Most American anti-sprawl reformers today believe that sprawl is a recent and peculiarly American phenomenon caused by specific technological innovations like the automobile and by government policies like single-use zoning or the mortgage interest deduction on the federal income tax. It is important for them to believe this because if sprawl turned out to be a long –standing feature of urban development worldwide, it would suggest that stopping it involves something much more fundamental than correcting some poor American land-use policies. In the following chapters I will argue that the characteristics we associate today with sprawl have actually been visible in most prosperous cities throughout history. Sprawl has been as evident in Europe as in America and can now be said to be the preferred settlement pattern everywhere in the world where there is a certain measure of affluence and where citizens have some choice in how they live. (p. 17)But there is always the steady drum-beat of opinion that the trend is a "market failure" that must be addressed and/or that it already has been reversed because we have finally gotten smart via "Smart Growth" policies.
I mentioned last week that early census 2010 returns are dribbling in and the reversal/rennaisance of central cities is not yet in evidence. Here is more on the latest from Census via Aaron Renn and Wendell Cox.
Smart Growth policies do not do well against people's preferences. Or as Witold Rybczynski summarizes: “Virtually every technological innovation of the last fifty years has facilitated, if not actually encouraged urban dispersal” (italics added). p. 170.