Thursday, March 24, 2011

Urban Sprawl beyond Growth: from a Growth to a Decline Perspective on the Cost of Sprawl

by S. Siedentop and S. Fina
Previous research on the cost of urban sprawl is dominated by a growth perspective. The majority of available cost-of-sprawl studies intend to show that substantial infrastructure cost savings can be achieved by increasing urban densities and locating new development near existing built-up areas. However, many European regions are already facing population decline and a quasi surplus of urban land. Moreover, the phenomenon of regional and urban shrinkage can even be found in booming economies in North America and Eastern Asia.
From this point of view, we ask whether the problem of sprawl comes to rest with the end of urban growth. Our research is based on the argument that urban sprawl, its main physical features, and its negative outcomes on the efficiency of urban systems are not merely a by-product of urban growth. Building on earlier studies that differentiate between types of urban sprawl, we identify sprawl-like development paths in cities facing demographic change. We aim to assess these development patterns with respect to asset management and public services. Recent experience in Germany demonstrates that the decrease of population densities is strongly linked with additional costs due to infrastructure underutilization. In general, fewer residents have to pay more for oversized facilities. Moreover, additional costs can result from enforced investments to keep up system efficiency or to demolish and downsize nonefficient facilities.
This paper is organized in three main sections. We begin with a brief review of the international cost-of-sprawl debate and a discussion of cost relevant urban form variables. A second section reflects on recent changes in Germany’s urban development due to demographic change. We characterize this special form of development pattern as “excessive sprawl” and “shrinkage sprawl” and talk about its outcomes on the costs of providing urban services. The final part of this paper empirically characterizes the processes of shrinkage sprawl in certain parts of Germany. The indicators we calculate for this task are based on area statistics on population, land use, and building activities. The results are then visualised in a GIS environment, showing where and to what extent excessive and shrinkage sprawl occur in Germany.

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