Stalwart sprawl defender Robert Bruegmann says sprawl's glory days are over:
Even many of the most basic facts usually heard about sprawl are just wrong. Contrary to much accepted wisdom, sprawl in the U.S. is not accelerating. It is declining in the city and suburbs as average lot sizes are becoming smaller, and relatively few really affluent people are moving to the edge. This is especially true of the lowest-density cities of the American South and West. The Los Angeles urbanized area (the U.S. Census Bureau's functional definition of the city, which includes the city center and surrounding suburban areas) has become more than 25% denser over the last 50 years, making it the densest in the country.
This fact, together with the continued decline in densities in all large European urban areas, coupled with a spectacular rise in car ownership and use there, means that U.S. and European urban areas are in many ways converging toward a new 21st-century urban equilibrium. In short, densities will be high enough to provide urban amenities but low enough to allow widespread automobile ownership and use.
If sprawl is dissipating organically, the haunting fear that we shall exurb-anize into socially isolated, polluting, Wal-Mart dependent misanthropists (until urban planners save us, that is) may fade as well. But so should the assumption that low-density living is some pure expression of the American soul. To some extent sprawl is going to be the result of huge government subsidies to drivers in the form of roads, and it's not clear that this particular government initiative makes people better off. Long commutes, for example, negatively affect measures of subjective wellbeing (pdf).