A new report ranks U.S. metro areas by how compact and connected they are, linking development policies to higher life expectancy and chances of upward mobility for residents.

Researchers from the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center and Smart Growth America, an organization that advocates for sustainable growth, followed up their 2002 report on suburban sprawl by expanding the number of areas included and finding correlations between rankings and quality of life measures.

The report measures 221 metropolitan areas and 994 counties using 2010 statistics in four key areas: residential and employment density, diversity of land use, the proportion of people and businesses located near each other and measures of physical infrastructure, such as the average length of street blocks and the percentage of four-or-more-way intersections. 

Since the original 2002 report, a growing body of research has linked development that encourages communities to spread out across great geographical distances to obesity, traffic fatalities, inefficient energy use, even depression.

Researchers weighed the four factors equally, producing an index with an average of 100, meaning metro areas that scored above that tend to be more compact while those scoring below 100 are more sprawling. 

The report cautioned against making comparisons between the two decades because the lines of metropolitan statistical areas change, sometimes dramatically.

Four California cities made the top 10 list, with San Francisco ranking second. But the New York City metro area, which stretches into New Jersey, ranked first. Atlantic City finished third, while Trenton finished seventh. Illinois cracked the top 10 list twice, with Champaign at fifth and Springfield at 9th. 

The rankings change, though, when controlling for population. For example, Miami jumps to third when filtering for metro areas with populations that exceed one million. Madison, Wis., finished first among medium-sized metro areas, defined as places with populations between 500,000 and one million people. 

The most sprawling metro areas, on the other hand, came mostly from the South. Atlanta ranked first on the sprawl list, and the South claimed seven of the top 10. Reid Ewing, a professor of urban planning at the University of Utah, attributed the region’s greater sprawl to cultural values that are less focused on “ecological friendly development,” different investment strategies and a lack of geographical barriers to growth.  

“Atlanta can sprawl outward pretty much without limitation,” he said. “Simply the availability of low-cost land at increasing distances may account for some of it.”

Using existing data, researchers also concluded there’s a direct relationship between compactness and economic mobility, finding that a 10-percent increase in a metro area’s overall index score translates to a 4.1 percent increase in the chances a child born in the bottom 20 percent of income distribution reaches the top 20 percent by age 30. Researchers also found that life expectancy increases by about four percent every time an overall index score doubles.  

Read the full study here

Sprawl Index Data

The following table lists Smart Growth's Sprawl Index rankings. Data shown are for metro areas unless otherwise indicated.

