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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.]

Big earthquake in metro Phoenix unlikely

[Source: Jim Cross, KTAR Radio] — Arizona has its share of active earthquake faults, but Phil Pearthree with the Arizona Geological Survey says it’s unlikely those faults are capable of producing a 7.0 quake such as the one that left Haiti in ruins.  “Yuma is pretty close to the San Andreas Fault system and, therefore, the seismic hazard is greatest in Yuma,” said Pearthree.  “There are quite a number of faults — not as active — but there are quite a number of faults in northern Arizona.”

The largest earthquake to have a significant effect on Arizona happened in 1887 — a 7.0-plus quake in Mexico, not far from Douglas in southeastern Arizona.  Pearthree said the probability of a 7.0 quake in Phoenix “is not very high.”  Should it happen, he said it would damage stucco homes in the Valley, but big buildings in downtown Phoenix would be able to withstand it. “It depends on the age of the structure and when it was built,” he said.  “Obviously, the modern structures are typically built better and large structures are build to withstand even the winds.”

A 7.0 quake would be more likely to happen in the Los Angeles area than the Valley and the damage there would be far less damage than in Haiti, Pearthree said.  “They had an earthquake in ’94 that was right in the Los Angeles area, more or less, and it was almost as big.  There was damage and people were killed, but there wasn’t widespread devastation, so I think building standards do make a difference.”

Northern Arizona had several 6.0 quakes in the early 1900s, Pearthree said.  [Note: To read the full article, visit Big earthquake in metro Phoenix unlikely.]

Phoenix, Los Angeles lead list of job losers

Shedding jobs, not pounds...

[Source: G. Scott Thomas, Phoenix Business Journal] — Los Angeles continues to suffer the nation’s worst employment losses, with 220,000 of its jobs disappearing during the past year, but Phoenix was hit with the biggest percentage drop, according to a report issued Wednesday morning by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.  Phoenix lost 8.0 percent of its job base during the past year.  The runners-up for that unhappy distinction were Detroit (down 7.8 percent) and Boise, Idaho (down 7.6 percent).

Los Angeles registered the largest raw decline of any labor market between September 2008 and the same month this year.  New York City and Chicago were close behind with respective year-to-year losses of 216,400 and 207,800 jobs.  Ninety-nine of the nation’s 100 biggest markets experienced declines.  The sole exception was the McAllen-Edinburg area on the Texas-Mexico border, which added 3,100 jobs in the past 12 months. [Note: Read the full article at Phoenix, Los Angeles lead list of job losers.]

Giant warehouses dot Phoenix desert awaiting imports that never came

[Source: Anton Troianovski, The Wall Street Journal] — Along a 15-mile stretch of desert, amid strip malls and unfinished subdivisions, nearly a dozen giant warehouses sit silent and empty.  They are relics of this city’s dream of becoming a national warehouse hub, a vision dashed by plunging imports and a reordering of the nation’s biggest ports.  Decisions to site these warehouses were made earlier this decade as Americans were buying so many new cars, televisions and T-shirts that California — the gateway for many Asian imports — was running out of cheap storage space.  With cash from pension funds and other investors, developers sought to turn the desert on the city’s west side into a distribution hub, 370 miles from Los Angeles ports.

MK-AX528A_PHOEN_NS_20090730212813Today, an empty, half-mile-long warehouse lingers from that vision.  The building’s 1.2 million square feet could fit 193 full-size copies of the Statue of Liberty.  Its parking lot has room for 292 tractor trailers.  But on a recent morning the only signs of life were a security guard’s trailer, golf cart and bicycle.  “It’s not a pretty story,” says developer Jonathan Tratt, who has spent more than a year unsuccessfully trying to find a tenant for the building.  He is now offering short-term leases in a bid to ride out the recession.

Mr. Tratt’s warehouse is one of 11 storage complexes completed in southwest Phoenix in 2008, with two more set to be finished this year.  Those 13 properties combined will have eight million square feet and are now 86% empty, according to brokerage Cushman & Wakefield Inc.  The construction boom has driven the industrial vacancy rate in the 47 million-square-foot southwest Phoenix market to over 20%, according to brokerage CB Richard Ellis Group Inc.  Most owners of the empty buildings said they aren’t panicking yet.  The local market will inevitably absorb the space, they believe.  “I’m optimistic the year won’t end as bleak as it started,” Cushman & Wakefield broker Bo Mills said.  [Note: Read the full article at Giant warehouses dot Phoenix desert awaiting imports that never came]

Phoenix air quality on top ten worst list

[Source: Syleste Rodriguez, 12 News] — On a clear day sometimes downtown Phoenix can be seen from nearby mountain trails, but experts say those days are numbered.  It won’t be long before car pollution coupled with hot temperatures cloud the view.   “It’s some of the combustion elements that are not completely burned, they get into the atmosphere, we put 102 degree temperature on them and we cook that soup and create ozone,” Acting Director of Arizona Department of Environmental Quality Patrick Cunningham says.

