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| Last Updated:: 27/02/2017

Urban Sprawl

Urban Sprawl means different things to different people Calthorpe and Fulton, (2001, 2) note. While some view sprawl as an unintended consequence of a lifestyle in suburban house and auto commute to work, others consider it a waste of resources—land, water, air, and energy—and, above all else, inimical to civic life if not the economy and society (Kunstler 1993, Duany et al. 2000).

Each specialization has its own ―language of sprawl (see Hayden, 2004). While professionals from different specializations shed lights on various aspects of urban sprawl, the differences in language and perspectives (e.g. architects, planners, real estate agents, bankers, land-use regulators) contributes to the lack of a cohesive definition.

Hayden (2004, 8) defines sprawl as - a process of large-scale real estate development resulting in low-density, scattered, discontinuous car-dependent construction, usually on the periphery of declining older suburbs and shrinking city centres.

Bourne (2001, 26) recounts observations about sprawl, such as - any extension of the suburban margin, the spread of development onto sensitive Greenfields and agricultural soils, increases in highway congestion, the proliferation of new subdivisions of homogeneous and low density, single-family housing. A - suburban development that is ―haphazard, disorganized, poorly serviced, and largely unplanned.

Case Study – Mumbai Metropolitan Region

‘Mumbai’ - capital of Maharashtra State and also the financial capital of India has grown in an unprecedented manner over the last few decades making it one of the tenth most densely populated cities in the world according to the latest reports of UN. Mumbai Metropolitan Region Corporation is divided into 4 districts with 8 corporations and 9 municipal councils.

Districts in MMR
Corporations in MMR
Municipal Councils in MMR
1. Mumbai
2. Suburban
3. Thane
4. Raigad
1. Greater Mumbai
2. Thane
3. Navi Mumbai
4. Ulhas Nagar
5. Kalyan Dombivli
6. Mira Bhayandar
7. Bhiwandi

8. Vasai Virar
1. Ambernath
2. Kulgaon Badlapur
3. Alibaug
4. Pen
5. Uran
6. Matheran Hill

7. Panvel
8. Karjat
9. Khopoli




Mumbai (name derived from patron goddess of the native) is a cluster of seven islands namely - Bombay Island, Parel, Mazagaon, Mahim, Colaba, Worli and Old Woman's Island. After developing as an important port, the city emerged as the second largest commercial centre in India after Calcutta with its manufacturing units for cotton textiles in 1888.

The city gradually became more and more industrialised and attracted a massive supply of skilled and unskilled labour from all over the country. The growth of the city was steady as its manufacturing sector became more diversified with the expansion into the chemicals industry, basic metal and engineering products.


The city of Mumbai was the first in the country to have a municipal corporation, created through special provincial legislation in 1888.

After independence in 1947, the growth of the port, the discovery of offshore oil, the emergence of financial services, the development of national and international trade and the establishment of many public sector units and educational institutions gave further impetus to the growth of the city.

Mumbai also became the capital of the State of Maharashtra, adding further to its administrative importance.


Urbanization in MMR

Most of the development and expansion took place in the northward direction due to the long narrow shape of the island while the central business district remained in the island. As the place became scarce the real estate value shoot up driving the public to the suburbs.

As a result, expansion of Greater Bombay in 1971 was almost entirely due to its suburbs growth. In 1981 the city's population of 3.3 millions was far outpaced by the suburb population of 5 million. Later it was felt essential to create another city centre to ease the increasing pressure on Bombay and its resources and services.

During the third five-year plan of Government of India, the concept of regional planning was introduced and the Bombay Metropolitan Region was demarcated. Subsequently, New Bombay was developed with all basic characters of a business centre.


Key Drivers of Urbanization in MMR

  • Presence of two sea ports and airport.
  • Long history of international trade and financial services.
  • Large talent pool, good work culture.
  • Public transport Network.
  • Gifted hydrometric area ensuring water sources.
  • Opportunities for improved external trade, export, international financial services Centres, IT and ITES.
  • Potential of media and entertainment.
  • Growth of high end manufacturing sector.






  • Due to topographic constraints there is limited land supply.
  • High real estate & housing prices, majority living in slums.
  • Vulnerability to flooding Mumbai ranked 150 in quality of life index in international comparison.
  • 11th rank amongst 12 Indian cities in “ease of doing business”
  • No focus on housing.
  • Approaches to regional planning varying.
  • Inadequate pro-active interventions in the provision of regional infrastructure.
  • MMRDA not well represented by the constituents of the region.
  • There is an urban bias.



  • High growth rate, high migration and urbanization put tremendous stress on the resources and increased growth. economic activity and per capita income further over stresses the resources and "common goods".
  • The rapid population growth and the process of urbanisation has resulted into changing land-uses pattern.
  • Within the existing built up areas of cities uncontrolled growth of population and inadequate infrastructure has caused irreversible loss of open space.
  • Inadequate power supply, water supply turning into weakness.
  • Overcrowded trains and slow moving buses.
  • Generally poor solid waste management.




Population in MMR has grown very fast in the past. The Island city, which supports one-thirds of the population, has started loosing population. The regions, which have been growing very fast, are Thane, Kalyan ,Uran and Panvel. The Uran region has experienced a dramatic growth rate of 15 per cent per year during 1991-2011 because the new port of Nhava Sheva has started attracting other commercial activities. Its growth rate was 4 per cent during 1971-91. A significant growth in population in Thane, Kalyan and Panvel regions can be attributed to industrialization.

Open space seems to be shrinking as per the latest land user survey data being prepared by the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) in association with a private firm as part of its revised development plan, the total accessible open space area minus the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, has been reduced to just 1.33 percent of the total landmass of the city. The land user data, which has been collected as part of the larger Development Plan 2014-2034 preparation, states that the city has over 30 percent of its total area under ‘natural areas and open space’ at 128.26 sq. km out of the total area of 413.93 sq. km.  







Out of this share of 128.26 sq. km of natural areas and open space in the city, a whopping 34.8 percent is the land purely under the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, which is the city's single biggest green lung. The next major chunk (29.9 percent) is mangrove land.

An axial growth in the outskirts caused by transportation networks and hilly barriers and the polycentric structure and development of satellite cities in the 1970s steadily increased due to land shortage in the urban centre and dramatic population pressure has led to a complex urban footprint, spatially polycentric with axial growth lines, a large urban core and a dispersed urban-rural fringe.






1. Population Growth and Changing Land-use pattern in Mumbai metropolitan region of India - Arun Kumar Acharya, Parveen Nangia
2. Economy, Population and urban sprawl a comparative study of urban agglomerations of Bangalore and Hyderabad, India using remote sensing and GIS techniques -Neelakantan Krishna Iyer, Sumati Kulkarni, V. Raghavaswamy
3. Managing urban coastal areas through landscape metrics: An assessment of Mumbai's mangrove system - Eric Vaz Ryerson University

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