Urban Growth Boundaries

Urban Growth Boundaries, as the name implies, identifies a geographic location within which a municipality attempts to cluster development and services. The boundaries, also known as service areas, typically attempt to limit sprawl and preserve agricultural or rural areas around and urban core.


Urban growth boundaries are an effective tool for protecting agricultural and rural land. They can mitigate negative effects of speculative property values and sprawl within these areas by concentrating development and services within a geographic area. By establishing a boundary whereby services will not be extended, the demand for new infrastructure is mitigated, which can result in a savings on cost of community services and promote better fiscal policies and management of public resources. Three states require that cities establish urban growth boundaries: Oregon, Washington and Tennessee. Other municipalities have implemented them on their own, including Minneapolis, MN; Virginia Beach, VA; Lexington, KY and Miami, FL. 


Urban growth boundaries are essentially political demarcations established by a local government. Similar to other political boundaries such as a zoning classification, watershed protection district, or soil conservation district, they must be enacted by legislative authority. They should be based on thoughtful study and research, as well as consideration of infrastructure expansion costs, service delivery agreements, existing development patterns, and future growth projections.  


Urban growth boundaries help protect areas against sprawl patterns of development, which conversely also helps to maintain viability of established developed areas. They protect green infrastructure resources such as agricultural lands and natural resources outside of urbanized areas and also establish areas for the location and expansion of infrastructure thereby providing assurance to both public and private sector investments. 


Urban growth boundaries are a good tool for protecting agricultural and rural areas outside of the boundary, but consideration should be given to protecting and preserving green infrastructure within the boundary as well. 


  • State, regional and local government officials
  • Community stakeholders and citizens


Costs for establishing urban growth boundaries will largely result for studies, survey and analysis to determine proper boundaries. However, cost savings may result in the long term due to the ability to limit the expansion of infrastructure and areas were community services must be provided.