Rank Metro area Composite score Density score Land use mix score Activity centering score Street connectivity score
1 New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ Metro Division 203.36 384.29 159.34 213.49 193.8
2 San Francisco-San Mateo-Redwood City, CA Metro Division 194.28 185.97 167.17 230.92 162.83
3 Atlantic City-Hammonton, NJ 150.36 96.33 100.1 154.52 130.71
4 Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, CA 146.59 112.28 148.85 109.48 122.05
5 Champaign-Urbana, IL 145.16 100 123.27 153.64 82.81
6 Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA 145.02 98.88 146.15 107.9 112.18
7 Trenton-Ewing, NJ 144.71 115.88 128 97.36 139.06
8 Miami-Miami Beach-Kendall, FL Metro Division 144.12 160.18 136.41 117.91 166.9
9 Springfield, IL 142.24 90.39 100.51 160.03 96.74
10 Santa Ana-Anaheim-Irvine, CA Metro Division 139.86 161.91 155.02 79.64 181.81
11 Reading, PA 137.90 102.22 121.83 129.72 113.76
12 Detroit-Livonia-Dearborn, MI Metro Division 137.17 125.2 124.65 107.48 183.98
13 Madison, WI 136.69 101 115.83 168.11 94.85
14 Burlington-South Burlington, VT 135.06 88.32 102.21 168.79 70.68
15 Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 134.18 113.31 126.73 153.4 130.35
16 Boulder, CO 133.68 106.89 115.32 100.09 118.95
17 Appleton, WI 132.69 90.65 99.81 156.72 79.92
18 Lincoln, NE 131.95 111.55 132.99 96.74 96.78
19 Laredo, TX 131.25 104.2 117.12 99.89 106.87
20 Erie, PA 130.39 97.73 130.61 113.69 88.92
21 Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA 130.33 187.39 160.18 115.66 154.4
22 Spokane, WA 129.40 98.98 115.82 108.57 128.26
23 Medford, OR 128.86 89.67 115.31 128.06 80.42
24 San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 128.76 149.5 148.76 86.8 131.45
25 Oakland-Fremont-Hayward, CA Metro Division 127.24 136.28 145.75 88.11 159.44
26 Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL Metro Division 125.90 145.5 140.09 143.24 160.21
27 Eugene-Springfield, OR 125.63 95.35 125.7 116.84 91.29
28 Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ 124.40 98.76 128.59 101.1 135.97
29 Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 124.16 105.38 132.03 79.32 115.9
30 Salem, OR 123.35 93.11 123.48 113.5 98.1
31 Yakima, WA 123.19 90.95 117.91 133.08 65.81
32 Ann Arbor, MI 122.76 103.27 105.04 123.11 89.95
33 Philadelphia, PA Metro Division 122.42 141.01 142.25 115.95 140.06
34 Tuscaloosa, AL 122.18 85.85 68.6 154.72 92.03
35 Fargo, ND-MN 121.82 99.18 118.65 106.96 73.56
36 South Bend-Mishawaka, IN-MI 121.71 90.94 94.08 111.91 118.68
37 Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 121.64 110.63 132.86 118.02 100.81
38 Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach-Deerfield Beach, FL Metro Division 121.41 140.93 136.53 61.79 153.66
39 Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 121.20 142.12 105.02 136.42 114.29
40 Reno-Sparks, NV 120.85 100.78 93.69 137.29 94.06
41 Stockton, CA 120.28 106.54 135.75 82.11 121.04
42 New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 119.74 104.84 117.83 96.09 149.94
43 Charlottesville, VA 119.08 91.16 86.08 141.81 71.77
44 San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles, CA 118.90 89.9 119.8 103.87 88.53
45 Huntington-Ashland, WV-KY-OH 118.43 84.25 67.73 142.77 108.91
46 Bellingham, WA 118.01 85.29 92.75 113.43 96.89
47 Corpus Christi, TX 117.29 98.68 118.31 90.15 110.41
48 Waco, TX 117.11 87.96 96.1 100.62 107.83
49 Nassau-Suffolk, NY Metro Division 117.04 123.33 144.75 81.01 155.85
50 Lexington-Fayette, KY 116.76 99.56 110.42 115.34 95.11
51 Saginaw-Saginaw Township North, MI 116.62 86.77 93.77 110.97 93.62
