My father emailed me this, and it's worth writing down here the response I sent:
yes, it's a bizarre world in which the title of that article is true, though florence and atlanta grew over time in different ways. the mid-century exodus from the american city was detrimental and obliterated our culture and led to incredibly massive socioeconomic problems -- yet it was individually rational. standards of living skyrocketed because of those subdivisions and two-car driveways and post-war industry. a chicken in every pot but also a microwave, tv, music player, fridge, at least one car, and a yard. for next to nothing. the rest, interchanges the size of italian cities, strip centers, a lot of jobs, etc, just followed the money
bill bryson frames this well around a linguistics discussion in "made in america," and it really drives home the point. department stores used to be main street stalwarts and now they lie heavy in the corners of shopping malls. and inevitably the best jobs moved back into or never left the city centers (service economy evolved), so now we have the modern commute and people wanting to return to the city, but they can't because we sacrificed all urban engineering and forethought to build suburbs. it's also too expensive, which is a related problem.
austin desperately needs to overhaul its highway system but it simply can't. i'm sure the city council is praying nightly for el trains and hell i think i even saw a true subway proposal the other month. deus ex machina.