Ponzi scheme is a bad analogy, because in a Ponzi scheme there isn't an underlying asset to purchase, whereas in the case of urban sprawl, you have both municipal infrastructure and housing stock. Each of which of course could be priced badly, but that doesn't mean that they're worthless. People need to live somewhere. And obviously a lot of people don't want to live in 200 sq-ft micro-apartments.
Obviously there are too many factors to list to explain why urban sprawl has happened, but I don't think debt service is one of them. The accompanying image in the article is of Levittown, PA, which was famous for its whites-only deed covenants. We've gone to great lengths, including spending a lot of needless money, in this country to make sure no one except black people have to live near black people, and I don't think you can address housing expansion without its important racial dynamic. Anyone who's been to our fair city can see the giant hole that's been created by an ever-expanding event horizon of white flight. I don't think people who live in the farthest suburbs want to drive an hour or more to work. I just think they've been conditioned to feel that's the only way to live comfortably and safely.