People have been spreading out into the suburbs for years, creating what is known as “urban sprawl”. There are many factors that affect the urban sprawl. It may be due to increase in population growth, change in the economical situation creating employment and more opportunities, proximity to resources and daily amenities. Patterns and policies for infrastructure initiatives like the construction of roads and service facilities (such as hotels, supermarkets, transportation services etc.) also often encourage the regional development, which eventually lead to urbanization. Increasing globalisation of economy and the communication technology has extended the geospatial dimension of economic activities leading to urbanization.

Problem Outline
Urbanization is inevitable and so are its impacts. This expansion of urban areas leads to many problems. The problem of lack of infrastructure – drainage and water supply system; environmental problems – increase in air pollution, reduction of green belts; traffic problems – increasing accidents, congestion; health problems – lung cancer and asthma; economical problems; etc. The direct implication of such urban sprawl is the change in land use pattern and land use management. (Turkstra, 1996). The resource base of the region - electricity supply, water supply, available land (space restriction – municipal boundaries), etc., is disturbed. The figure below shows the urban sprawl in Baltimore city in Maryland USA.  It is clearly seen that the percentage of proliferation has increased after 1925 to a great extent. This is the situation with all the big cities in the world.


      Satellite image showing urban sprawl (source:

This proliferation of the urban area is generally uneven development. This expansion gives rise to social, technical and economical complexities due to uneven developments. In order to minimise these impacts we must have urban infrastructure that are properly planned, designed, operated and maintained so that it provides optimal efficiency. Part of the problem with today’s urban structure is that it was built at a time when planning awareness was substantially different from today. Consequently, we are playing catch-up in trying to retrofit existing system to achieve today’s urban performance objectives. ( Aderemi Aibinu)

For systematic and planned future growth of the urban areas rather than uneven development and to retrofit the existing situation of sprawl, policies and plans are required to be developed. Spatial information is required to develop the urban plans and policies to cope with the sprawl. Spatial information regarding the land use management, pattern of growth, road network, water bodies, green belts, brown fields, housing densities, population, resource availability, traffic conditions/densities, etc, needs to be known. A huge amount of data management has to be done to develop the spatial policies and take the decisions. This would be help full in the analytical process of decision making and developing the structural and zoning plan. To deal with the problem of urban sprawl information regarding the pattern of growth in past and the current situation is needed. Using this information future growth patterns can be predicted. For this prediction constant updating and monitoring is necessary.

Planners use GIS to prepare plans, which set the standard for policy decisions regarding long-range changes to a community’s physical environment. Planners make use of GIS to smooth the progress of citizen participation and community input as they develop a vision for the community that enhances the quality of life for all citizens. ESRI GIS tools help planners analyze problems more quickly and thoroughly, formulate solutions, and monitor progress toward long-term goals for the community. GIS solutions can be used for Community-based design and planning, Economic development, improving the quality of life, creating better and livable communities for future generations, Planning services, Brown fields redevelopment, etc.

Research Question

“How can GIS technology be applied to policy analysis and decision making process in coping with the problem of urban sprawl?”






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