Is sprawl not social engineering towards a different end?
Yes indeedy. Sprawl is the product of social engineering on probably the largest scale we’ve ever seen in the US. I watched the incredible Pruitt-Igoe Myth documentary last night and it references this — the way that local and federal government stepped in to allow the white-flight and sprawl boom to happen in the 1950s-60s.
New zoning regulations ensured that the only form of development possible in many counties was detached-use sprawl for the middle class (with no chance for apartments to accommodate low-income people). Highway infrastructure accommodated the commuting needs of people in this car-oriented environment, while making alternative transportation options infeasible in much of the landscape.
Charles Marohn calls sprawl the US “suburban experiment" and, economically, a failed one. I think we’ll need to let a generation of baby boomers pass us by, though, before the US can accept that this is indeed a failed experiment in social engineering. Too many people are emotionally attached to car-centric subdivisions and strip malls as the best development form possible — and blind to the government intervention that made this form not only possible but obligatory.
For more info on how zoning laws facilitated the growth of sprawl, take a look at this article.