Where America is sprawling and what it means


Some regions in the United States are sprawling, some are building in compact and connected ways, and the difference between the two strategies has huge implications for the day-to-day lives of millions of Americans.

Measuring Sprawl 2014, released today Smart Growth America in partnership with the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center, ranks the most sprawling and most compact areas of the country. The new report evaluates development patterns in 221 major metropolitan areas and their counties based on four factors: density, land use mix, street connectivity and activity centering. Each metro area received a Sprawl Index score based on these factors.

Based on this model, the 10 most compact, connected metro areas in the country are:

Index score:

Rank Metro area:
1. New York/White Plains/Wayne, NY-NJ 203.4
2. San Francisco/San Mateo/Redwood City, CA 194.3
3. Atlantic City/Hammonton, NJ 150.4
4. Santa Barbara/Santa Maria/Goleta, CA 146.6
5. Champaign/Urbana, IL 145.2
6. Santa Cruz/Watsonville, CA 145.0
7. Trenton/Ewing, NJ 144.7
8. Miami/Miami Beach/Kendall, FL 144.1
9. Springfield, IL 142.2
10. Santa Ana/Anaheim/Irvine, CA 139.9

The 10 most sprawling metro areas of the country are:

Index score:

Rank Metro area:
212. Kingsport/Bristol/Bristol, TN-VA 60.0
213. Augusta/Richmond County, GA-SC 59.2
214. Greenville/Mauldin-Easley, SC 59.0
215. Riverside-San Bernardino/Ontario, CA 56.2
216. Baton Rouge, LA 55.6
217. Nashville-Davidson/Murfreesboro/Franklin, TN 51.7
218. Prescott, AZ 49.0
219. Clarksville, TN-KY 41.5
220. Atlanta/Sandy Springs/Marietta, GA 41.0
221. Hickory/Lenoir/Morganton, NC 24.9

Download the full report for more information about the methodology of this ranking.

Today’s new report also examines how different development patterns relate to the quality of life in these areas—and the differences are startling. People in compact, connected areas have greater upward economic mobility than their peers in sprawling areas. That is, a child born in the bottom 20% of the income scale has a better chance of rising to the top 20% of the income scale by age 30.

People in compact, connected metro areas spend less on the combined expenses of housing and transportation. Housing costs are higher in compact, connected areas, but these higher costs are more than offset by lower transportation costs. People in compact, connected metro areas also have more transportation options. People in these areas tend to walk more, take transit more, own fewer cars and spend less time driving than their peers in sprawling areas.

Finally, people in compact, connected areas have longer, healthier, safer lives. Life expectancy is greater for individuals in compact, connected areas, and fatal auto collision rates are lower, average body mass index is lower and air quality is better in these areas as well.

Outcomes like this are why Smart Growth America is dedicated to helping America build in better ways. We help towns and cities grow in ways that support their individual residents, public budgets and regional economies. Measuring Sprawl is an opportunity for us to celebrate the communities that are doing that well, and to share ideas for how every community can do it even better.

Read more and download the full report >>