The environmental impacts of sprawl: Emergent themes from the past decade of planning research

Bev Wilson, Arnab Chakraborty

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


This article reviews studies published in English language planning journals since 2001 that focus on the environmental impacts of sprawl. We organise our analysis of the reviewed literature around: (1) the conceptualisation or measurement of sprawl; (2) a comparison of research methods employed and findings with respect to four categories of environmental impacts-air, energy, land, and water; and (3) an exploration of emergent and cross-cutting themes. We hypothesise that the trend towards breaking down silos observable in other areas of planning scholarship is also reflected in the recent sprawl literature and structure our review to test this proposition. International in scope, our work demonstrates how focusing on outcomes can facilitate balanced comparisons across geographic contexts with varying rates of urbanisation and affluence. We find that the sprawl research published in planning journals over the past decade frequently engages with broader themes of resilience and justice, increasingly considers multiple environmental outcomes, and suggests a convergence in the way sprawl is studied that transcends national boundaries as well as the developing-developed country dichotomy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3302-3327
Number of pages26
JournalSustainability (Switzerland)
Issue number8
StatePublished - 2013


  • Environmental impact
  • Justice
  • Resilience
  • Sprawl
  • Urban planning

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Energy Engineering and Power Technology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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