Exploring the relationship between urban sprawl and the urban system. Evidence from Thessaloniki, 1991-2011.

  • Georgia Gemenetzi University of Thessaloniki, Department of Architecture, Thessaloniki, Greece
Keywords: urban sprawl, polycentricity, urban system, deconcentration, spatial analysis and planning


The article explores the relationship between urban sprawl and the urban system. Urban sprawl is not considered to be a static, unsustainable urban form, but rather a dynamic process of urban deconcentration through which the urban structure evolves. After identifying the main characteristics of urban sprawl, this article investigates the connection between urban sprawl and the urban system through the concept of polycentricity. Finally, the two-way relationship between urban sprawl and the urban system is highlighted. Based on the above, an integrated theoretical, conceptual and methodological framework is formulated. A key finding was the emergence of ‘small-scale’ polycentricity, which implies increasing monocentricity over a wider spatial area. This raises questions over the distinction between the negative phenomenon of urban sprawl and sustainable polycentric forms, and points out a need to review the explanatory devices and theories used in spatial analysis and planning. Empirical evidence was extracted from Thessaloniki’s Influence Area.


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