52 New Haven-Milford, CT 116.29 106.86 127.52 113.51 97.82
53 Seattle-Bellevue-Everett, WA Metro Division 116.11 121.27 123.99 121.68 131.86
54 Scranton--Wilkes-Barre, PA 115.84 91.28 116.46 95.07 123.01
55 Savannah, GA 115.81 90.08 84.94 115.36 115.03
56 Charleston, WV 115.68 83.81 67.01 136.8 112.05
57 Baltimore-Towson, MD Metro Division 115.62 115.97 123.21 123.12 136.35
58 Salinas, CA 115.19 101.65 116 102.94 90.7
59 Fort Collins-Loveland, CO 115.15 94.53 106.3 96.44 100.59
60 Rockford, IL 114.98 94.78 110.04 91.83 107.05
61 Bethesda-Rockville-Frederick, MD Metro Division 114.66 115.08 123.84 98.97 118.94
62 Olympia, WA 114.63 89.23 80.87 121 98.73
63 Santa Rosa-Petaluma, CA 113.92 93.7 132.31 91.91 96.82
64 Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA 113.87 107.91 133.35 78.01 118.31
65 Lubbock, TX 113.41 97.23 116.7 87.56 90.44
66 Modesto, CA 113.28 109.91 140.69 62.32 102.89
67 Wilmington, DE-MD-NJ Metro Division 112.94 102.42 109.29 96.53 120.29
68 Lancaster, PA 112.64 95.61 110.05 124.31 84.74
69 Manchester-Nashua, NH 112.19 95.1 104.38 114.15 89.28
70 Cedar Rapids, IA 111.81 92.94 105.64 104.67 81.25
71 College Station-Bryan, TX 111.72 102.49 94.65 91.03 91.47
72 Lansing-East Lansing, MI 111.61 101.03 92.21 141.56 72.8
73 Beaumont-Port Arthur, TX 111.54 85.37 88.45 112.62 113.76
74 Lafayette, LA 111.44 90.03 87.35 115.9 92.72
75 Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA 111.4 93.54 102.14 99.29 119.17
76 Gainesville, FL 111.36 94.58 87.63 102.79 99.45
77 Tyler, TX 110.66 85.76 72.48 122.62 93.19
78 Peoria, IL 110.49 88.93 100.39 109.76 97.72
79 Chico, CA 109.94 91.18 114.46 88.79 79.93
80 Portland-Vancouver-Hillsboro, OR-WA 109.85 111.14 136.12 100.81 124.98
81 Newark-Union, NJ-PA Metro Division 109.62 126.86 139.67 90.43 113.76
82 Las Cruces, NM 109.17 89.33 84.27 108.16 89.06
83 Bremerton-Silverdale, WA 108.86 90.48 87.55 112.87 86.2
84 Norwich-New London, CT 108.85 87.22 84.71 137.44 71.04
85 Provo-Orem, UT 108.45 104.53 123.55 77.37 100.08
86 Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 108.42 102.64 120.53 99.67 103.54
87 Columbus, GA-AL 108.38 94.45 84.78 125.19 77.79
88 Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, ME 107.72 86.06 79.09 157.47 80.24
89 Amarillo, TX 107.49 96.16 109.27 76.98 91.56
90 Tacoma, WA Metro Division 107.48 103.62 105.56 92.25 119.05
91 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV Metro Division 107.21 122.35 117.61 133.16 125.91
92 Denver-Aurora-Broomfield, CO 107.10 118.31 119.44 109.11 125.16
93 Canton-Massillon, OH 106.99 90.54 106.64 76.45 117.92
94 Salt Lake City, UT 106.96 117.77 125.49 93.32 97.63
95 Lafayette, IN 106.55 95.46 90.63 94.82 83.1
96 Flint, MI 106.48 89.57 90.58 114.82 97.49
97 Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 106.36 107.94 127.67 102.46 95.1
98 Colorado Springs, CO 106.33 102.94 108.37 75.94 121.76
99 Merced, CA 105.86 93.9 114.76 96.48 66.25
100 El Paso, TX 105.64 114.9 99.42 73.41 128.66
101 Davenport-Moline-Rock Island, IA-IL 105.59 91.78 121.21 70.03 102.95
102 North Port-Bradenton-Sarasota, FL 105.49 97.45 101.45 84.95 126.69
103 San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 105.18 125.08 130.37 100.9 119.95
104 York-Hanover, PA 105.12 90.92 95.83 113.2 90.32
105 Kennewick-Pasco-Richland, WA 105.03 92.84 108.63 81.96 85.86
106 Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA 104.90 97.68 120.63 99.46 82.83
107 Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 104.45 106.41 105.24 102.38 131.6
108 Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA 104.34 105.4 83.28 112.77 141.95
109 Greeley, CO 103.61 87.33 99.05 94.05 85.82
