Urban Sprawl in Europe: Landscapes, Land Use Change & Policy
Does sprawl take the same form in all regions of Europe or does it differ between the north, south, and central parts of the continent? How does it differ from the North American variety? The results of a study looking into these questions are presented in Urban Sprawl in Europe.
Edited by Chris Couch, Lila Leontidou and Gerhard Petschel-Held (Wiley-Blackwell Publishing, 2007)
Reviewed by John Calimente, re:place magazine
When visiting Europe cities we often think of them as models of density and good design, far from the sprawling megacities that occur in North America, with their cookie-cutter chain store developments and absolute lack of options to the automobile.
But since urban trends don't occur in a vacuum, Europe has not escaped the same suburbanizing forces that have bedeviled us. While city centres have kept their status as the most valuable real estate in most European metropolises, their central city populations have stagnated or even declined, with growth tending to be in the suburbs as in North America. But how different are those exurban developments from here?
Urban Sprawl in Europe
began as a research project of an international consortium of universities, headed by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research
(PIK), whose mandate is to "address crucial scientific questions in the fields of global change, climate impacts, and sustainable development". Over a period of three years, this group of universities from different regions of Europe put together a 2005 report for the European Commission on urban sprawl. The book uses these reports to paint a picture of what sprawl looks like in Europe.
The seven study areas were chosen to be representative of three different regions of the continent. Northern Europe is shown in studies of Liverpool, Vienna, and Stockholm, southern Europe by Athens, and the post-socialist countries are exemplified by Ljubljana, Warsaw, and Leipzig.
What we find is that cities in Southern Europe have created compact cores while simultaneously creating infrastructure-related urban sprawl. Athens had originally sprawled out due to internal migration in the 1970s and 1980s, with illegal self-built housing expanding further and further from the city. This changed in the lead up to the 2004 Olympics, when the government pushed a number of huge transportation infrastructure projects - a new airport, freeways, an expansion of the suburban railway system, and a subway system.
In Northern and Western Europe, an anti-urbanism mindset has developed lifestyle-related sprawl, with the middle class and upper income class escaping the downtrodden by moving to the country.While Liverpool has halted this movement through restrictions in peripheral development, Stockholm has seen former summer homes being taken over as permanent second homes, increasing traffic and straining resources. Vienna introduced a "Settlement Concept East Region" in 1995 to strengthen existing smaller towns that lie outside the inner ring of suburbs.
And in Eastern Europe, the peri-urban areas have not experienced a great deal of sprawl since the fall of Communism. Development on the periphery has tended to be more employment-driven, such as business parks, rather than residential-driven. Leipzig, Germany, has lost a fifth of its population in the last ten years, with half the loss resulting from suburbanization. In Warsaw, suburbanization has been caused not by people moving out from the city core, but by inward migration from towns even further away. Ljubljana, Slovenia witnessed market-driven sprawl through the 1990s until a comprehensive development strategy was adopted in 2002 that focused on aspects like competitiveness and quality of life in order to encourage a more sustainable development style.
In Europe as a whole, population growth has slowed and households are becoming smaller. However, urban areas are still decreasing in density, albeit gradually. In a comparison of 45 European cities over the period 1991-2001, only eight saw growth in their central cities. The other 37 saw central city population declines of between 0.1% (Warsaw) and 6% (Cork, Ireland). Although most of the cities studied did see growth in the suburbs, 11 of the 45 saw overall declines in metropolitan population, including Liverpool, Budapest, and Rome.
I had hoped that Urban Sprawl in Europe
would be a hopeful book that would show how much better European cities were at controlling growth on the periphery than in North America. It is true that Northern European countries have been relatively successful in pushing growth inward due to their strong planning systems. But in most other regions it seems that where sprawl isn't occurring as rapidly, it's due to the stagnation or decline in urban populations.
John Calimente is the president of Rail Integrated Developments. He is a fan of great public transit + transit integrated communities + urban life lived without a car. Click here to follow TheTransitFan on Twitter.