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June 17, 2010


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When Mr. Talton was writing for the Republic, I would always check first for his column in the business section. I was constantly amazed at what he was able to slip into those columns, in spite of his apparent self-censorship.

I was once, through a mutual friend, able to wangle a chat over a drink with him. I'm sure Jon was underwhelmed, but I was a sponge for his Phoenix lore, and I thank him for that. I did ask, at some point, how he managed to get away with what he wrote.

"I have good editors," he replied - rather drily, I recall.

From today's Information Center, an update about the utility of wishful thinking as an economic strategy:

Scan the comments if you have the time. Whether it's denial, parochialism, or obfuscaton, Zonies cover the waterfront.

Last night, I was standing outside a Thai restaurant across the street from the Phoenix Art Museum. The scene was depressingly familiar: a failed gas station/convenience store, an old resort motel, charming 50 years ago, now mostly empty, and a huge vacant parcel biding time until a boom called Godot arrives. When I was a kid, this was one of Phoenix's busiest intersection, buzzing and alive. Now it's comatose. If you don't know the history of this place, or if you don't care enough to even be curious, none of this will matter. But there are reasons why Phoenix has arrived at this impasse. All the brave re-invention and creative imagination of the past few decades have succeeded only in highlighting our self-deception. We had a lovely little city and it outgrew beauty and our love. Why? Phoenix is not alone here - dozens of other American cities are equally distressed. But if you live here, you should care.

Ah hell, this whole conversation practically begs for the continuation of argumentation -- even if it's to argue that we should indeed have an "amen corner." No dogma required. Let's just agree that we should praise enlightenment over sitting frustrated in the darkness that is our dominant political and cultural environment.

Regrettably, I missed the last post, so I promise to catch up later today. But as I took a cursory look over many of the comments, I can say that I feel for Joe. Joe's criticism of Mr. Talton is almost identical to my earliest commentary a la 2008/2009. To be fair, I think it was Mr. Talton who jumped in to encourage my continued contribution despite having been initially attacked by other readers similarly to Joe's experience. Since then, I've felt greatly rewarded for staying involved and reading a consistently thought provoking dialog, and even exchanged some kudos along the way.

Even when we disagree (as with the Loop 202 debate), we understand that this is merely one specific argument where the context is invaluable and we have little to gain from either seeing eye to eye or expanding the disagreement into other arenas. I would compare this to Mr. Talton's jabs with Mr. Hamblin (I think I got that right...) regarding Fountain Hills, although I wouldn't dare claim these instances as irreconcilable differences worthy of a readership divorce.

I just want to declare a huge hallelujah for people expressing concern and demanding that someone offer good ideas and provide much needed leadership for Arizona. And for what it's worth, I think the Rogue Columnist regulars ought to pat ourselves on the back for being the types who regularly step up to change our state's direction, despite the fact that this is an immensely discouraging notion. Is that so wrong? It's what the other people do constantly and they're always so pleased with themselves that it's sickening to watch!

Seriously, I don't envy Mr. Coppersmith's resume -- he's the guy who once led the opposition movement -- so it's more than understandable that he was one of those lashing out at Joe for simple criticism. And like Mr. Talton or Chris in Denver (or any of the other ex-journalists and political leaders I'm forgetting), I'll happily forgive a slight taint of cynicism so long as the harsh critique continues. Because, voila, this is how the dialog starts. And thank goodness.

Thanks Rogue. A User's Guide?? We're guys, we don't read instructions.

A couple of thoughts: I've said it on here before and it bears being said again. I spent years follwing Mr. Talton as he painstakingly drew a map for the leaders of our community to follow, which would have, at the very least, given us a fighting chance to deal with and recover from this recession. Did they listen, hell no. They killed the messenger. Now, the very ideas he proposed are being thrown out all over the place by the same idiots who ignored his advice.

So now we get to sit back and watch Pol Pot Pierce give us all a civics lesson on how despots are made. You can actually see the force of the population's fear and anger flowing from their bodies, focusing into a tangible stream of power soaking Pierce, making him stronger, bolder, crazier.

Am I worried, hell no. I've been on a four day drunken celebration with my good friend Jack Daniels. We've been celebrating the new 2,000 home subdivision underway in south Chandler. GOOD TIMES ARE HERE AGAIN !! 2,000 homes here. A 1,000 homes there. 3,000 homes over yonder. Couple more months we'll be walking in tall cotton. I'm so happy I could just ......

That's the great thing about our good friend, Jack D, . . . no instructions necessary.

Thank you, Soleri, for the link to the AZ Republic article, "Report: Phoenix lags other big cities in economic recovery".

Including in the title, the "report" uses the term "recovery" six times. It uses the term "recession" five times.

It will be difficult, if not impossible, to find any resolution to the problems facing Arizona while the conversations continue to employ inappropriate terms.

A more appropriate title for the "report" would have been, "Report: Phoenix lags other big cities in economic RECKONING".

Here's a sad excerpt from the Republic's June 17 article about economic recovery:

"Muro also suggested that Arizona's relatively lower level of education is slowing its recovery. Colorado, with a better-educated workforce, was able to rebound more quickly as its laid-off employees were more successful at adapting."

I remember Jon's bit about "thank God for Mississippi" because it kept AZ from ranking last among all states in many education indices . . including dollars per student spent in the classroom. He also pointed out that our legislature has starved education for many years, just as it has starved the state by failing to create a revenue structure adequate to its needs and complexity.

