Urban Sprawl Beyond Growth: The Effect of Demographic Change on Infrastructure Costs

Special Report: Low Density and Costs of Urban Development
By Stefan Siedentop, Stefan Fina

Previous research on the costs of urban sprawl is dominated by a growth perspective. The majority of available “cost-of-sprawl-studies” intends to show that substantial infrastructure cost savings can be achieved, by increasing urban density and locating new developments near existing built-up areas. Many European metropolitan regions are facing population decline, while the phenomenon of 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 urban sprawl is connected to urban growth. This research is based on the argument that the main features of urban sprawlare not merely a by-product of urban growth. A specific development pattern has been ascertained in respect to asset management and public services. Recent experiences in Germany demonstrate that the decrease in population density shows a correlation with increased costs due to underused infrastructure. Additional costs can result from unavoidable investments to keep up system efficiency or to demolish and downsize non-efficient facilities.
This paper shows the process of urban shrinkage in certain parts of Germany, based on population, employment and land use empirical data. As a result, a complementary type of urban sprawl has been defined, using local statistics and GIS datasets. The distribution of this type of urban sprawl within a GIS environment has been mapped out and the results interpreted. Finally, potential courses of action have been defined, highlighting the much needed differentiation between cause and effect for different types of urban sprawl.

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