Continuous and rapid urban sprawl threatens Europe’s environmental, social and economic balance, says a new report released on 24 November by the European Environment Agency (EEA).
The report, ‘Urban sprawl in Europe – the ignored challenge’, shows that many environmental problems in Europe are caused by rapidly expanding urban areas. The global economy, cross border transport networks, large scale societal, economic and demographic changes and differences in national planning laws are some of the major drivers of change to the urban environment. EU policy to co-ordinate and control planning is required, the report says.
Urban sprawl occurs when the rate of land-use conversion exceeds the rate of population growth. More than a quarter of the EU territory has now been directly affected by urban land use, according to the report. Europeans are living longer and more of us live alone putting greater demands on living space. We travel further and consume more.
Between 1990 and 2000, more than 800 000 hectares of Europe’s land was built on. That is an area three times the size of Luxembourg.
If this trend continues, our urban area will double in just over a century. Sprawling cities demand more energy supply, require more transport infrastructure and consume larger amounts of land. This damages the natural environment and increases greenhouse gas emissions. Among the consequences are climate change, increased air and noise pollution. As a result, urban sprawl impacts directly on the quality of life of people living in and around cities.
The report contains case studies from seven cities across Europe illustrating both good and bad approaches to urban planning over the past 50 years. However, the report stresses that sprawl is not a localised phenomenon and is affecting almost all of Europe’s cities. The report suggests future actions and policies that could tackle the continued spread of sprawl.