Login | Register

Urban Sprawl in Europe. Joint EEA-FOEN report. No 11/2016.


Urban Sprawl in Europe. Joint EEA-FOEN report. No 11/2016.

Hennig, Ernest I., Soukup, Tomas, Orlitova, Erika, Schwick, Christian, Kienast, Felix and Jaeger, Jochen A.G. (2016) Urban Sprawl in Europe. Joint EEA-FOEN report. No 11/2016. Technical Report. Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

[thumbnail of EEA and FOEN 2016 Urban Sprawl in Europe - Main report.pdf]
Text (application/pdf)
EEA and FOEN 2016 Urban Sprawl in Europe - Main report.pdf - Published Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.

Official URL: http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/urban-sprawl...


Executive summary

Urban sprawl is associated with a number of ecological, economic and social effects. Some of these relate to people's desires, for example, to live in single-family homes with gardens. However, urban sprawl has detrimental and long-lasting effects. For example, urban sprawl contributes significantly to the loss of fertile farmland, to soil sealing and to the loss of ecological soil functions. The increase in built-up areas reduces the size of wildlife habitats and increases landscape fragmentation and the spread of invasive species. Urban sprawl leads to higher greenhouse gas emissions, higher infrastructure costs for transport, water and electrical power, the loss of open landscapes, and the degradation of various ecosystem services. Despite various efforts to address this problem, urban sprawl has increased rapidly in Europe in recent decades. Thus, urban sprawl presents a major challenge with regard to sustainable land use, as the International Year of Soils 2015 highlighted.

Sprawl is a result not only of population growth but also of lifestyles that take up more space. Accordingly, urban sprawl has increased even in regions with a declining human population. Many more urban development and transport infrastructure projects are planned for the future, in particular in the European Union (EU) Member States which joined after 2004. Consequently, further increases in urban sprawl in the future will be significant. Therefore, consistent data on the degree of urban sprawl are needed, particularly data that are suitable for the comparison of regions across Europe. This report investigates the degree of urban sprawl in 32 countries in Europe by considering two points in time (2006 and 2009) at three levels. The three levels include the country level, the NUTS-2 region level (based on the Nomenclature of Territorial Units for Statistics (NUTS)) and the 1-km2 cell level (based on the Land and Ecosystem Accounting (LEAC) grid). The comparison of two points in time allowed an assessment of temporal changes in urban sprawl.

This report applies the method of 'weighted urban proliferation' (WUP), which quantifies the degree of urban sprawl for any given landscape through a combination of three components: (1) the size of the built-up areas; (2) the spatial configuration (dispersion) of the built-up areas in the landscape; and (3) the uptake of built-up area per inhabitant or job. The report provides, for the first time, an assessment of urban sprawl in all EU and European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries using the WUP method. The urban sprawl values obtained cover a large range, from low values for large parts of Scandinavia (< 1 UPU/m2) to high (> 4 UPU/m2) and very high values for large parts of western and central Europe (> 6 UPU/m2). The two largest clusters of high-sprawl values in Europe are located in (1) north-eastern France, Belgium, the Netherlands and part of western Germany; and (2) in the United Kingdom between London and the Midlands. The analysis of sprawl at the 1-km2-grid level shows that sprawl is most pronounced in wide rings around city centres, along large transport corridors, and along many coastlines (particularly in the Mediterranean countries). The lowest levels of sprawl are mainly associated with mountain ranges or remote areas. The level of sprawl, as measured by WUP, increased in all European countries between 2006 and 2009. The overall WUP value for Europe (all 32 countries combined) increased from 1.56 urban permeation units (UPU)/m2 in 2006 to 1.64 UPU/m2 in 2009, that is by 5 % in 3 years or by 1.7 % per year. In most countries, the increase was higher than 1 % per year, and in many countries WUP increased by more than 2 % per year. This was also the case for most NUTS-2 regions. Future studies using additional time-points will allow more detailed temporal comparisons. Base data for 2012 will be available in 2016 and these could be analysed in a follow-up project.

Driving forces and predictive models of urban sprawl

The level of urban sprawl is largely a function of socio-economic and demographic drivers, and the geophysical context. Current levels of urban sprawl need to be interpreted within the context of regional socio-economic and geophysical conditions. Therefore, the second part of this study investigated the potential factors that may contribute to an increase or decrease in the degree of urban sprawl, and determined their relative importance. The report applied a set of statistical models to determine which of these factors drive the process of urban sprawl in Europe. We analysed the statistical relationships between urban sprawl and a range of explanatory variables (14 variables at the country level and 12 at the NUTS-2 level). We also applied these relationships to predict the expected sprawl values for all regions in our study area and compared actual values with predicted values.

