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New Study Finds Urban Sprawl in Maryland is Increasing

A study of changing land use patterns in the state of Maryland found substantial and significant increases in sprawl between 1973 and 2000. The results are in contrast to a study last year that concluded that the extent of sprawl remained roughly unchanged in the US between 1976 and 1992. (Earlier post.)

The new study looked for evidence of fragmented land use, e.g., areas where housing was juxtaposed to agriculture or forested areas—one of the basic hallmarks of sprawl. Results showed the level of peak land-use fragmentation was 60% greater in 2000 than in 1973, and shifted outward from the central cities to a distance of 55 miles in 2000, up from about 40 miles in 1973.

Fragmented land use increased the most in non-urban areas located about 80 miles from the nearest city, the researchers found.

People are moving further and further away from the center of cities and increasingly more people are living on larger lots. That’s increasing the level of sprawl.

—Elana Irwin, Ohio State University

The study will be published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Elana Irwin from Ohio State University conducted the study with Nancy Bockstael of the University of Maryland.

Irwin said it is very difficult to measure sprawl because of the limitations of data available to researchers. That’s one problem she identified with the study published last year in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which concluded that sprawl has not increased in the United States. That study used high altitude photos and satellite images to track land use changes between 1976 and 1992.

As part of their study, Irwin and Bockstael used land use data from Howard County to examine at a more finely detailed level how individual patches of land in the county were used. When they compared their data with the satellite image data, they found that the satellite data captured only 26% of low-density residential development that occurred in the county.

Satellite data is not very good at recording low-density residential development, which we find is the essential footprint of sprawl. Low-density housing is the type of land use that is most strongly associated with fragmentation. We find lots of evidence for increases in sprawl further out, but very little evidence for infill development closer to the central city. It contradicts the basic idea of an orderly development process.

If you use only the satellite data, you’re missing a lot of the sprawl story.

—Elana Irwin

Irwin said the new reality of sprawl is not conforming to the commonly accepted models of how metropolitan areas develop. The basic theory has been that when pockets of land just beyond the suburbs are developed, the area nearer the central city will be “filled in” before development moves even further out.

Instead, the results of the study reflect the diminished pull of city centers, according to Irwin. More people have jobs in suburban areas, or are telecommuting, and no longer have the need or desire to live close to the major cities, she explained.

While people are less interested in living in or near large cities, they are also being drawn out by natural amenities in rural areas, such as lakes, oceans, forests or mountains. For example, in this study the researchers found less fragmented areas closer to the edge of Chesapeake Bay, suggesting an attraction to the coast.

Irwin said the study also found a link between sprawl and the building of roads and zoning regulations that require larger lot sizes. However, it was not possible to distinguish whether large-lot zoning and roads cause sprawl, or vice versa.

While this study was done only for the state of Maryland, Irwin said she would expect the results to be applicable to other states that have witnessed substantial urbanization.

What’s driving these fragmentation patterns in Maryland does not appear to be specific to Maryland. Exurban, low-density development has been well-documented across the United States.

—Elana Irwin

This research was supported by grants from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Science Foundation, US Department of Agriculture and the US Environmental Protection Agency.



As a consumer of urban sprawl, this is great news! I prefer my home be near farmland or woods - even when it means I have to pay with time and money for the longer commute.
For those who object to urban sprawl, I would recommend a study of the Soviet model - low quality rat cages with long waiting lists. Lovely!


I agree with Harvey.
And, I live in Maryland too.

The 'Greenies' act as if humans have no right to live - ANY WHERE.

According to those Liberal Retards - humans should be stacked up like rats in a cage, and the rats in the woods should have open free-range living.

Mean while Liberals like Al Gore and Hitlery Clinton already have a nice place of there own, built of wood that came from the forest. They got thiers, so now - nobody else should ever chop down a tree.

What a bunch of selfish hipocrites!!!


Wow, it must be an election year.


Urban sprawl is one of the worst things that can happen. It framents communities. It destroys farmland. The secondary consequences include having to ship food from farther distances. It means more and more cars. It means lost productivity. It means a much larger police force and other services since the population density is much less. It means the building and expanding of expensive infrastructure like roads, power, sewage. It means using more oil and dealing with the social/politicol consequences.

Sustainable developement tries to put jobs,services and transportation within easy reach of where people live. These suburbs are much different from the railway suburbs of the 50's. To me they seem to be not so much communities as isolated fiefdoms. Frankly, the little time I spend around nature I can get from a closeby park. The time I lose in commuting, I can never get back.


Yeah, your low-quality rat cage takes the form of a car stuck in traffic every day.

And as time goes on, the land would be developed around you, so that which you crave keeps moving further and further out. So what do you do? Move out even further? How many hours are you willing to commute each day to be near the woodland?

You may call us stupid names, but as time goes on and gas gets more and more expensive, will you be able to continue commuting this far? At 5$/gallon? At 10$/gallon? And when you decide that you can't afford the commute any longer, what kinds of jobs are there out near the woodland or farmland? My guess, not many.



I live in Maryland, and I can tell you that not only is the sprawl itself the problem, but the lack of quality and energy efficiency of the homes that are build are equally an issue. A friend of mine bought a stereotypical "McMansion" about two years ago, and besides the cathedral ceilings and unused space that are damned near impossible to heat efficiently, it was drafty as hell, and the HVAC system was the minimum efficiency allowed by law. Not only that, but from a purely aesthetic point, come on, you don't think I notice that only the front of of the house is brick, and the rest is Vinyl siding. You're telling me that for 800K you can't brick that thing up, uugh.

If these homes were LEED certified and efficient, then the strain that these homes put on communities would be significantly less. I recently went to the solar decathlon down on the DC mall. It was amazing seeing all those zero energy homes all in one place, some of them were quite odd looking, but the majority really could function as a home for most Americans. The path has been laid out how to build and structure communities the right way, all we need is for communities to insist that these building techniques be instituted on a regular basis.


As a former Maryland resident, all I can say about this report is "no kidding". Just look at the mess that Clarksburg and Urbana have become -- all that gorgeous farmland lost, Little Bennett park increasingly hemmed in by townhomes, ugh. Maryland has some of the prettiest countryside in the nation and it's disappearing at a fast rate.

Compared to the disaster that is Texas, however, Maryland should be commended for making a reasonable effort to preserve some of it -- I mean, we have nothing like a Little Bennett park or C&O Canal, etc, around Houston.


Harvey, Patrick...Late to this shooting match, but...

Harvey...Soviet models & rat cages aren't the only alternative to 100(+?) mile roundtrip commutes.

Patrick....Selfish hypocrites! Seems its you that not only needlessly uses up resources, but like to do such. But that just makes you selfish. Since you don't involve yourself with proper urban planning, but love to call people diminutive names, you certainly aren't a hypocrite.

Me...I'm not a 'greenie' as you perversely describe them. I'm Snohomish tribe & love to see the European transplants feed on each other. Thank you.

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