110 Camden, NJ Metro Division 103.22 105.39 125.72 78.53 120.07
111 Akron, OH 103.15 94.55 113.13 90.69 106.81
112 Duluth, MN-WI 103.14 85.24 89.56 117.03 77.22
113 Lake County-Kenosha County, IL-WI Metro Division 103.10 101.65 112.39 67.78 132.08
114 Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos, TX 102.44 100.42 99.66 138.78 102.88
115 Sioux Falls, SD 101.75 97.68 104.85 95.96 60.16
116 Dayton, OH 101.48 93.65 114.4 95.13 105.55
117 Toledo, OH 100.90 95.3 120.34 85.46 95.85
118 Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux, LA 100.13 83.73 75.47 106.77 86.11
119 Ogden-Clearfield, UT 99.58 100.96 120.39 62.22 103.52
120 Sacramento-Arden-Arcade-Roseville, CA 99.27 111.65 119.11 104.19 108.92
121 Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 99.22 91.87 81.41 91.52 126.34
122 Tallahassee, FL 98.95 91.64 68.25 130.77 79.8
123 Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, SC 98.53 95.29 89.19 108.94 99.03
124 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 98.49 105.18 105.35 93 150.09
125 West Palm Beach-Boca Raton-Boynton Beach 98.18 110.73 121.02 69.66 118.46
126 Albuquerque, NM 98.07 103.6 102.57 99.36 97.51
127 Mobile, AL 97.48 92.43 88.23 78.79 112.3
128 Edison-New Brunswick, NJ Metro Division 96.77 109.41 125.05 69.02 137.91
129 Gary, IN Metro Division 96.70 94.53 107.73 82.31 106.33
130 Syracuse, NY 96.65 94.75 100.93 122.57 69.91
131 Binghamton, NY 95.97 89.7 88.92 102.07 69.84
132 Pittsburgh, PA 95.45 96.16 115.14 107.78 119.33
133 Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 95.12 95.4 105.96 108.19 86.04
134 Topeka, KS 94.82 88.98 83.12 102.18 71.38
135 Hagerstown-Martinsburg, WV 94.13 84.1 74.1 112.54 78.51
136 Roanoke, VA 93.77 90.65 85.88 83.67 93.21
137 Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 93.50 100.12 113.1 119.54 72.59
138 Columbus, OH 93.00 101.58 112.24 95.56 112.19
139 Fresno, CA 92.24 101.75 126.18 81.45 82.42
140 Wichita, KS 91.74 95.63 107.27 88.57 83.65
141 Evansville, IN-KY 91.67 91.57 92.59 86.07 84.34
142 Visalia-Porterville, CA 91.55 91.94 106.37 79.64 83.98
143 Montgomery, AL 91.20 90.01 85.97 98.71 80.5
144 Boise City-Nampa, ID 91.06 95.8 110.45 75.15 91.88
145 Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, FL 89.68 91.35 88.02 66.48 116.35
146 Myrtle Beach-North Myrtle Beach-Conway, SC 88.70 83.43 54.95 104.88 95.4
147 Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 88.69 105.92 110.34 111.41 108.6
148 Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 87.64 87.51 54.24 95.32 128.15
149 Gulfport-Biloxi, MS 87.61 86.03 69.8 80.53 97.52
150 Fort Wayne, IN 86.67 92.42 93.7 89.9 73.85
151 Tulsa, OK 86.65 90.54 92.4 93.54 103.35
152 Dallas-Plano-Irving, TX Metro Division 86.15 111.46 105.9 94.21 129.74
153 Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH 85.62 105.11 123.72 95.54 84.96
154 Utica-Rome, NY 84.71 90.87 83.53 98.35 61.91
155 Raleigh-Cary, NC 84.25 96.99 87.3 109.43 88.16
156 Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford, FL 83.97 102.4 85.79 89.29 129.14
157 Springfield, MO 83.96 89.1 89.25 75.99 91.87
158 Indianapolis-Carmel, IN 83.89 98.11 99.65 98.42 102.31
159 McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 83.89 94.43 76.78 90.99 104.6
160 Killeen-Temple-Fort Hood, TX 83.12 89.16 79.86 78.17 94.8
161 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY-IN 82.92 98.44 89.48 93.12 102.87
162 Oklahoma City, OK 82.07 94.64 96.26 89.86 100.38
163 St. Louis, MO-IL 82.06 97.68 108.29 93.86 113.8
164 Bakersfield-Delano, CA 81.78 101.29 114.13 76.82 73.14
165 Jacksonville, FL 80.85 96.81 82.5 90.17 111.76