ADEQ says ozone is dangerous to everyone.  Some health experts used to think ozone just effected at risk groups like seniors, young children and those with respiratory diseases.  Not anymore.   “It’s never good for anyone to breathe unhealthy air, even if you are healthy, the idea of breathing in tons of particulate matter or high rates of ozone,” American Lung Association of Arizona Director of Government Relations Corey Woods says.

The American Lung Association conducted a study on the 25 most ozone-polluted cities in America.  Phoenix ranks 9th.  The top 3 are all in California: Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and Visalia-Porterville.  “It’s not just numbers were looking at here, the numbers really do have real world impact on people’s health,” American Lung Association of Arizona Director of Government Relations Corey Woods says.

The EPA lowered it’s standard and made it more protective March 2008. Less than half of Maricopa County ozone pollution monitors scattered across town didn’t pass the test summer of ’08.  Now the job, to work to meet the new requirement to preserve our health and the air we breathe.  ADEQ says the easiest and most effective way to do your part is to carpool, ride the light rail or use the bus system, especially during the summer months and when you fill up on gasoline, do it at night because that’s when temperatures drop.

Phoenix #22 among major U.S. cities for Energy Star buildings

[Source: Phoenix Business Journal] — Phoenix ranked 22nd among U.S. cities for the number of buildings that received the Energy Star designation in 2008. The metro area had 39 buildings covering 7.3 million square feet that meet the energy efficiency standard last year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  Those efficiencies translate to $7 million in annual savings and the equivalent of electricity used by 6,900 households annually.

Los Angeles was No. 1 with 262 structures covering 73.9 million square feet.  That translates to $87.2 million in energy cost savings and 35,800 households, the EPA said.  Rounding out the top five were San Francisco, Houston, Washington, and Dallas.  “Energy Star buildings typically use 35 percent less energy and emit 35 percent less greenhouse gases than average buildings,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement.  “EPA commends all of these cities and all of the others, as well as countless individuals, who are now using more energy efficient appliances and dwellings.  They are saving energy, saving money and protecting our environment.”

Overall, Arizona has 93 buildings with Energy Star designations.  Those include 13 Marriott locations, five Bashas’ stores and Renaissance Square, Collier Center, One North Central tower, Wells Fargo Plaza, and Phoenix Federal Courthouse in downtown Phoenix.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Phoenix budget hit harder than other big cities’

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix’s $270 million in proposed budget cuts are the largest in city history.  And although the national recession has forced almost all local and state governments to pare back spending, Phoenix’s reductions are among the most severe of any major U.S. city when comparing total budgets.  Plagued by the dismal economy and plunging sales-tax revenue, Phoenix is being forced to carve more than 20% out of its $1.2 billion general fund to bridge deficits in the current and next fiscal year.  Services Phoenix residents use on a frequent if not daily basis — libraries and parks, senior centers, and swimming pools — are bearing the brunt of the cuts.

Other large cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia are bleeding red ink, too, and are expected to slash many more dollars than Phoenix in the coming year.  But an analysis of the nation’s 10 largest cities shows that no spending decrease rivals the 22.5% in cuts now being weighed by Phoenix.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Nielsen study finds Atlanta, Dallas, and Phoenix are top markets by recent population growth

[Source: Market Wire via COMTEX] — A new Nielsen Company analysis aimed at uncovering expansion opportunities for the retail industry in a down economy has found that sustained growth is occurring in large metros such as Atlanta, GA; Dallas, TX; and Phoenix, AZ, which ranked as the top three fastest growing markets over the last eight years.  The study, which was conducted by Nielsen Claritas, Nielsen’s leading marketing information source, and based on data compiled as of early 2008, showed that Atlanta and Dallas CBSAs (Core Based Statistical Areas) added more than one million in population since 2000, while the Phoenix CBSA was close at 971,849.

