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Update of influential urban sprawl index funded by National Institutes of Health

Reid Ewing

Urban sprawl has become the nation’s dominant development pattern, bringing with it a host of attendant problems, including traffic congestion, poor air quality, loss of farmlands, and physical inactivity and obesity. A decade ago, Professor Reid Ewing of the Department of City & Metropolitan Planning – where he is also Director of the Metropolitan Research Center – developed measures of sprawl for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Smart Growth America.

Encompassing 83 metropolitan areas and 950 metropolitan counties, the measures have been widely used to research the high costs of sprawl, including its association with cancer and other health related variables. Because of their great value to health research, the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health is now funding an update of the sprawl measures that will be current up to 2010.

As with the 2000 measures, the new Urban Sprawl Index will be made available to urban researchers everywhere and will be closely related to quality-of-life indicators. The update will allow for comparisons of sprawl over a 20-year period and will provide many options for modeling relationships between sprawl and a wide range of health considerations. Many studies have tied urban spawl to health risks. For example, people living in sprawling urban areas are likely to walk less and weigh more than people who live elsewhere, making them more likely to suffer from obesity and related risks of cancer, diabetes, and a host of other diseases.

Ewing’s own study of sprawl and obesity, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, received more national media coverage than any planning study before or since, reaching an estimated 41 million Americans. It was the most widely cited academic paper in the Social Sciences as of late 2005, according to Essential Science Indicators. His 1997 point-counterpoint on urban sprawl is also listed as a classic by the American Planning Association.

Related Links

> Related event: “The High Cost of Urban Sprawl,” lecture by Reid Ewing on December 1 at the Leonardo
> About the Metropolitan Research Center

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