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Viewpoint: The urban future isn’t all about population booms

[Source: Froma Harrop, Providence Journal] — Sunbelt-and-sprawl advocate Joel Kotkin wrote two years ago that the future of American urbanism wasn’t in the “elite cities,” such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but in “younger, more affordable and less self-regarding places.”  He named (his order) Houston, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas and Riverside, Calif.

Boom-city boosters like Kotkin play a numbers game, where the place with the biggest population explosion wins.  This is also a kind of Blue America-versus-Red America urbanology, which includes an element of liberal-bashing: Any place that refuses to be steamrolled by developers is called “elite.”

In the aftermath of the real-estate bust, areas overly dependent on building houses, selling houses and financing houses are in the worst shape.  Economies need non-bubble jobs.  Unemployment rates in the recent hyper-growth centers, Riverside and Las Vegas, are now well above those in the aforementioned “elite cities.”  And Boston’s 9 percent unemployment is only a point above that of the more economically diverse Sunbelt powerhouses: Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix.

There’s little point in pitting cities, regions and states against one another.  This is a big country.  One can like San Francisco for some things and Las Vegas for others.  By the way, what gave anyone the idea that Houston, Dallas and Phoenix are not “self-regarding”?  They are, as well they should be.  [Note: Read the full article at The urban future isn’t all about population booms.]

Phoenix #93 on magazine’s list of 100 best places to raise a family

PHP4ABA85DB39E64[Source: Arizona Republic] — It’s better to raise children in Sin City instead of Phoenix?  The writers at Children’s Health Magazine think so.  Phoenix ranked 93rd in the magazine’s list of the “100 best (and worst) places” in the U.S. to raise a family.  Las Vegas was No. 92, one slot above Phoenix.  The debut issue of Children’s Health hit newsstands on Sept. 15.

Editors analyzed 30 factors important to parents, including public safety, education, economics, housing, cultural attractions, and health.  They used the most recent statistics available from resources such as the Centers for Disease Control, FBI, and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, said Joel Weber, who co-authored the article with Jaclyn Colletti.

Several factors hurt Phoenix’s ranking: Phoenix has low high school graduation rates, relatively high crime, poor air quality, and high unemployment due to the recession, Weber said.  Public safety and education statistics heavily influenced the rankings because they are top concerns for parents.  Phoenix, like every city, has “good pockets” – some high achieving schools or good city programs, Weber said.  The rankings, however, are snapshot of the city as a whole, he said.

Why did Las Vegas fare better than Phoenix?  Las Vegas has more crime than Phoenix, but “Las Vegas has higher graduation rates – by a lot,” Weber said.  Las Vegas also has more people with advanced degrees and a few more cultural attractions than Phoenix, he added.

The magazine is published by Rodale Inc., the firm behind Men’s Health and Women’s Health magazines.

Local leaders say the Children’s Health ranking isn’t a true reflection of what Phoenix has to offer.  Phoenix is a great place to raise a family said Mayor Phil Gordon, adding that he’s raising his own family here.  “Since we add tens of thousands of new residents every year, a lot of people obviously understand that Phoenix is attractive for everyone, including children,” Gordon said.  [Note: Read the full article at Phoenix #93 on magazine’s list of 100 best places to raise a family.]

Downtown Phoenix parking rates skyrocket

BossTweedTheBrains[Source: Adam Kress, Phoenix Business Journal] — While they remain among the lowest in the nation, monthly parking rates in Phoenix grew faster this year than in any other major metro area in the country.  A new annual report on parking rates from Colliers International says the median unreserved monthly parking rate in Phoenix is $65.  That’s up 24 percent from last year’s survey, while the national average declined 1 percent.  Two years ago, the average in Phoenix was just $35 a month.

Despite the big jump in Phoenix, the city has the eighth-lowest median unreserved monthly parking rate in the country — on par with Las Vegas; Columbia, S.C.; and Fresno, Calif.  The national average is much higher: nearly $154 a month.  Daily parking rates also rose sharply in Phoenix during the past year, rising more than 12 percent to a median daily price of $9.  That puts the city in a tie for the sixth least expensive parking rate in the country, the Colliers study said.  The national average for daily parking is $16, a rise of 1.15 percent from 2008.

Charles Miscio, senior vice president of Colliers in Phoenix, said the Metro light rail and newly expanded Phoenix Convention Center have helped drive up parking rates.  “With the light rail’s capability of moving more people in and out of downtown, we are beginning to see entertainment venues and businesses shift from the Camelback Corridor and other metro areas to downtown Phoenix to take advantage of light rail traffic,” Miscio said.  “This shift is also driving more auto traffic into downtown, increasing parking garage usage and rates during both the daytime and evening.”  [Note: Read full article at Downtown Phoenix parking rates skyrocket]

Procter & Gamble deems Phoenix all-time sweatiest

Shameless plug for sponsoring company.