Rounding out the top five were the Houston and the Los Angeles CBSAs, which also grew by nearly a million people at 949,905 and 939,317, respectively.  A CBSA includes both metropolitan areas of at least 50,000 population and micropolitan areas with a population between 10,000-49,999.  “And while some of these markets like Phoenix and Los Angeles have been hard hit by the recent wave of foreclosures, there has been no mass exodus from these markets or anywhere else.

People who have foreclosed most likely have not left the market but rather have just become renters. Faltering markets, such as these, will likely rebound and continue to grow — and their underlying demographics are solid,” said Mike Mancini, Nielsen Claritas Vice President of Data Product Management and co-author of a whitepaper that documented the study’s findings, titled “Finding Growth in Challenging Times: Seven Indicators to Evaluate Population Growth.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

U.S. cities rethink wisdom of 50s-era parking standards (et tu Phoenix?)

[Source: Sarah Karush, Associated Press] — Alice and Jeff Speck didn’t have a car and didn’t want one.  But District of Columbia zoning regulations required them to carve out a place to park one at the house they were building.  It would have eaten up precious space on their odd-shaped lot and marred the aesthetics of their neighborhood, dominated by historic row houses.  The Specks succeeded in getting a waiver, even though it took nine months.

Like nearly all U.S. cities, D.C. has requirements for off-street parking.  Whenever anything new is built — be it a single-family home, an apartment building, a store, or a doctor’s office — a minimum number of parking spaces must be included.  The spots at the curb don’t count: These must be in a garage, a surface lot, or a driveway.

D.C. is now considering scrapping those requirements — part of a growing national trend.  Officials hope that offering the freedom to forgo parking will lead to denser, more walkable, transit-friendly development.  Opponents say making parking more scarce will only make the city less hospitable.  Commuters like Randy Michael of Catharpin, VA complain they are already forced to circle for hours in some neighborhoods.  “Today I had an 11:30 meeting and I had to plan an extra hour just to park” said Michael, 49.  It ended up taking him 40 minutes to find a metered spot.

Advocates counter that parking is about more than drivers’ convenience; it can profoundly affect the look and feel of a city.  “Do you want to look like San Francisco or Los Angeles?” asked Donald Shoup, an urban planning professor at UCLA and author of “The High Cost of Free Parking.”  “New York or Phoenix?” (Shoup prefers San Francisco and New York — hard to park in, but highly walkable.)  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Phoenix’s transformation into big city has benefits, burdens

[Source: Yuri Artibise, Grady Gammage Jr., and Nancy Welch, Morrison Institute] — Columnist Gregory Rodriguez wrote recently in the Los Angeles Times: “No city is more burdened by its myth than LA.  That’s because ours, crafted by regional boosters even before the birth of LA as a modern American city, is the ultimate myth: Los Angeles as paradise.  It makes the gulf between the ideal and the real deeper here than anywhere else.”

Other than its eponymous pyrotechnic bird, Phoenix has not been a city of deep myth.  Only a few movies have been set here.  The closest thing to a signature song is about a guy driving away from LA, musing on what his lost love will be doing “by the time I get to Phoenix.”  Yet, Phoenix and Los Angeles have an apparent shared heritage: huge water projects, real-estate developers, parking lots, palm trees, and faux Spanish architecture.

Our city seems so obviously the younger sister of a Hollywood starlet that comparison and emulation are inevitable.  The Phoenix/LA conceit is deep-seated, chronic, and nearly always offered as something to avoid.  Consider just part of a collection from a 1996 Phoenix Gazette column by Bill Hart:

  • “Do you want this to be another Detroit or New York or, worse yet, another Los Angeles?” – Former Gov. Howard Pyle, 1987
  • “We don’t want to be another Los Angeles.  Nobody wants that.” – Jim Marsh, former director, Arizona Department of Commerce, 1991
  • In a recent poll, 90% of Arizonans said it would be bad if Phoenix became more like Los Angeles. – The Arizona Republic, 1991
  • “Phoenix still can avoid becoming another Los Angeles by building a balanced transportation system.” – David Baron, director, Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest, 1993
  • There are things that can be done to stop the Valley’s slide toward becoming another Los Angeles. – The Republic, 1994

Phoenix, a city often accused of having no identity, certainly has long known what it doesn’t want to be.  What is it we are so afraid of?  All big cities have mixed images, but the uber-negative view of Los Angeles is grounded in three attributes: smog, congestion, and sprawl.  These problems and the comparisons between Phoenix and LA are worth a closer examination.  [Note: to read the full op-ed piece, click here.]