My thinking about urban sprawl and those who advocate reducing or eliminating it often go back to the notion of collectivism: that of enforcing equality of result amongst individuals. While collectivism (which is inherently anti-meritocratic in that those who have the most to contribute to society are repressed so they don't gain the most personally from their contributions) often expresses itself best in urban planners, who see "the masses" as a uniform paste to be poured into the urban molds of their own design, this liberal impulse to collectivism often shows up elsewhere in our public discourse as well.
Such as the debate over drilling in ANWR: Our Fake Drilling Debate
But for many opponents of drilling in the refuge, the debate is only secondarily about energy and the environment. Rather, it is a disguised debate about elemental political matters.
For some people, environmentalism is collectivism in drag. Such people use environmental causes and rhetoric not to change the political climate for the purpose of environmental improvement. Rather, for them, changing the society's politics is the end, and environmental policies are mere means to that end.
The unending argument in political philosophy concerns constantly adjusting society's balance between freedom and equality. The primary goal of collectivism -- of socialism in Europe and contemporary liberalism in America -- is to enlarge governmental supervision of individuals' lives. This is done in the name of equality.
People are to be conscripted into one large cohort, everyone equal (although not equal in status or power to the governing class) in their status as wards of a self-aggrandizing government. Government says the constant enlargement of its supervising power is necessary for the equitable or efficient allocation of scarce resources.
Therefore, one of the collectivists' tactics is to produce scarcities, particularly of what makes modern society modern -- the energy requisite for social dynamism and individual autonomy. Hence collectivists use environmentalism to advance a collectivizing energy policy. Focusing on one energy source at a time, they stress the environmental hazards of finding, developing, transporting, manufacturing or using oil, natural gas, coal or nuclear power.
Let's be clear: the invisible hand of economics always breaks through--and for someone like myself who makes a very good living as a software developer for Symantec corporation, if gasoline were to hit $10 a gallon, I'd grumble and fill the tank up in my wife's SUV, because I happen to be able to afford it.
The failure of creating artifical shortages to enforce collectivism is that it only widens the gap between the wealthy and poor. The wealthy grumble and pay $110 for a tank of gas, so they can go to work and make money, drive out to the country side and enjoy the fresh air, and commute to their estates outside the urban core of their towns. The poor who can't afford to drive find their job opportunities limited to what happens to be walking distance from the bus stop--assuming, of course, that they don't lose their job during a mass transit strike.
This is no different than the incredibly wide gap between the elite rich in 13th century Spain who could afford the private army needed to live in a sprawling estate outside of the fortress walls that surrounded most Spanish cities, and the massive majority who huddled behind it's walls.