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What Sprawl Isn't

Last week I saw a number of people tweeting this post on Archinect, which shows an image of Los Angeles, and the cities that you could "fit" inside of its boundaries. The author opens with this:
Los Angeles has infamously been known for its urban sprawl. A recently released map makes it look like LA could easily swallow several major US cities inside its bloated city limits belly.
What gets under my skin is the suggestion that a city is sprawly because it covers a lot of land area. There are a lot of ways to measure sprawl. Municipal boundaries are not one of them.

(from Kaizer Rangwala on Flickr)

I've been using the example of Dallas and Houston for a while now. Here are major cities in two of the five biggest metro areas in America. They are culturally similar, geographically connected and economically interdependent. The city of Houston has roughly twice the population as the city of Dallas. It also covers about twice as many square miles. Does that make Houston twice as sprawly as Dallas?

Cities are hard to compare because there's no standardization in terms of where a city ends and its suburbs begin. I've been thinking about building "core" areas and "fringe" areas for big cities for a while. Maybe now that the 2010 Census data is mostly available I'll actually find some motivation to get it done.

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