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Metropolitan Phoenix

Metropolitan Phoenix: Place Making and Community Building in the Desert

Maps by Barbara Trapido-Lurie
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Metropolitan Phoenix
    Book Description:

    Inhabitants of Phoenix tend to think small but live big. They feel connected to individual neighborhoods and communities but drive farther to get to work, feel the effects of the regional heat island, and depend in part for their water on snow packs in Wyoming. In Metropolitan Phoenix, Patricia Gober explores the efforts to build a sustainable desert city in the face of environmental uncertainty, rapid growth, and increasing social diversity. Metropolitan Phoenix chronicles the burgeoning of this desert community, including the audacious decisions that created a metropolis of 3.6 million people in a harsh and demanding physical setting. From the prehistoric Hohokam, who constructed a thousand miles of irrigation canals, to the Euro-American farmers, who converted the dryland river valley into an agricultural paradise at the end of the nineteenth century, Gober stresses the sense of beginning again and building anew that has been deeply embedded in wave after wave of human migration to the region. In the early twentieth century, the so-called health seekers-asthmatics, arthritis and tuberculosis sufferers-arrived with the hope of leading more vigorous lives in the warm desert climate, while the postwar period drew veterans and their families to the region to work in emerging electronics and defense industries. Most recently, a new generation of elderly, seeking "active retirement," has settled into planned retirement communities on the perimeter of the city. Metropolitan Phoenix also tackles the future of the city. The passage of a recent transportation initiative, efforts to create a biotechnology incubator, and growing publicity about water shortages and school funding have placed Phoenix at a crossroads, forcing its citizens to grapple with the issues of social equity, environmental quality, and economic security. Gober argues that given Phoenix's dramatic population growth and enormous capacity for change, it can become a prototype for twenty-first-century urbanization, reconnecting with its desert setting and building a multifaceted sense of identity that encompasses the entire metropolitan community.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-0582-4
    Subjects: Population Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Judith A. Martin

    Pat Gober’s Metropolitan Phoenix: Place Making and Community Building in the Desert, the fourth volume in the Metropolitan Portraits Series, is one book I’ve really been waiting for. Like the three companion volumes on Portland, Boston, and San Diego, Metropolitan Phoenix seeks to portray the entire metropolitan region in a compact and vibrant fashion. Having first “met” Phoenix in 1977, I found it superficially dissimilar from most other cities—except for its great big street grid, which comfortably mimicked Chicago’s. I’ve returned many times, and now know that, despite cacti and lizards, Phoenix shares many common metropolitan challenges. Still, despite...

  4. CHAPTER ONE Desert Urbanization
    (pp. 1-10)

    The mythical phoenix fire bird rising from the ashes of a previous civilization is an apt metaphor for modern Phoenix. The spiritual core of Phoenix is about starting over, wiping the slate clean, freedom from the familiar, and the excitement and challenge of migration. The collective identity eschews the past and looks to the future. Asked to describe Phoenix to the people he grew up with in Pittsburgh, local columnist E. J. Montini noted that Phoenix is a place you move to; Pittsburgh is a place you bring with you. It’s easy to be a stranger in Phoenix because everyone...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Building a Desert City
    (pp. 11-52)

    Like all large and successful cities, Phoenix enjoys a splendid natural location that allows it to grow and prosper (Figure 3). It sits at the northern edge of the Sonoran Desert in the Basin and Range Physiographic Province of the western United States. Approximately 100 miles to the northeast is the Colorado Plateau, a mile-high feature cut by deep canyons and punctuated by high mountains. Although Phoenix receives an average of slightly less than eight inches of rainfall annually, its dryland rivers, the Salt and Verde, are fed by the more humid mountain watersheds of the Colorado Plateau and by...

  6. CHAPTER THREE An Ever-Changing Social Dynamic
    (pp. 53-100)

    Phoenix is not a sentimental city, focused on past traditions, heroic leaders, or memorable events. It is an ever-changing, ever-growing fusion of newcomers and old timers, all with an eye toward the future. When the great western author Wallace Stegner likened Westerners to “rolling stones that gather no moss,” he captured the soul of many Phoenicians—always on the move. Rapid growth and constant turnover lead to a culture of migration, emphasizing change, innovation, adaptation, and the future. Such dynamism also leads to a weakened sense of place and conflicted loyalties, because many residents stay connected to the cities they...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR You Can Never Get Hurt in Dirt
    (pp. 101-138)

    The disorderliness of new land development in Phoenix has led to periodic efforts to manage growth, but Phoenix is not Portland when it comes to urban growth management. The people of Phoenix fashioned creative and effective public policy to manage their precious water supply during the twentieth century, but they have been less careful about land for several reasons. First, it is so plentiful, and there are few natural barriers to development such as coastlines, waterways, and impenetrable mountains. Second, space and land are vital to the region’s low-density suburban lifestyle. Backyard pools, outdoor barbeques, basketball courts, and four- and...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE Not Another LA!
    (pp. 139-168)

    Automobile travel goes hand in hand with Phoenix’s low-density built environment, but the relationship is not unidirectional, nor is it simple. Automobiles enable people and businesses to spread out, and the low-density built environment breeds further dependence on cars. Even Phoenix’s planned light rail system assumes that people will use cars to get to stations; park-and-ride is a significant feature of the system. A low-density residential landscape would not, however, create demand for long-distance commuting if employment activities were logically decentralized corresponding to residences. It is the uncoordinated nature of residences and employment sites, in addition to the low-density urban...

  9. CHAPTER SIX Downtown Redevelopment: A Tale of Two Cities
    (pp. 169-200)

    The overwhelming dominance of suburbanizing forces after World War II undercut the viability of historic city centers in metropolitan Phoenix. Retail was first to go, followed by industrial activities and personal services. By the early 1960s, many downtown buildings were taken over by marginal businesses like pawn shops, storefront meeting rooms, sleazy bars, and thrift stores, or had been abandoned altogether. City leaders watched in dismay as new investment and the region’s tax base moved to outlying areas. To remedy this, they launched downtown-revitalization efforts. By the early 1980s, demographic, cultural, and economic forces improved the position of city centers...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN Thinking Small and Living Big
    (pp. 201-208)

    The story of modern Phoenix is about growth and dynamism, the uncertainty of the desert, place making, and community building in the face of continual turnover and rapid social change. Phoenix has never known a period of sustained economic decline. There have been brief times of hardships, for example, when the cotton market failed after World War I, in the early years of the Depression, and more recently with the savings-and-loan collapse of the late-1980s and early-1990s, but the region has always bounced back. Periodic floods and droughts threatened public safety and derailed growth briefly, but Phoenix moves inexorably forward,...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 209-224)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 225-232)
    (pp. 233-233)