The effectiveness of urban containment regimes in reducing exurban sprawl

Arthur C. Nelson, Thomas W. Sanchez

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


During the 1990s, the exurban landscape grew faster and added more people than urban, suburban, and rural landscapes. In many respects, exurbanization is the quintessential representation of urban sprawl and the problems it poses. More than 100 metropolitan areas across the US attempt to manage exurbanization through various forms of urban containment at regional or subregional scales. In this article, we assess the extent to which urban containment is effective in managing exurban sprawl in the 35 largest metropolitan areas in the US. Through simple cross-section analysis, we found that relative to metropolitan areas without urban containment, those pursuing "strong" containment efforts performed best in reducing exurbanization. Strong containment programs are those that direct urban development into areas defined by urban containment boundaries and restrict development out-side the boundaries. Metropolitan areas with "natural" containment, i.e., where development is constrained because of oceans, mountains, public ownership, and water supply, did not perform as well but saw less exurbanization than noncontained metropolitan areas. Least effective relative to other forms of containment were metropolitan areas with weak containment efforts, principally because such approaches do not substantially restrict development outside containment boundaries. Strong urban containment appears to be effective in reigning in exurban sprawl but without apparently dampening population growth generally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)42-47
Number of pages6
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geography, Planning and Development


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