Drivers of Urban Sprawl at the Local Scale: Case Study Analysis of Municipalities in the Zurich Metropolitan Area

ETH Zürich; WSL Birmensdorf
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Urban sprawl is increasingly gaining attention in many places around the world and also in Switzerland – in science, planning and political debates. There is a consensus that the negative consequences of urban sprawl prevail and that it is unsustainable and should therefore be contained.
This master thesis examined the drivers of urban sprawl at the local (municipal) scale by a two-step case study analysis of the municipalities Fällanden, Fehraltorf and Fischenthal in the Zurich metropolitan area, located along the gradient urban, periurban, rural. The urban sprawl definition by Jaeger and Schwick (2014) was used: the higher the share of settlement area, and the higher the dispersion of the settlement area, and the lower the utilisation density, the higher the degree of urban sprawl.
A quantitative assessment employing the Weighted Urban Proliferation (Jaeger & Schwick, 2014) showed that urban sprawl tends to be highest in suburban municipalities and has increased over time and propagated to more distant municipalities from the conurbation centre Zurich. Expert interviews and local documents were used to analyse the local development of settlement and urban sprawl as well as related policies, influential actors and discourses since about 1950. By combining the quantitative and qualitative results, political, economic, technological, cultural and natural drivers have been identified, with an emphasis on political drivers. The drivers show very similar patterns among the three municipalities, albeit in quite different spatial and temporal contexts. An imbalance of power between land utilisation and protection interests has been identified as a crucial driver of urban sprawl. Constructors have been highly influential in determining local settlement development, while landscape protection interests have not been represented accordingly. This constitutes a tragedy of the commons (Hardin, 1968). Spatial planning policies have tightened over time, but not considerably addressed this imbalance. Therefore, to tackle urban sprawl, a mutual agreement to common coercion is needed, meaning collective democratic not private decision-making on settlement development.