Urbanism Next
University of OregonUniversity of Oregon

Urban Density & Sprawl

Land use planning has a pivotal role in reducing sprawl and improving quality of life for urban residents.

Urban sprawl can contribute to road congestion, air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and a lack of affordable housing. Effective land use policy, especially ones that utilize smart growth strategies, can reduce urban sprawl and increase the density of cities.

Issues & approaches

Reduce parking requirements: New mobility technologies, including micromobility, TNCs, and AVs, require less space for parking in urban areas. As trips taken with these transportation modes increasingly replace car trips, parking spaces, especially in buildings, will be utilized less. Reducing building parking requirements in urban areas frees up space for additional retail and housing units.

Retrofit buildings and incentivise infill development: With the potential for reduced parking demand, there are many opportunities in urban and suburban areas to give a new purpose to unused or underperforming land and buildings. Infill development and building retrofits can be used to increase housing and commercial opportunities while working within an existing framework of buildings and neighborhoods.  

Adopt a road usage charge: A road usage charge is a strategy cities can employ to discourage sprawl. If people are willing to commute longer using AVs, road usage charges can deter people from long commutes. Road usage charges can employ appropriate technology to ensure that low-income and vulnerable populations pay a reduced rate or nothing at all. Setting an appropriate charge that reflects the true cost of the trip to society is very important when setting the rate.

Support mobility hubs: Creating mobility hubs near transit stops increases mobility options for transit users, helping to cover the  first and last-mile trips from transit. By creating mobility hubs near transit stops, the distance someone is willing to travel from transit could increase from the typical ¼ to ½ mile people are willing to walk. Transit-oriented developments and other commercial and office developments may see more activity too.

Manage the curb: New mobility technologies will introduce an increased need to regulate and manage the curb. For more governance strategies to manage the curb read the NEXUS What to Do: Streets & Curbside Management, for design strategies, read the Curb Management Strategies What to Do: Design page (coming soon).

Examples/case studies

Smart Growth and Economic Success: Investing in Infill Development

View - United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

As part of their Smart Growth Initiatives, the EPA produced this guide for investing in infill development.

Reimagining Spaces: A Post-Pandemic Design Report

View - Omgivning

This report created by Omgivning how to reuse strip malls, big box stores, and light industrial to build housing and mixed-use buildings in Los Angeles.

Infill on the Cut: Detroit, Michigan

View - Gensler

The architectural firm Gensler has created plans for an infill development project in Detroit, Michigan that will feature "350 residential units, 80,000 square feet of retail, and 18,000 square feet of green space."

Related topics

Retail, Commercial & Office

How will the changing nature of travel, employment, and e-commerce impact retail, commercial, and office districts?

Land Use & Real Estate

The COVID-19 pandemic affected land use and real estate in unexpected ways.

Land Use Changes

Emerging transportation technologies, developments in e-commerce and urban delivery, and the COVID-19 pandemic are creating opportunities  to rethink how communities approach land use.

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