Sprawl is generally characterized by :
- zoning — an artificial division between residential, commercial, and industrial, areas
- access to workplace and amenity predicated upon universal use of a private car
- a low density of population, extended over a wide area
- little or no mixing of income groups.
Zoning extends travel time and denies the everyday use of foot and bike.
Car-predicated access denies independent travel to the young and infirm. The inevitable feeder and arterial roads create barriers, introduce pollution, and are inefficient, and thus prone to congestion.
The low population density typically falls below the threshold at which shared transport becomes viable. Extension over a wide area wastes land, significantly increases the cost of service provision (trash collection, water connection, drainage etc.), and intrudes upon wildlife, agriculture, and wilderness.
A lack of price variation and rented property creates additional territorial separation according to wealth and income, exaggerating class (and often racial) division.
Arguably the most damaging effect of sprawl is the denial of social interaction through local shared amenity. In the absence of the sense of community this produces, our species tends towards antisocial behaviour.