Shameless plug for bestower of Phoenix honorific.

[Source: Lisa Biank Fasig, Phoenix Business Journal] — Phoenix has gone to the pits again, ranking as the sweatiest city in six of the past eight years.  The dubious honor is handed out by the Procter & Gamble Co. brand Old Spice, which since 2002 has measured the country’s sweatiest cities.

Phoenix has led the Annual Top-100 Sweatiest Cities list for the fourth consecutive year.  Over the time of the competition, the city has yielded an average summertime temperature of 94 degrees. The result?  The average Phoenix resident producing 27.7 ounces of sweat per hour — the equivalent of more than five gallons of milk per day.  Following Phoenix on the list are San Antonio, Texas; Las Vegas; Dallas and Houston. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Phoenix #6 on Forbes list of America’s emptiest cities

[Source: Richard Florida,, Feb. 22, 2009] — Las Vegas takes top spot, followed by Detroit. Atlanta, Greensboro, and Dayton round out the top five.  Phoenix comes in sixth.  No surprises there.  But, I was surprised frankly to see Chicago make the list.  Here’s the full list, from, based on fourth-quarter rental and homeowner vacancy rates for the 75 largest metropolitan statistical areas in the country.  Curiously, there is considerable overlap with this Forbes list of the places where home sales are rising fastest.  [Note: To read the full blog entry, click here.]

Downtown Phoenix dons new label to lure locals, tourists

Downtown Phoenix[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Downtown Phoenix is giving itself an image makeover to raise its profile, both among out-of-state visitors and Arizona residents.  Following the lead of other major cities, Phoenix is looking to establish its own brand, the same promotional strategy that can launch a successful coffee chain or compact car.  Las Vegas is known as an adult playground.  Austin is known as a live-music destination.  Phoenix hopes to similarly set itself apart.  Its new brand: “Arizona’s urban heart.”

“When we see downtown Phoenix, so much of Arizona comes here because it’s a political center, a business center, an education center,” said Eric Kingsbury of SHR Perceptual Management, the firm that the Downtown Phoenix Partnership paid $160,000 to help shape the new brand.

The brand touts Phoenix as the best place to have a cosmopolitan experience in Arizona, said Kingsbury, whose firm’s clients include Volkswagen.  A new brand alone won’t draw more tourists overnight.  The partnership says this is the first step in a years-long process to build an identity for downtown.

Phoenix has a long way to go, partnership CEO David Roderique said.  “Yes, it’s a bit of a stretch” to say Phoenix is among the most dynamic metropolitan areas of the West, Roderique said.  [Note: To read the full article and viewer comments, click here.  To read Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini’s 3/4 critique of the new logo, click here.  To read the Arizona’s 3/7 editorial about the new branding campaign/logo, click here.]

All-Star Game on more familiar ground in Phoenix

[Source: John Lombardo, Sports Business Journal] — The NBA will gather this week in Phoenix for its All-Star Weekend with a return to normalcy.  After two nontraditional All-Star Weekends, the frenzy surrounding the 2007 game in Las Vegas and the uncertainty of the post-Katrina New Orleans site last season, this year’s event will bring a more familiar feel.  “Las Vegas was a city that didn’t have a NBA team and it had its own challenges, and last year, we didn’t quite know what to expect,” said Rick Welts, president of the Phoenix Suns, this year’s host of the NBA’s biggest event.  “But given our 40-year history of NBA basketball, there is a certain amount of comfort.”  Phoenix previously hosted the All-Star Game in 1995.

There will be an increase in league-run events in Phoenix with the addition of a downtown All-Star Block Party and a new NBA Cares and Cooks fundraising event to go along with the usual All-Star entertainment staples like the league-sponsored bash following All-Star Saturday Night, the Legends Brunch, and a welcoming party for invited guests that this year will be at Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix.  But this year’s weekend has its own challenges coming amid the recession, so while there may be more NBA-sponsored events, corporate hospitality is down compared with other years.  “We are down about 25 percent in revenue for corporations that travel to the event this year compared to last year,” said Robert Tuchman, president of Premier Corporate Events, which books corporate entertainment packages at major sporting events.  “The economy is definitely having an impact and we also saw it at the Super Bowl. Also, the last two All-Star games were held in locations that are destinations unto themselves. The NBA is a good product, but there is nothing like Las Vegas and New Orleans.”

