Urban growth and sprawl have put pressure on surrounding rural areas for a long time, and planning history abounds with examples of how to cope with this development. The problem is also acknowledged in the European Spatial Development Perspective (ESDP), which, apart from recommending planning principles, also recommends common ways of arriving at solutions. This study compares three different planning systems and physical and socio-economic contexts (the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden) to analyze different approaches to managing urban growth, dealing with the transformation of rurban areas, and ensuring green areas. The results show that population density, the relative abundance of land and the role of agriculture have not only shaped planning systems and policies historically, but still define how urban sprawl is perceived and managed in current planning practices. Although indications of a common discourse can be found, the factors that once led to three distinct planning systems still play a major role. The results are used to discuss the potential for arriving at a common European view on planning as represented by the ESDP.