Sprawling cities threaten environment

Urban sprawl affects more than a quarter of Europe's total area, accelerating the growth in carbon emissions from transport, a report from the EU Environment Agency warned.

Europeans are getting increasingly land-greedy, partly due to more people living alone and many of us living longer, according to the report, Urban sprawl – Europe’s ignored environmental challenge.

Urban sprawl, created “when the rate of land-use exceeds the rate of population growth,” has consumed an area three times the size of Luxembourg just in the 1990 – 2000 period, the report says. Europe’s urban area is set to double this century if current trends continue.

People living and working in sprawling towns and suburbs travel further and consume more, which increased their contribution to climate change, from the energy needed to heat large homes or warehouses to the fuel used up for commuting.

Professor Jacqueline McGlade, executive director of the EEA said: “Urban sprawl is a reflection of changing lifestyles and consumption patterns rather than an expanding population. Increasing demands from housing, food, transport and tourism all demand land. Agricultural land surrounding cities is often under-priced and this is an issue facilitating sprawl in the face of the above pressures.”

European funds can actually contribute to urban sprawl by funding construction projects that do not use land efficiently.

“EU Cohesion and Structural Funds, key drivers affecting European societies, are also major causes of sprawl across Europe. The impact of funding is especially relevant as the EU and its Member States flesh out how they plan to spend the next EU budget,” Professor McGlade said.

“New Member States, in particular, will see dramatic changes. They should be provided with policy guidelines to help avoid the environmental pitfalls that a sudden injection of funds can encourage.”

The full report can be accessed here.

Goska Romanowicz

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