Urban Sprawl as an Environmental Issue

Rural-urban migration has increased the rate of industrialization, which has had the side effect of increased emission of greenhouse gases. These gases have the effect of accelerating global warming. But even more significant of the problems caused by urban migration is the concept of urban sprawl. As more and more people move to the cities, it results in more and more urban settlements. These increased settlements mean the population of cities increases which forces the cities to grow outward, spreading out to their suburbs (NASA, 2002).

Experts are now cautioning that the phenomenon of urban sprawl is having huge consequences on suburban development and lifestyles. Compared to their suburb counterparts, City dwellers live in smaller houses, on smaller lots, and use vehicles more often. Experts warn that the lifestyles of the city dwellers have the effect of congestion in traffic, longer commuting times, excessive air pollution, destroyed farming lands, reduction of free space, and many other indirect costs on suburbs neighbouring them.

It is a unique problem that can be traced back to America in the early 19th century. Eager to increase the value of their land, the landlords decided to use mechanized transportation. This led to a motorized urban sprawl. It caused many ecological and social problems. The problems that were brought can be categorized into three broad categories; Environmental/Ecological impacts, Social impacts and health impacts. The most important environmental impact that the motorized urban sprawl causes is the issue of global warming and climate change. Urban sprawl results in increased car usage, which translates to more emissions of greenhouse gases. These gases are known to deplete the ozone layer, which then causes global warming. The climates of cities and the affected suburbs will therefore be forced to change over time. This results in a decline in agricultural production. Global warming results in acidic rain, and this will hamper agricultural production.

Also, as the urban sprawl takes effect, the city is encroaching on the neighbouring suburbs. There is, therefore, a loss of prolific agricultural land due to settlements that come up to house numerous people. Industrialization is also one reason why land is lost. There is also the issue of lost architectural variety. This is because the cities will bring their form of civilization to the suburbs at the expense of the already established civilizations of the suburbs. It also results in the loss of green and open spaces due to the high populations and increased housing needs. The increased usage of engines either in cars or in industries also leads to air pollution.

Experts have suggested a solution to address these problems. The solution lies in ecological modernization. This is a concept where there is economic development yet with very little damage to the environment. This can be achieved through the use of technology (Gonzalez, 2005). For instance, hydrogen is considered to be a safer gas as opposed to greenhouse gases. There is a need, therefore, for technological development to help phase out fossil fuels and invent hydrogen powered engines.

The second category of the impacts of urban sprawl is the health impacts. The overuse of cars has resulted in changing lifestyles. This means there is less exercise for people, and there is increased dependence on fast foods. This has caused a serious health catastrophe, with the biggest concern being obesity. There are many other obesity-related sicknesses like hypertension and heart diseases. Urban sprawl has also caused a sharp increase in accident rates. These accidents affect both motorists and pedestrians.

Gonzalez (2005) suggested that a suitable solution to this problem would be environmentally sensitive land management. He proposes that there should be less investment in public transport and a decrease in the use of car transportation. This would be a good solution since it would succeed in curbing the accidents as well as reducing to great deal emissions. The problem lies in the complexity of enforcing the suggestion.

The last impact of urban sprawling is the social problems caused. Urban sprawl leads to huge inequality problems, mainly seen in the gap between the rich and the poor. This could take different forms. For starters, the poor may not be able to afford a car which may have become a necessity. Also, the physically challenged and the aged may not have the expertise to drive in congested cities (Martin, 2007). Urban sprawling also has the undesired effect of interfering with the social lives of people. As people work for longer hours, less time is left for the family. The solution to this problem lies in ecological modernization. This is a concept where the effects of modernization are factored in to see how best they can be curbed. Government can, for instance, intervene to bridge the gap between the poor and rich by providing cheaper alternatives.

In conclusion, the technological solution suggested by the business communities may not be able to solve the problems associated with urban sprawl. This is because while they are very good suggestions, the implementation of most of them are largely not cost-effective. Also, there is the concern that some measures will not actually solve the problem but merely transfer it to another place. Removing manufacturing plants from already developed countries and taking them to developing countries is one such solution.


Gonzalez, G. A. (2005) Urban sprawl, global warming and the limits of ecological modernization. Environmental Politics, 4(2), 34-362.

Martin, G. (2007) Motorization, social ecology and China. Area, 39(1), 66-73.

NASA. (2002) Urban Sprawl: The Big Picture [Online] (2002). Web.

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