10 Sprawliest Cities in the United States

In view of the Olympic torch, traffic crawls through downtown Atlanta along Interstate 75/85 during rush hour. Barry Williams/Getty Images

The ATL is many things -- pleasantly slow paced, modern, metropolitan, hot -- but it is also sprawling. The 131-square mile (331 square kilometer) city itself is large enough that it spans two counties, Fulton and Dekalb. That's not to mention the greater metro area, which runs more than 8,000 square miles (20,720 square kilometers) [source: Invest Atlanta].

With no natural barricades, such as large bodies of water or mountains, nor federal land holdings to limit the city's outward growth, Atlanta is likely to continue to grow horizontally. Indeed, the proof is in the permits. One way in which people who study these things attempt to gauge sprawl is based on housing density. The more single family homes being built, the more likely people are to be spread farther out, the logic goes. Last year, a whopping 72 percent of the 8,634 new residential building permits issued in Atlanta were for single-family dwellings [sources: Kolko].

Recent Census data showed that population in the city of Atlanta grew at a faster rate (2.4 percent) than that in the surrounding metro area (1.3 percent). Yet given that just more than 432,000 folks were living in the city last year, compared to more than 4.9 million in the 'burbs, total growth in the surrounding area continued to greatly outpace that within the city limits. Meanwhile, Atlanta also ranked third on Forbes' 2010 list of worst commutes [source: Levy].