It seems to me that the question distilling out of this thread is: why do so few people have so few choices, especially the choice they want? I am a rural person, objective about both 'burbs and central cities because I have no desire to live in either. I have been in some of both that seem to work (it seems weird for a rural Westerner to like Baltimore, but I do, and I just visited a 'burb in the Bay Area that seems like a good place to live -- once you get over the utter destruction of the productive landscape that once existed there) and a lot of both that are mostly unlivable.
But I think this discussion has made too little of Heresy's point about home ownership, or to be more precise about the consequences of home ownership in a growth-addicted society. What would communities look like if we had heeded Henry George and taxed away the unearned, speculative increment on real estate for a century? What if homes were a places to live, not investments? What if there were no incentive to build a commercial structure without a specific need for it? I have my own thoughts on this, but am intested to hear people address it. I think that it is far more central to the quality of our communities in the long run than the physical design choices.