Data Inventory

Case Studies
- Regional Study
- Sub-Regional Study
Partners & Sites


Case Studies

Urban Sprawl Case Studies

Over the past 50 years, American cities have been experiencing an accelerated urbanization and sub-urbanization process resulting from rapid technological advancement and steady economic growth. The concentration of population in urban areas has generated a growing need for urban settlements as well as public services to support it. In addition, the decentralization of job centers to the suburbs, the availability of automobiles coupled with excellent highways, and the pursuit of single-family houses have drawn people to outlying areas for housing. These forces have been driving suburban development into what once were agricultural and rural areas. 

The Newsweek magazine in May of 1995 reported "the city of Phoenix sprawls into the desert at the rate of an acre an hour" (Adler, 1995). It is happening not only in Arizona, but also in Texas, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina and other states. The costs and crisis resulting from urban sprawl have been examined extensively (Henry, 1997; Freilich and Peshoff, 1997; Chakrabarty, 1991). Burchell (1997) summarizes the costs of urban sprawl as "capital and operating costs" (infrastructure and services costs for the public section and housing costs for the private section), "transportation and travel dependency costs", "social costs" of undermining older cities, "land and natural habitat costs" and "quality of life costs". A variety of strategies, either concerning planning and development (Rodgers, 1976; Grant, 1994; Miller, 1996; Burchell, 1997) or concerning legislation (Moe, 1997; Gallion, 1980), have been adopted to control urban sprawl. 

It has been argued that urban sprawl leads to inefficient land use patterns with leapfrogging and low-density development in the urban fringe. Communities can implement a number of growth management programs to encourage more efficient and environmentally sound development patterns. However, a long time period is needed to monitor the progress of growth management techniques and to determine if they have achieved the intended effects. Unfortunately, urban development is mostly an irreversible process that leaves no room for experiment. As a result, we use a geographic information system (GIS) to simulate the impact of various growth management policies on future land development patterns in Portage County, Ohio. A comprehensive database and population growth forecasts are compiled to support the GIS analyses that generate a set of alternative residential growth scenarios. As a spatial decision support system, the GIS is found to be an efficient tool to simulate the form and process of development for detailed assessment and planning. As an educational tool, development simulation with GIS allows the generation of alternative scenarios to help citizens and local officials make sound planning decisions today, define future policies, and plan for new growth.

Included in this web site and the linked pages are two case studies drawn from projects completed for Northeast Ohio, both funded by the U.S. EPA. 

  • The first project is a regional project that is essentially a sustainability study for the 7-county area carried out by Cleveland Ecocity and the NODIS at Cleveland State University. 

  • The second project is a sub-regional study that examines urban sprawl and its impact on farm lands and environmentally critical areas at a county level. The sub-regional study was carried out by the KSU Applied Geography Laboratory and the Portage County Regional Planning Commission.

To visit the two case studies, please click the respective buttons on the left of this page.



Henry, John C., 1997, An Honest to Goodness Town, Documentation on New Urbanism: selected from presentations at the International Making Cities Livable Conferences, Carmel, California: IMCL Council. 

Freilich, Robert H. and Bruce G. Peshoff, 1997, the Social Costs of Sprawl, the Urban Lawyer, Vol.29, pp183-198. 

Chakrabarty, B. K., 1991, Optimization in Residential Land Subdivision, Journal of Urban Planning and Development, Vol.117, pp1-14. 

Burchell, Robert W., 1997, Economic and Fiscal Costs (and Benefits) of Sprawl, the Urban Lawyer, Vol.29, pp159-181. 

Grant, Jill, 1994, Rhetoric and Response: Sustainable Development in Residential Environments, Environment, Vol.22, pp3-12. 

Miller, Thomas I., 1996, Must Growth Restrictions Eliminate Moderate Priced Housing, Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol.52, pp319-325. 

Gallion, Arthur B. and Simon Eisner, 1980, The Urban Pattern (fourth edition), New York: D. Van Nostrand Company.