Residential development is a leading driver of land-use change, with important implications for biodiversity, ecosystem processes, and human well-being. We reviewed over 500 published scientific articles on the biophysical, economic, and social effects of residential development and open space in the US. We concluded that current knowledge of the effects of this type of development on social and natural systems is inadequate for achieving key objectives of sustainability, including a viable environment, a robust economy, and an equitable society. Most biophysical studies measured species- or population-level responses to development, rather than attempting to understand the mechanisms underlying these responses or the associated ecosystem processes. Economic and social studies were biased toward assessing the values and benefits to individual people, with little attention given to community-level effects. Of the small number of interdisciplinary studies – less than 3% of the total examined – many reported that development patterns with positive biophysical or economic outcomes were perceived negatively from a social perspective. As a result, we propose a research and action agenda that moves beyond current areas of specialization to design and maintain sustainable communities in an increasingly developed world.