166 Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 80.75 98.75 107.8 98.95 93.67
167 Port St. Lucie, FL 80.75 92.74 77.05 62.73 106.43
168 Macon, GA 79.92 84.72 71.9 86.32 74.47
169 Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, NY 79.51 89.38 95.38 97.49 70.3
170 Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 79.18 91.39 91.78 99.15 74.75
171 Tucson, AZ 78.92 100.79 90.96 78.71 94.72
172 Fort Worth-Arlington, TX Metro Division 78.56 103.71 100.89 72.55 117.21
173 Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale, AZ 78.32 111.6 102.36 96.37 111.33
174 Holland-Grand Haven, MI 78.17 86.45 81.52 78.64 71.71
175 Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 78.08 87.36 100.76 74.1 81.52
176 Huntsville, AL 78.02 86.18 58.29 89.43 99.31
177 Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 77.91 96.94 79.64 60.02 105.42
178 Kansas City, MO-KS 77.60 96.84 109.49 80.45 103.52
179 San Antonio-New Braunfels, TX 77.37 100.67 93.56 95.15 102.43
180 Wilmington, NC 77.27 85.89 73.12 83.92 84.13
181 Pensacola-Ferry Pass-Brent, FL 76.84 88.54 81.12 75.12 88.65
182 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 76.74 108.3 102.66 92.56 129.43
183 Asheville, NC 76.52 80.71 64.12 97.61 88.53
184 Richmond, VA 76.41 96.36 78.08 101.95 92.83
185 Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR 76.08 88 75.36 93.55 90.35
186 Naples-Marco Island, FL 75.23 91.57 81.95 55.19 90.69
187 Brownsville-Harlingen, TX 74.69 90.92 77.74 51.43 105.96
188 Ocala, FL 74.67 80.8 41.3 105.49 91.78
189 Rochester, NY 74.50 96.12 103.86 96.77 62
190 Spartanburg, SC 74.00 81.26 68.26 91.26 72.48
191 Durham-Chapel Hill, NC 73.84 91.59 74.84 80.27 84.98
192 Birmingham-Hoover, AL 73.55 86.67 67.88 99.52 105.21
193 Longview, TX 73.06 81.66 71.62 81.06 68.46
194 Shreveport-Bossier City, LA 72.63 87.79 76.94 72.39 84.53
195 Jackson, MS 72.30 87.35 64.41 105.46 73.8
196 Memphis, TN-MS-AR 70.77 96.6 77.76 94.23 90.62
197 Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill, NC-SC 70.45 94.55 84.71 103.05 86.93
198 Kalamazoo-Portage, MI 70.32 85.55 75 85.58 64.97
199 Knoxville, TN 68.22 88.1 60.62 100.77 82.53
200 Columbia, SC 67.45 89.63 69.14 108.38 66.63
201 Warren-Troy-Farmington Hills, MI Metro Division 67.03 97.88 110.33 70.54 96.17
202 Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO 66.26 84.55 67.95 80.67 81.81
203 Fayetteville, NC 66.02 91.13 71.69 72.57 71.77
204 Green Bay, WI 65.35 89.9 90.49 66.77 53.34
205 Fort Smith, AR-OK 64.84 80.74 56.78 75.3 86.02
206 Lynchburg, VA 63.97 81.51 57.07 76.38 77.42
207 Chattanooga, TN-GA 63.63 86.14 61.15 94.27 72.9
208 Greensboro-High Point, NC 63.50 88.22 80.57 84.94 70.7
209 Winston-Salem, NC 63.44 86.43 68.62 87.42 68.47
210 Florence, SC 61.06 81.22 51.13 87.85 61.44
211 Lake Havasu City-Kingman, AZ 60.13 85.24 55.15 73.04 65.97
212 Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, TN-VA 60.00 78.73 40.53 89.67 82.87
213 Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC 59.18 85.25 60.69 88.47 73.85
214 Greenville-Mauldin-Easley, SC 58.98 86.69 72.89 81.15 71.4
215 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 56.25 103.72 111.18 77.03 80.33
216 Baton Rouge, LA 55.60 91.27 72.03 69.74 80.4
217 Nashville-Davidson-Murfreesboro-Franklin, TN 51.74 91.54 63.92 96.17 77
218 Prescott, AZ 48.96 82.33 53.19 58.15 69.96
219 Clarksville, TN-KY 41.49 84.48 39.67 74.47 60.83
220 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 40.99 97.8 85.47 89.89 75.92
221 Hickory-Lenoir-Morganton, NC 24.86 78.64 40.46 67 56.95

Source: Smart Growth America, 2014 metro area Sprawl Index ranking