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Sprawl, defined

Linden Smith

How about this?

Sprawl; when the per capita rate of land consumption for new growth exceeds by a factor of 1.5 the consumption rate of a period no less than 20 years prior, then the character of new growth may be said to “sprawl”.

Basically, this would use a comparison of land consumption rates to set a relative standard. Of course, not many places have figures that precise from 20 years ago, and the 1.5 figure is subject to change.


A shadow of my former self
Staff member
I've always liked the "working definition" that H. Bernard Waugh (former attorney for the New Hampshire Municipal Association) came up with for his 1998 Municipal Law Lecture Series on preventing sprawl:

"Sprawl might be defined as inflation, over time, in the amount of land area consumed per unit of human activity, and in the degree of dispersal between such land areas, brought about as the avoidable consequence of society's use of automobiles."

He goes further to say:

"Using the above definition, a development or change in land use contributes to sprawl:

(a) If it increases the need/demand for motor vehicle trip miles per unit in your community (that is, per housing unit or, in the case of commercial development, per unit of economic activity); OR

(b) If it increases the per person or unit amount of land space devoted to cars (road surfaces, parking lots, etc.) - or if it, by causing congestion increases demand for devoting space to cars; OR

(c) If it otherwise increases the per person or per unit consumption or fractionalization of land areas which would otherwise be open space - agriculture, forestry, recreation, wildlife habitat, etc."

All of this is from the Handout from the law lecture. I believe it may be available through the NH Municipal Association (http://www.nhmunicipal.org)