Economic theory predicts that the equilibrium of different economic forces explains the spatial scale of a city more than the uncontrolled take of agricultural land, which is considered instead as urban sprawl. A wide range of empirical results based on US data for large urban areas supports this hypothesis, showing that the socio-economic and environmental forces explain a vast portion of the variation in urbanization across cities. In this paper, we ask whether these socio-economic forces are relevant also in small cities and if they are in a different manner, provided that sprawling phenomena may occur more easily in small areas due to the larger availability of agricultural land. To answer the question, we estimate the relationship between city size and the socio-economic and environmental forces using data for small and large municipalities in the Lombardy region, Italy, and test to what extent this model is apt to explain size variations. We find that the model is adequate also in the case of small cities but differentiating small from large cities suggests that the sprawl hypothesis cannot be ruled out by the empirical evidence as the process of land conversion from agricultural to urban is substantially faster in small and medium-sized cities compared to large ones.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11-21
Number of pages11
JournalRegional Science Inquiry
Publication statusPublished - 2015


  • Central Business District
  • Italy
  • Land Use
  • Spatial Econometrics
  • Urban sprawl


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