What does "sprawling city" mean exactly?

I consulted a dictionary and it said that

sprawling city - a city spreading out wide area in a way that is not carefully planned.

But could you please open it up?

  • Sprawling cities often have low population density and short buildings.
    – kasfme
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 5:17
  • The connotations of "urban sprawl" and "sprawling buildings" have been discussed in the answers to another question.
    – Jasper
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 6:22
  • The dictionary probably says "spreading out over a wide area..."
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 10:47

2 Answers 2


The adjective sprawling is used in the expression "sprawling city" because it conveys the idea of something that moves or grows over a large area in a nonordered way:

  • The adjective sprawling is good for describing things that extend across a large area. You could describe your school as sprawling if it consists of many buildings spread over several acres.

  • It's pretty common to hear a city or its suburbs described as sprawling, since some cities tend to grow that way, spreading their populations out over a large amount of land. You can also describe your brother as sprawling if he likes to sit stretched out on the couch, taking up more than his share of space.

  • The verb sprawl is at the root of sprawling, and it comes from an Old English word, spreawlian, "move convulsively." (Vocabulary.com)

Sprawl (n.):

  • meaning "straggling expansion of built-up districts into surrounding countryside" is from 1955. (Etymonline)

Note also the expression urban sprawl:

  • Urban sprawl or suburban sprawl describes the expansion of human populations away from central urban areas into low-density, monofunctional and usually car-dependent communities, in a process called suburbanization. In addition to describing a particular form of urbanization, the term also relates to the social and environmental consequences associated with this development. (Wikipedia)
  • +1. By the Middle English period the meaning had broadened from "to move as in death throes" to "to move one's outspread limbs in a manner lacking purpose and direction (e.g. as a baby does), or to loll about. Wikipedia's "monofunctional" is an exaggeration. Suburbs have their problems, but they do serve more than one function.
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 11, 2016 at 22:06
  • The quoted text for urban sprawl does not appear at the link provided. But the quoted text is misleading, anyway.
    – choster
    Commented Sep 12, 2016 at 2:27

Even though


has a defined meaning, and

urban sprawl

has defined ways of being measured, what is often meant by a "sprawling city" is a city which extends or over a large area, usually to the horizon, and is usually viewed from a high vantage point so one may see the "sprawl".

Los Angeles - which might not be considered "sprawling" by some metrics


The urban sprawl of New Dehli

here http://indiatransportportal.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/new-delhi-10.jpg

The Sprawling Metropolis of Baltic, SD (a bit tongue in cheek)


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