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Phenomenal Urban Sprawl Videos Of The Day: The Last 200 Years Of Sao Paulo, Paris and L.A.
April 7, 2014
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If you live in a city — especially a growing one like Toronto, Calgary, Saskatoon or Vancouver — you're no doubt familiar with urban sprawl. It's how cities are growing. And it's responsible for many of the things city dwellers routinely complain about: endless commutes, pollution, big box stores. One study published earlier this year even directly relates urban sprawl to poverty and obesity (rates of both increase the more sprawl there is) amongst other measures of quality of life.

It's also a relatively recent phenomenon. Until the late nineteenth century, the world's major cities stayed relatively compact, hugging their original boundaries as they grew upwards (or just didn't grow much at all). And by the second half of the 20th century, the size of urban centres started to grow exponentially, in some cases by more than 10 times. 

But putting this kind of growth into words makes it sound all too academic. That's why we're so into these animated videos released by NYU's Stern Urbanization Project. They document in striking colours the patterns of growth in three of the largest cities on earth: Paris, Sao Paulo and Los Angeles. 

The data used to make the videos comes from The Atlas of Urban Expansion, a project spearheaded by urbanist and author Shlomo Angel. According to Angel, if current trends continue, the world`s urban population is expected to increase to 6.2 billion people by 2050 (that`s almost double the 2010 figure) — most of which will happen in developing countries. And that, because of a decline in urban densities, most major cities will triple their developed land areas in the same timeframe. 

“If the land required for public works or public open spaces is not protected from encroachment before it is developed, it will be next to impossible to ensure the orderly development of cities to make them more efficient, more equitable, and more sustainable,” he says

With that in mind, check out  the videos below to see how each of these cities grew over time. Notice how, in all three cases, they start as tiny dots on a map before eating up vast amounts of the surrounding countryside. It's mesmerizing, really — make sure to wait to see what happens in the last 60 years. 


Parisian suburbs began growing in earnest just after the Second World War, and the city has seen a number of population expansions since then. The Paris metropolitan area now spans more than 10,600-square-kilometres.

Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo's growth started in the 1930s. It now occupies more than 4,800-square-kilometres of Brazilian land.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles started as a tiny frontier town. In the 1940s and 1950s, the city started growing, integrating surrounding cities as it went. By the 1980s, it had formed into the massive city it currently is, consisting of about 7,800-square-kilometres. 

Via Atlantic Cities


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