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Missouri Is Sprawling


In the previous post I reported on efforts to create a single index to represent how sprawled or compact a metropolitan region was. I included 2 tables, one showing the Compactness Index for 29 counties in Missouri, and another showing the Compactness Index for 3 Missouri metropolitan statistical areas (St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield).

The Compactness Index was originally constructed using data from the 2000 census, and recently updated using data from the 2010 census. The composition of the index was changed between the two, but in order to make comparisons between the years consistent, the authors went back and recalculated the 2000 data for counties using the new index.

MO County Change ChartThe chart at right shows the change in compactness for the 26 Missouri counties for which both 2000 and 2010 data were available. Values below zero mean that the county became less compact, more sprawled. Twenty-two out of 26 counties in Missouri became less compact. Bates County led the way, with a whopping 24.16 decline in compactness.

(Click on chart for larger view.)

Similar comparisons for the St. Louis, Kansas City, and Springfield MSAs are unavailable.

Now, here’s a question: Bates County is on this list because it is part of the 14-county Kansas City MSA. However, it is a county of 17,049 souls about midway between Kansas City and Joplin. Butler is the largest town, with a population of 4,219 in the 2010 census. Outside of Butler, the population density is about 20 people per square mile. If a county is not part of an MSA, the Census Bureau requires at least 1,000 people per square mile for it to be urban. I noted in a previous post that small towns can sprawl just like large cities do, but I’m not sure why it makes sense to analyze an entire county like Bates County for urban sprawl.

The same could be said for other counties on the list. Caldwell County, for instance, is part of the Kansas City MSA, but it has only about 21 people per square mile. Lincoln County is part of the St. Louis MSA, and it has about 82 people per square mile. Polk County is part of the Springfield MSA, and it has about 48 people per square mile. Including these counties in analyses of larger MSAs seems like one thing, but why does it makes sense to analyze them separately for urban sprawl?

Let’s take a couple of additional examples to illustrate the point that other factors may tell you more of what you need to know about a region than the sprawl index. The Kansas City MSA has a Compactness Index of 77.60. The next lower MSA on the list is Palm-Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, Florida. This is the coastal region alongside the Cape Canaveral Space Center. Despite being similar on the Compactness Index, I suspect that these two regions are more different than the same.

The St. Louis MSA has a Compactness Index of 82.06. The next higher MSA on the list is Bakersfield-Delano, CA. St. Louis sits alongside the nation’s largest river, a former industrial powerhouse that was founded in 1764. The demographic majority is White, with African-American being the largest minority. Bakersfield was founded a century later. Three of its largest four employers are farming companies, and it is also the seat of the county that produces more oil than any other in the lower 48 states (Kern County). The largest demographic group is Hispanic, with Non-Hispanic Whites being the largest minority. Despite being similar on the Compactness Index, I suspect that these two regions are more different than the same.

So, Missouri is sprawling, as are most places in America. I’m just not sure what it means.


Ewing, Reid, and Shima Hamidi. 2014. Measuring Urban Sprawl and Validating Sprawl Measures. Salt Lake City: Metropolitan Research Center, University of Utah. Downloaded 6/13/14 from http://gis.cancer.gov/tools/urban-sprawl/.

For county-level oil production: County-Level Oil and Gas Production in the U.S., Economic Research Service, United States Department of Agriculture. Data downloaded 6/19/2014 from http://www.ers.usda.gov/data-products/county-level-oil-and-gas-production-in-the-us.aspx#.U6LaMagU_5I.

“Greater St. Louis,” Wikipedia. Viewed 6/16/2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greater_St._Louis.

“Bakersfield, California,” Wikipedia. Viewed 6/16/2014 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bakersfield,_California.

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