Blog Archives

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.]

For Phoenix residents, average cost of transport consumes 3 months’ pay

Trans-Free-Day-Logo-Final[Source: Sean Holstege, Arizona Republic, March 30, 2009] — Maybe you’ve heard of Tax Freedom Day, theoretically the date when Americans have worked enough to pay off their tax burden for the year.  Researchers have now come up with Transportation Freedom Day, the date when an average household has paid off its annual costs of getting around in a particular city.  For metro Phoenix, that day fell on March 23, but it’s different for each city in the region and across the country.  Tempe residents cleared the typical cost of car payments, insurance, gas, repairs, and transit use on March 18.  Residents in New River will keep paying until April 9.

Phoenix is in the middle of the pack for U.S. metro areas.  Cheapest are San Francisco, with a March 1 freedom day, and New York (March 7).  Tucson (March 30) is near the bottom.

The findings are based on research from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, an Illinois think tank that advocates sustainable urban development.  Generally, cities with the most density, shortest commutes and most transit options fared best.  People in far-flung suburbs generally fare the worst. [Note: To read the full article and online comments, click here.]

Commingled names give metro Phoenix ‘hoods hip ID

[Source: Scott Craven, Arizona Republic] — All fashionable cities have them: those too-cool abbreviations that define neighborhoods based on where they’re located.  There’s Lodo (Lower Downtown) in Denver, Soma (South of Market) in San Francisco, and the most famous, New York’s Tribeca (Triangle Below Canal Street).  It’s time for the Valley to join the urban hip.  First to take the leap: Noca (North of Camelback), a restaurant that gets its name from defining a particular neighborhood in Phoenix.  Here are fun names we came up with to coin other popular areas of the Valley:

  • Lirador (Light-Rail Corridor): Commuter heaven.
  • Camo (Camelback Mountain): A place to live, and a bad fashion choice.
  • Slonomo (Slopes of North Mountain): Life in the fast lane.
  • Unmaco (Unincorporated Maricopa County): The place to live if you love Sheriff Joe.
  • Weva (West Valley): Now it’s cool.
  • Dope (Downtown Tempe): If we didn’t think of it, you would.  Besides, it’s pronounced doh-PEE.
  • Squanoje (Square North of Jefferson): Formerly Copper Square.  Not as lyrical as Tribeca, but vaguely Native American.
  • Cavefree (Cave Creek and Carefree): That bit where the two towns seem to mingle.
  • Lobu (Lower Buckeye): If chef Nobu Fukuda moved in, imagine the possibilities.
  • Corgi (Core of Gilbert): Why does that sound familiar?
  • Sogoo (South of Goodyear): Nothing much there, but it feels “Sogoo” to say.

[Note: To read the full article and online comments, click here.]

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 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.]

Phoenix tops list for U.S. home price declines

[Source: Adam Kress, Phoenix Business Journal] — A new read on the housing market shows Phoenix home values have dropped nearly 31% in the past 12 months — the steepest decline of any major city in the nation.  Home prices across the country fell in August for the 25th consecutive month and prices in 10 major markets plunged a record 17.7% from August 2007, according to the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price 10-city index.  From July to August, prices dropped 1.1%.  The 20-city index marked a record year-over-year decline of 16.6% with a 1% fall from July to August. 

The hardest hit of all 20 cities on a year-over-year basis was Phoenix, where prices plummeted 30.7% during the past 12 months.  Las Vegas prices plunged 30.6% and Miami sank 28.1%.  The cities that held up the best were Dallas, which saw a decline of just 2.7%; Charlotte, N.C., down 2.8%; and Boston, off 4.7%.  No city showed a price gain during over the last 12 months.  From July to August, San Francisco saw the biggest price decline, down 3.5%.  Phoenix prices fell 2.9% and Las Vegas homes lost 2.4% in value.  Two cities showed gains in August.  Cleveland prices rose 1.1% and Boston prices inched up 0.1%.

The S&P Case-Shiller indexes compare the sale prices of the same homes year-to-year and are considered one of the most accurate home price gauges.

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 #10 U.S. city for singles, says Forbes.com

[Source: Business Wire] — Atlanta bumped San Francisco out of first place as the No. 1 city on Forbes.com’s 8th annual ranking of America’s “Best Cities For Singles.” According to Forbes.com Executive Editor Michael Noer, “Atlanta got the top spot because of its hopping nightlife, relatively high number of singles, and sizzling job growth.”

The list ranks 40 of the largest urbanized areas in the U.S. in seven categories, including a city’s “cool factor,” cost of living alone, culture, job growth, online dating, nightlife, and the number of singles.

  1. Atlanta
  2. San Francisco
  3. Dallas
  4. Minneapolis
  5. Washington D.C.
  6. Seattle
  7. Boston
  8. New York City
  9. Orlando
  10. Phoenix

Skyline struggles to give Phoenix sense of identity

[Source: Richard Nilsen, Arizona Republic] — A city’s skyline is its ID photo.  Think the Transamerica Pyramid and the Golden Gate Bridge for San Francisco, the George Washington Bridge, and the Empire State Building for Manhattan.  And Dallas, well, Dallas has its freeway flyovers.  But what is Phoenix’s mug shot?  

“The first view of most visitors to Phoenix is the downtown towers silhouetted against Camelback, Mummy, or South mountains as their airplanes bank for a landing,” says Max Underwood, an Arizona State University architecture professor. The mountains are certainly part of it, but what about those buildings?  Do they give Phoenix a sense of self?

Phoenix is now the fifth-largest city in the nation, and it keeps getting bigger.  But smaller cities have a more distinct architectural profile: San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Denver.  “Our high-rises are not interesting enough, varied enough, tall enough or numerous enough to create a skyline worth talking about,” says Grady Gammage Jr., a Valley lawyer and urban-planning critic.

It isn’t just a question of individual buildings of architectural distinction — Phoenix has several of those. It’s about an overall sense of architecture as a source of civic pride and urban identity.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]