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Rethinking Urban Sprawl

Moving Towards Sustainable Cities

image of Rethinking Urban Sprawl

This report provides a new perspective to the nature of urban sprawl and its causes and environmental, social and economic consequences. This perspective, which is based on the multi-dimensionality of urban sprawl, sets the foundations for the construction of new indicators to measure the various facets of urban sprawl. The report uses new datasets to compute these indicators for more than 1100 urban areas in 29 OECD countries over the period 1990-2014. It then relies on cross-city, country-level and cross-country analyses of these indicators to provide insights into the current situation and evolution of urban sprawl in OECD cities. In addition, the report offers a critical assessment of the causes and consequences of urban sprawl and discusses policy options to steer urban development to more environmentally sustainable forms.

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Sprawl in OECD urban areas

This chapter operationalises the conceptual definition of urban sprawl offered in and provides a cross-city and cross-country analysis of the phenomenon. The different dimensions of sprawl are represented by indicators that are computed using three data sources: two high-resolution global datasets on land cover and population, and the geographic delimitation of functional urban areas. The indicators are computed for 1 156 urban areas in 29 OECD countries. They are then used in cross-city and cross-country comparisons, as well as in a country-level analysis of urban sprawl. The findings show that many cities and countries have been sprawling since 1990, even though this process is manifested in heterogeneous ways. Among the dimensions of urban sprawl, fragmentation of urban land, variation of urban population density and the share of urban land allocated to very low density levels have grown in most countries since 1990. At the same time, urban areas in some countries, including Austria, Canada, Slovenia and the United States, rank high in multiple dimensions of sprawl, while cities in other countries, such as Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Hungary, Poland and Slovak Republic have been sprawling along most of the considered dimensions since 1990.

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