The relationship between form and function in European Mediterranean cities has been widely addressed from various perspectives. A number of studies indicate that, until the 1980s, compactness was a key trait of several cities of the Northern Mediterranean. However, after the ‘compact growth’ period, these cities experienced patterns of urbanization that differed from their traditional trends. Since the 1990s, sprawl, coupled with population decline in the inner cities, has become the main pattern of urban development. This article explores the key features of exurban development in the Mediterranean region in order to provide material for a discussion based on the differences and similarities in the characteristics of sprawl processes originating in the US and Northern Europe. It concludes that any debate on policy responses to sprawl must be specifically formulated according to the scope, administrative level, housing and planning system, territorial and socioeconomic characteristics of the urban system under examination. It is our belief that sprawl requires site‐specific analyses and policy strategies for the region being studied if the process is to be effectively controlled.