Most of our hypotheses about the likely driving forces of urban sprawl were confirmed by the statistical analyses. The relevant variables identified as affecting urban sprawl are population density, road density, railway density, household size, governmental effectiveness, the number of cars per 1 000 inhabitants and two environmental factors (i.e. net primary production and relief energy). This result was consistent for both of the years (2006 and 2009) considered in the analysis. The results indicate that economic development has, largely, not been decoupled from increases in urban sprawl. A high amount of variation in the level of urban sprawl, as measured by WUP, was explained by the predictor variables: 72–80 % at the country level and 80–81 % at the NUTS-2 level. The variation explained for the three components of WUP ranged between 67 % and 94 % at the NUTS-2 level. Efforts to control urban sprawl should take these driving forces into account.

Relevance for monitoring and policymaking

The results provided by this study are intended to contribute to more sustainable political decision- making and planning throughout Europe. In the last 15 years (2000–2015), several projects and programmes at the European level have proposed a suite of concepts and measures to address urban sprawl and promote more sustainable land use. The most recent (2014), and perhaps most important, of these is the Seventh Environment Action Programme (7EAP), which calls for indicators of resource efficiency to be established in order to guide public and private decision-makers. Although the urgent challenge presented by urban sprawl has been recognised, there is still no monitoring in place for European urban sprawl. This report aims to help close this gap.

The results confirm the conclusion of earlier reports (e.g. EEA, 2006a; EEA, 2006b) namely that there is an increasingly urgent need for action. Large discrepancies between the predicted and observed levels of urban sprawl provide a basis for identifying areas for prioritising management action. Our data also provide a basis for scenarios regarding the future development of urban sprawl in Europe. There is an increasing need and interest in including indicators of urban sprawl in systems for monitoring sustainable development, the state of the environment, biodiversity and landscape quality. The results presented in this report are intended for this purpose and can be updated on a regular basis in order to detect trends in urban sprawl. This report also demonstrates the usefulness of the WUP method as a tool for urban and regional planning and for performance review based on benchmarks, targets and limits.

This study provides a comparable measurement of urban sprawl for most of the European continent using a consistent data set across Europe. The results will support managers and policymakers with the allocation of resources for the better protection of agricultural soils and landscape quality, and more sustainable political decision-making related to land use. The report also identifies the most immediate priorities and future research needs.

Divisions:Concordia University > Faculty of Arts and Science > Geography, Planning and Environment
Item Type:Monograph (Technical Report)
Authors:Hennig, Ernest I. and Soukup, Tomas and Orlitova, Erika and Schwick, Christian and Kienast, Felix and Jaeger, Jochen A.G.
Series Name:EEA Reports
Corporate Authors:European Environment Agency (EEA), Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN)
Institution:European Environment Agency and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment
Date:8 June 2016
  • Urban Sprawl in Europe
  • Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN)
  • European Environment Agency (EEA)
Identification Number:No 11/2016
Keywords:urban sprawl, urban development, environmental impacts, driving forces, landscape metrics, weighted urban proliferation (WUP), dispersion, urban permeation, built-up areas, urban areas, urban growth, urban development, urban planning, NUTS-2 regions, monitoring, regional planning, policy
ID Code:981330
Deposited By: Jochen Jaeger
Deposited On:13 Jun 2016 13:02
Last Modified:18 Jan 2018 17:52
Related URLs:
Additional Information:The Annexes are in a separate document titled "Annexes 1-5: Urban Sprawl in Europe. Joint EEA-FOEN report" (141 pp).


Hennig, E.I., Soukup, T., Orlitova, E., Schwick, C., Kienast, F., Jaeger, J.A.G. (2016): Urban Sprawl in Europe. Joint EEA-FOEN report. EEA Report No 11/2016. Published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). ISSN 1777-8449, ISBN 978-92-9213-738-0, doi:10.2800/143470. Luxembourg, Publications Office of the European Union. 135 pp. (+ Annexes 1-5: Urban Sprawl in Europe. Joint EEA-FOEN report. 141 pp.) Available online: http://www.eea.europa.eu/publications/urban-sprawl-in-europe and http://www.eea.europa.eu/highlights/better-targeted-measures-needed-to

Those cited in the report are too many to list them here, see pp. 119-135 in the report.
All items in Spectrum are protected by copyright, with all rights reserved. The use of items is governed by Spectrum's terms of access.

Repository Staff Only: item control page

Downloads per month over past year

Research related to the current document (at the CORE website)
- Research related to the current document (at the CORE website)
Back to top Back to top