Another notable difference this year is the level of public service compared with the widely applauded NBA community service effort that marked last year’s weekend in New Orleans, where the league, its players and its corporate partners participated in the All-Star Day of Service on the Friday of All-Star Weekend.  This year, the league is continuing its service day, but it is a scaled-down effort compared with the greater needs in New Orleans.  There will be three league-sponsored community service projects in Phoenix compared with about 10 last year.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Viewpoint: 2009 predictions for American cities

[Source: Diana Lind, editor in chief, Next American City magazine]Next American City sent out a survey with four simple questions in it.  Carol Coletta, President/CEO of CEOs for Cities, gives her predictions of where cities will be in 2009.

What city do you predict will be hit the hardest by the economic crisis? The cities that were the fastest growing, like Phoenix and Las Vegas, and those most dependent on manufacturing.

Will there be a comeback in Detroit (beyond the auto industry, but in the city itself)? If yes, how?  If no, what will happen to the city then? Detroit can come back if the city finds a way to shrink sensibly and can make what remains less auto-dependent. Detroit, like many cities, must find ways to concentrate and amplify its strengths.

If 2008 was the year of “green” and “sustainability,” 2009 will be the year of…? Real estate vacancies.  Expect retail and commercial vacancies to have greater negative impact on communities than housing vacancies.

What is the story in your city that no one is covering that you think will make the news this year? Suburban development will be hard to fund and risky to undertake. With commercial and residential vacancies on the rise, many suburbs will be hard hit, fueling momentum toward central cities.

Phoenix leads U.S. home price decline as lenders unload houses

[Source: Kathleen M. Howley, Bloomberg] — Phoenix, the desert city that three years ago led the U.S. in home price growth, had the nation’s worst housing market during October as sales of foreclosed properties depressed prices.  The cost of a single-family home plunged 33% from a year earlier, according to an S&P/Case Shiller index.  The decline was worse than Las Vegas, where prices fell 32%, and San Francisco, where they dropped 31%.  U.S. house prices fell 18% in October, a record in eight years of data.

Arizona had 11,000 notices in October of so-called trustee sales, or foreclosure auctions, according to RealtyTrac Inc., a real estate data firm in Irvine, California.  Foreclosure sales reduce the value of similar properties in the same area as sellers who aren’t in distress are forced to drop their prices to compete.  “This was a case of the higher they climb, the faster and harder they fell,” said David Blitzer, chairman of the index committee at S&P.  Phoenix home prices at their 2006 peak had almost tripled within nine years, he said.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

3 must-see Phoenix galleries on First Friday, Nov. 7

[Source: Richard Ruelas, Arizona Republic] — Check out this guide to downtown Phoenix’s First Friday art scene:

The Alwun House.   This downtown-arts pioneer opened in 1971, 18 years before the first Art Detour (big brother to First Fridays).  A mile or so east of Roosevelt Row, it’s an unabashedly hippieish gallery in a historical house, complete with outdoor stages for live entertainment as well as resident pets (doves, rabbits and a sweetheart of a Doberman). Details: The Alwun House, 1204 E. Roosevelt St., 602-253-7887, website.

Bentley Projects.  This cavernous brick building once was a linen laundry, and the owners didn’t plaster over that historical character in creating this high-end gallery packed with large-scale works by nationally known artists.  This isn’t for bargain shoppers; instead, it’s the kind of gallery that rich collectors fly out to in order to buy pieces priced in the five- to six-figure range. However, it’s a friendly place with enough diverse, quality work to compare favorably with an art museum. Call first to make sure it’s open. Details: Bentley Projects, 215 E. Grant St., 602-340-9200, website.

Garfield Galleria.  You can spend an entire evening and not see everything at this single building bursting with more than two dozen galleries and studios.  This is real something-for-everyone territory, whether you’re looking for fine art, homey crafts, student work, risque alternative art or flashy jewelry.  Details: Garfield Galleria, 316 W. McDowell Road, 602-349-3049, website.

[Editor’s Note: Here’s one more!  “Lost Vegas: Color Photography 1985-2007 by Steve Weiss/Candid Landscapes” opens First Friday, 6 p.m. to 10 p.m.  Details: The Lodge, 1231 SW Grand Ave. (corner 13th Ave. and Grand), 602-265-9524, website.]

The city of Phoenix runs free shuttles that stop at gallery areas, including Grand Avenue and Roosevelt Row.  If you’re not a good urban parker or just don’t want the hassle of finding a street spot, drop your car off at Burton Barr Central Library, 1221 N. Central Ave., and hop onboard.  Once you explore one area, wave down a shuttle to take you back to the library. Then hop on a different shuttle to head to another area.  For a shuttle map and more information about First Fridays, call 602-256-7539 or visit their website.