John Howard has realised that so-called suburban sprawl is not a problem, it is the solution to a problem: specifically, the problem of young people finding it f'ing hard to afford their first home.
The reason buying a first home is getting beyond many first-home buyers is not the fault of banks, real estate agents or 'greedy developers' -- as you might think if you read the New Zealand press -- it is the fault of a political market that has locked up land and over-regulated its use, adding tens of thousands of dollars to the price of a new home. Howard at least seems to recognise that, even if planners and local journalists don't.
In comments reported in an offline article in The Australian Financial Review (but strangely nowhere else), Howard said while there was "no easy solution to the problem," some of the answers, he said, lay with "more adventurous land release policies and rather more realistic development policies to be adopted by state and federal governments."
His comments reflect in part the findings of a two-year-old Australian report into First Home Ownership; in the New Zealand context they would translate as "gut the Resource Management Act, eviscerate the District plans, and let development rip." First-home buyers currently locked out of the market in New Zealand would surely thank any politician for following that prescription. Or we could go the way of Houston and get rid of zoning altogether: first-home buyers there have more affordable options available to them than do many Australian buyers -- it takes more than twice an average household's income to buy a house in Melbourne than it would take in Houston. The same is true of Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.
Sprawl is good. It's about choice, and letting people afford to have one.
NB: If you want to have a really good look at where exactly New Zealand's cities rank in terms of density [PDF downlaod] and affordability, the excellent Demographia site has all the figures, and much more.