An aerial view of a crowded suburb, showing houses and busy roads.
Figure 1. An aerial view of a crowded suburb.[1]

Urban sprawl has serious consequences for the surrounding environment. But ecological concerns alone may not sway many leaders, so it is critical that they also consider the social and economic costs connected to urban sprawl.

Disorganized Cities are Costly

One of the primary issues with urban sprawl is that it results in disorganized districts, which weigh on the infrastructure of the city. Because of the rapid and haphazard growth of sprawl, infrastructure costs increase significantly faster than they would in a more efficient and planned system. For example, according to a study of Philadelphia’s sprawl (developed by real-estate consulting firm Clarion Associates), residents in the core city pay more than their fair share for services and infrastructure used by the surrounding sprawl. Clarion estimated that if these costs were properly distributed, it would save the local government a total of nearly $460 million per year.[2] And another report, Analysis of Public Policies that Unintentionally Encourage and Subsidize Sprawl, demonstrated that a lack of public planning to prevent sprawl increases the distance between homes, businesses, services and jobs, which raises the cost of providing infrastructure and public services by at least 10% and up to 40%. The most sprawled American cities spend an average of $750 on infrastructure per person each year, costing the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion annually.[3]

The foreground is filled with trees and natural formations, contrasted with skyscrapers in the background.
Figure 2. An example of an urban green space.[4]

Green Spaces Benefit People and Wildlife

However, in many cities around the world, there is already a significant amount of sprawl. In such cases, leaders would be wise to minimize the ecological and social impacts of existing and future sprawl, and to try their best to integrate their communities with nature. There are compelling environmental reasons to construct wildlife corridors, primarily because they provide a passage and habitat for otherwise displaced species. But in addition to the environmental benefits, corridors are also a boon for local residents. Incorporating greenery into areas of human settlement has been connected to an emotionally restorative effect in the local populace, and because wildlife corridors are generally composed of native flora, they too provide emotional benefits for local residents.[5] Another study suggests that mammals receive social and emotional benefits from nature-enriched environments.[6] Thus, there is strong evidence that people enjoy, and are emotionally benefited by, close proximity to natural life, and wildlife corridors are an excellent way to incorporate nature into local communities. According to a report on wildlife corridors by the US Department of Agriculture, corridors are both a pleasant place for community members to walk, and can be used by local educators and parents to encourage children’s interest in the natural world.[7] Leaders should consider funding the development of natural spaces and wildlife corridors in areas of existing sprawl, both for the educational and mental health benefits they provide for their constituents, and for the environmental boons.


[1] van der Kraan, B. (2019). [An aerial view of a crowded suburb] [Photograph].

[2] Clarion Associates. (2000, January). The Costs of Sprawl in Pennsylvania. Conservation Tools. Retrieved November 1, 2020, from

[3] Litman, T. (2015). Analysis of public policies that unintentionally encourage and subsidize urban sprawl. The New Climate Economy.

[4] McInall, J. (n.d.). [An image of a small green space amid skyscrapers] [Photograph]. Retrieved from

[5]  Lambert, K., Hyer, M., Bardi, M., Rzucidlo, A., Scott, S., Terhune-Cotter, B., Hazelgrove, A., Silva, I., & Kinsley, C. (2016). Natural-enriched environments lead to enhanced environmental engagement and altered neurobiological resilience. Neuroscience, 330, 386-394.

[6]  Hoyle, H., Hitchmough, J., & Jorgensen, A. (2017). All about the ‘wow factor’? The relationships between aesthetics, restorative effect and perceived biodiversity in designed urban planting. Landscape and Urban Planning, 164, 109-123.

[7] Natural Resource Conservation Service. (2020). Chapter 4: Corridor Benefits. United States Department of Agriculture.