The closed-loop belief system of the local-yokels is that as long as Phoenix is adding people, it can't be that bad. End of discussion. Thus, when the Census Bureau announced that Maricopa County was the nation's fastest growing for the year ending July 1, 2016, it set off earth-shaking, sheet-clawing growthgasms. The gain of 81,000 was still below the pre-recession trend line — even accepting the yokel "logic" — but there we have it. Everything's fine!
Phoenix has operated by this hugely subsidized Ponzi scheme for decades and there's no indication anything will change until the roof really falls in.
As in, when overshoot makes it impossibly costly to sustain such a large population in a frying pan. When the Republicans make retirement a pre-New Deal cruelty so that people don't have the means to retire, much less to the hot climes of "the Valley." When the GOP succeeds in cutting so much federal funding that welfare queens such as Phoenix slink to the national homeless shelter. When climate change makes the place unbearable. The recent calamities of the Great Recession, where Phoenix was an epicenter, did nothing to give a moment of clarity. Even an outmigration wouldn't change things. The boat-rockers who advocated a different city and state were long ago run off or silenced.
As regular readers know, raw population growth is not an unalloyed good. It is costly, on infrastructure (few places in the metro impose impact fees on development and none commensurate with the expense of new suburban pods), the environment (particularly in a place where nearly everyone must drive long distances), and any sense of community.
Phoenix and Arizona are decades behind in making the investments for a place so populous. Growth doesn't pay for itself, particularly when the one-party political system insists that taxes must always be cut. The investments made mostly benefit the Real Estate Industrial Complex's sprawl enterprise, such as the shameful South Mountain Freeway boondoggle.
The schools are a national embarrassment, universities constantly bloodied by legislative cutbacks, the Republican congressional delegation does nothing to bring federal investment home, and not only Phoenix but some suburbs suffer from miles of linear slums holding a large underclass. We update the journalism on this crisis every week. An honest discussion of water is forbidden. Sustainability is a punchline. The beautiful oasis of old is nearly gone, buried under gravel and, uh, graced by skeleton trees.
A look at metropolitan Phoenix's standing beyond population growth yields a sad picture. Generally, it ranks high on almost every list of economic and social woes and low on almost every list of achievement — certainly lower than its peers. For all that growth, Phoenix is only considered a gamma metro on the influential Global and World Cities Research Network's rankings of global cities (ninth lowest out of 10 categories). Peers such as San Diego, Seattle, Dallas, and Denver rank higher. Slow- or no-growth metros Detroit, Cleveland, Minneapolis and Philadelphia rank higher. Clearly there's no connection between sheer population size and economic competitiveness and significance.
Meanwhile, the boosters say, "People will keep coming here no matter what." If this is true, then levy taxes appropriate to the urban needs of the region. Yet this is forbidden. So the downward cycle continues.
People keep moving here. But what kind of people? Certainly not hot young talent — Phoenix badly trails in college-educated adults. Not a variety that would turn the state even as purple as Colorado. We know the influx is retiree-heavy, which causes innumerable problems in what's left of the civic fabric ("home" is back in the Midwest). Also, non-college-educated people taking service jobs and seeking relatively inexpensive housing. And "Big Sort" types, Republicans seeking fellow travelers in the Kansas of the Sonoran Desert. Say's Law applies — supply creates demand, in this case housing. And, you don't have to shovel sunshine (with championship golf!).
All too many do not come to love the place and fiercely protect it, learn and cherish its history, help it advance. This is a deadly deficit for any city. It makes the heroic efforts of the Resistance particularly difficult.
If curiosity were allowed, it would be interesting to see rigorous research on who comes and why, and why all this population growth hasn't even given Phoenix the power and relative livability of Dallas, Houston, or Austin. Another big question is churn: How many leave each year and why?
The people in charge don't cotton to "whys." Shut up or leave. You'll be replaced.