Champaign/Urbana, IL 145.2
6. Santa Cruz/Watsonville, CA 145.0
7. Trenton/Ewing, NJ 144.7
8. Miami/Miami Beach/Kendall, FL 144.1
9. Springfield, IL 142.2
10. Santa Ana/Anaheim/Irvine, CA 139.9
“We found that in areas with less sprawl, several quality of life factors were more positive, including greater economic mobility, lower combined costs of housing and transportation and higher life expectancies,” explained Reid Ewing, Director of the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center and primary author of the new research. “This research demonstrates the many ways our development decisions may impact us every day, and informs how better development practices may improve our quality of life.”
See all the rankings and download the full report at www.smartgrowthamerica.org/measuring-sprawl.
Image via Thinkstock