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Conferences & lectures

Urban sprawl and sustainability

Date & time
Friday, March 19, 2021
12:45 p.m. – 1:45 p.m.

Mirya Reid, Danielle Douez, and Parnian Pourtaherian


This event is free and open to the public.


4th Space



This panel will feature Concordia students Mirya Reid, Danielle Douez, and Parnian Pourtaherian discussing the issue of urban sprawl in general and the cases of Canada and Europe in particular. Each student will give a short presentation followed by questions and discussion


Abstracts for short presentations:

Mirya Reid: Sharing Montreal with the future: How concerned are Montrealers today about the implications of their residential choices on future generations?          

Urban sprawl, i.e., dispersed low-density urban development, is associated with loss of agricultural land and natural open spaces, contributes to climate change, and has harmful effects on public health. However, studies about sustainable housing alternatives often exclude considerations of future generations. Using a stated-preference survey, we examined Montrealers’ perceptions of sprawl alongside their residential preferences and how these change when future generations are explicitly considered.

Results confirmed that respondents are largely unaware of urban sprawl and its impacts on the environment and future generations. However, respondents who were more familiar with the urban sprawl prefer higher density housing options more frequently than those with less prior knowledge. Respondents who reported being more worried about the effects urban sprawl on their future and future generations were also positively correlated with assigning higher levels of importance to concerns about urban sprawl and how people in the future will have to deal with it. These findings reveal crucial insights about the relationship between an individual’s perception of a problem like urban sprawl and their personal lifestyle preferences towards more sustainable housing options.

Danielle Douez: Climate Justice: What can individuals do for the future?

Caring for future generations has become part of political discourse aimed at mobilizing world leaders to act on climate change. Such appeals may be somewhat effective in compelling state governments to make century-long commitments to reduce emissions, for example. It is less clear whether concern for future generations also influences the actions of individuals over the course of a lifetime.

This study seeks to determine the influence of “pro-futural motivation” on individual housing preferences. In some North American and European cultures, owning a single-family detached style house within a short drive-time from work is part of an idealized lifestyle. However, supplying such housing requires low-density urban development that significantly increases CO2 emissions. In a survey of Montrealers, respondents did not consider future generations to be a significant factor in their housing preferences. Yet, after they were given information about sprawl and theories of intergenerational justice, many expressed a sense of responsibility toward the future. Thus, educating consumers may lead them to invest in more sustainable housing options. I will identify and examine several key assumptions that inspire this view. In addition, I will offer initial thoughts on the extents to which empirical data can inform ethical theorizing, and ethical theory can inform policy—with the aim of prompting further interdisciplinary discussion.

Parnian Pourtaherian and Jochen Jaeger: How do greenbelts affect urban sprawl in European cities?

The rapid expansion of urban areas across the planet is highly controversial regarding its detrimental consequences. Urban sprawl refers to dispersed, low-density development on undeveloped land, which is currently following an unsustainable trend because of its many significant environmental consequences.

The United Nations have claimed that Europe is among the most urbanized geographic regions in the world with 74 percent of the population living in urban areas in 2018; and there are proofs that an extensive part of Europe is affected by urban sprawl.

In some countries, one of the policies to prevent urban sprawl and to stop the permeation of landscapes by built-up areas is the use of greenbelts around the cities or regions. A greenbelt is an enduring open space such as a forest or farmland drawn around a city or region, which its main purpose is to restrict excessive urban growth. However, some authors have argued that this strategy often does not limit urban sprawl, and in some cases, acts oppositely.

This analysis compares 60 European cities within 13 countries, 30 of which have greenbelts, to provide a comprehensive view on the functionality of greenbelts.

Calculating the magnitude of urban sprawl using the method of Weighted Urban Proliferation (WUP) for the reference years of 2006 and 2015, the outcomes demonstrate that not only the greenbelts have been effective in curbing urban sprawl, but also in most cases, they have helped reduce it. The findings also indicate that greenbelts are most beneficial in controlling urban sprawl in medium-sized cities with less than 500,000 inhabitants. We recommend the use of greenbelts as a tool in anti-sprawl strategies in other parts of the world as well.



This event is part of:

Sustainability and the Climate Crisis: A week of discussion

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