[Source: Joel Kotkin, Arizona Republic] — LOS ANGELES – Now that Phoenix’s ascendancy has been at least momentarily suspended, its residents are no doubt wondering what comes next. One tendency is to say the city needs to grow up and become more like East Coast cities or Portland, Ore., with dense urban cores and well-developed rail transit. The other ready option is always inertia – a tendency to wait for things to come back the way they were.
Neither approach will work in the long run. Over the coming decade, Phoenix has to recalibrate its economy into something based on more than being a second option for Californians and speculative real-estate investment. Instead, it needs to focus laserlike on economic diversity and creating good jobs.
The model here for Phoenix is not New York or San Francisco. Phoenix can’t rival these cities for their 19th-century charm or early 20th-century infrastructure. As we would say back in New York (my hometown): fuggedaboutit. Instead of dreaming about Gotham, Phoenix should think more about Houston. Like the Texas megacity, Phoenix is the ultimate late 20th-century town, dependent on air-conditioning, ample freeway space, and a wide-open business culture.
A century away from becoming “quaint,” Phoenix needs to follow Houston’s example of relentless economic diversification: in Phoenix’s case, away from dependence on tourism and construction. Houston has done this by focusing beyond its core energy sector to fields like international trade, manufacturing, and medical services. Phoenix’s opportunities may lie elsewhere but may include some of these same industries. The idea is that the region needs to heal its job problem. Only then can the real-estate market rebound on a solid basis.
This employment focus must replace the current obsession with changing the city’s urban form. Despite the current problems, Phoenix has performed pretty well over the past decade, creating more new jobs than most Sun Belt cities, not to mention job losers like San Francisco, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. Equally important, it still leads the nation over the past decade in net in-migration among the largest cities. [Note: Read the full opinion piece at Viewpoint: Phoenix, put aside dreams of Gotham.]