Sprawl & Densification

site Flanders territory, BE
client Ruimte Vlaanderen, Boulevard du Roi Albert II 19 bte 12, 1210 Brussels, BE
team L. Van Broeck
timing study 2013-2014
status study completed
project code 0101RVE


The Urban Design and Spatial Planning authorities of the Flemish Government commissioned an advisory report on the causes of excessive land use and urban sprawl and on possible ways to tackle that problem.

The report starts with a quantification through mapping and gathering of statistical data of different land use parameters in Flanders and Belgium compared to other European countries: land coverage; sealed fraction; flooded areas; daily increase of built up land; endangered % of fauna, flora and ecosystems; etc. Then a number of causes are described: anthropocentric land use; long term weak planning policies; most urban design regulations limit density instead of stimulating it; prejudices about high rise; NIMBY behavior of citizens; etc. A next chapter is dedicated to the economical costs of sprawl: loss of productive hours in traffic jams; infrastructure costs like roads, sewage, piping for water and gas, cables for data and electricity; energy consumption for mobility needs and for heating of sprawled buildings; increased cost of public transport; etc.

After defining necessary targets, which are reducing the daily increase of built up land from 6 to 0 hectares and bringing back the actual fraction of built up land from 32% to around 20%, a set of planning instruments and measures are analysed: fundamental change of urban design rules; stop building of freestanding single family houses; no further greenfield developments; mobility based urban planning focusing mainly on non-car based transport; introduction of minimum building heights instead of maximum; transfer of development rights as a tool to coagulate sprawled rural fabric and relocate housing in well connected cities, towns and villages; introduction of natural areas with reduced accessibility (‘human free space’) on all planning levels; allow smaller housing units; and transfer the accent from technocratic aspects like energy and CO2 to land use as the highest priority.

The conclusion states that the paradigms of our economy should shift from quantitative growth to qualitative growth, that optimizing land use requires all political domains to be streamlined and coordinated, and that the quality of communication about these matters is very important in order to change mentalities and have an impact on the self image of mankind in relation to our environment.

The report can be consulted here.