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Abstract: We study the extent to which US urban development is sprawling and consider what determines differences in sprawl across space. Using remote-sensing data to track the evolution of land use on a grid of 8.7 billion 30x30 metre cells, we measure sprawl as the amount of undeveloped land surrounding an average urban dwelling. On this measure, while the extent of sprawl remained roughly unchanged between 1976 and 1992, it varied dramatically across metropolitan areas. Ground water availability, temperate climate, rugged terrain, decentralized employment, early public transport infrastructure, uncertainty about metropolitan growth, and unincorporated land in the urban fringe all increase sprawl.
Keywords: urban sprawl; land development; remote sensing
JEL Classification: R14; O51