Debates on the urban form have become strongly polarized between the advocates and opponents of the compact and of the dispersed or “sprawled” city. In this paper we argue that this may be the result of an excessive concentration on the study of the American experience and the neglect of other urban contexts, and examine the recent process of urban growth against the background of urban compactness and extreme densification represented by the Barcelona Metropolitan Region (BMR). The comparison of two detailed land-cover maps of 1993 and 2000 shows a progressive transformation in the traditional urban character of the region. Lower urban densities, high losses of non-urban land covers, depopulation of the metropolitan inner core, an increasing importance of single housing or the expansion of transportation infrastructures confirm the generalization of the dispersed urban model. However, the presence of numerous medium sized towns has also proved to be a deterrent of excessive dispersion. In conclusion, polycentric metropolitan areas such as the BMR may be more adjusted to absorb the negative effects of dispersion than monocentric areas.
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