I am also reminded that "a prophet is without honor in his own country" . . . and Jon Talton has been just that for a long time. (I'd like to see an occasional Postcards From Seattle column in the Republic.)

I saw that Arizona Republic story this morning and thought it was unusually well written and confirmed most or all of what Mr. Talton has been saying about Phoenix's economy for so long now. The online version has a link to a copy of the full Mountain Monitor report referenced in the story.

In a January blog item, even R.L. Brown, publisher of the Housing Market Letter, seems to acknowledge the need for change and strong leadership to produce it:

"This forecast is based on a drop in foreclosures and a rise in job growth. Job creation cannot be based on residential construction," said Brown. "There will be no near term housing or economic recovery in metro Phoenix until government and business leaders act decisively to create jobs, retrain our labor force and regulate real estate."


Note, however, that the forecast Brown refers to calls for 22,000 new homes to be built and bought in 2012, and 42,000 in 2015, which is comparable with 2002-3.

These numbers have appeared in a number of items since then, but seldom if ever repeating Brown's caveat.

This recent story in the Arizona Republic's business section show's that for many, the expectation is for a return to the old housing driven growth pattern, though with certain modifications:

"More than 50 percent of metro Phoenix's new-home sales during April were in Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert.

"Developments along the Interstate 17 corridor north to Anthem and in Avondale and Goodyear in the West Valley are also popular with builders. Land prices in these areas are climbing as well, but lots are still typically selling for below $40,000.

"Parcels in metro Phoenix's most far-flung communities including Buckeye west of the White Tank Mountains and the Pinal County communities of Coolidge and Eloy aren't drawing a lot of builder attention now. The areas are too far out for most current buyers because their tastes have changed, no matter how inexpensive new homes are priced."


In that story, which is about how homebuilders (the biggest of whom are sitting on $12 billion in cash) are ramping up land purchases, Brown's warning is reduced to:

"Builders are buying Phoenix-area land now because they expect to make money on it in the near future," said Arizona home-building analyst RL Brown. "Builders are more optimistic about the housing market now, but the smart ones are still being very cautious."

No word on what percentage of homebuilders are "smart".

I wouldn't mind reading more of Joe's opinions. But I think I understand his lack of understanding and question of Mr. Talton. As I've mentioned before many "facts" presented are really commentary and opinion. Jon seems to not practice what he preaches. Because of that it may be that many are lead to believe that the constant attacks, name-calling, and exaggerations are merely angry theatrics parading as hard-hitting journalism.

I hope the days of 64,000 new houses per year are gone forever. I read something in the paper today or yesterday that 1 in 10 jobs in the Phoenix metro area are (were? can't find the article...) actual construction jobs. That can't be healthy, either economically or socially. And we simply can't sustain them all. The real estate industry should stop beating this dead horse. There are so many neighborhoods in need of revival, rundown houses to restore and update, empty lots to be infilled, and outdated strip malls to be replaced with mixed-use development that a decent number of higher-quality construction jobs can be supported. Just not 300,000 (or whatever 1/10th of the population is) toiling away on the fringes destroying the desert and putting up mass-produced houses. Thank you Jon for continuing to rock the boat!

Fareed 300,000, if that is a reliable figure and would be helpful if you could link that to a credible source, would be closer to 6% of the metro Phoenix population. Are those "construction" jobs JUST housing or does that include high-rise, road, industrial, etc etc?

"The construction industry accounts for nearly 6 percent of total non-farm jobs, far below its pre-recession peak when one in 10 Arizonans held construction jobs."


As a percentage of the non-farm labor force at the end of 2007, that works out to 250,000 jobs.


However, the peak period for construction jobs in Arizona was earlier, so the actual number was higher, and 300,000 doesn't sound unreasonable.

According to a January article in the Arizona Republic, "78,800, or 37 percent [of construction jobs] were lost statewide from December 2007 to November 2009."


If you do the algebra, that works out to 211,000 construction jobs in December 2007. However, that was not the peak for construction employment, so likely the number was considerably higher at the height of the housing boom.

"Arizona has seen a loss of 46.1 percent of construction jobs from peak construction employment to last December."


Note also that it depends on how you define "construction jobs". If you add construction related retail (building supply stores, lumber yards, etc.) the numbers get bigger.

Incidentally, I saw in today's Arizona Republic that Phoenix is considering offering golf courses a cash subsidy. This after Moon Valley luxury courses complained about their water rates to the city council.

"Under the plan, Phoenix would give qualifying golf courses a dollar-for-dollar match for reduced water use. If a business cut water use by 10 percent, saving $40,000, the city would give the golf course $40,000."


Meanwhile, the same issue reports that Valley Metro has eliminated two commuting bus routes connecting outlying areas with the central city, and that after recent state budget cuts, Arizona is now one of five states that don't provide transportation funds to local government. Metro Phoenix used to share in the proceeds of an areawide transportation fund, funded by the state lottery, but state government has cancelled that arrangement and now keeps those funds.

PHXsunsFan wrote:

"As I've mentioned before many "facts" presented are really commentary and opinion. Jon seems to not practice what he preaches."

You've yet to specify which facts you contest. Besides, didn't Mr. Talton just get through explaining that he writes an opinion column, not an almanac? If you don't like his attitude, that's your personal opinion. If you disagree with his facts, where is your counter-argument?

Mr. Talton wrote:

"I take Joe at his word and don't believe he's a plant or the kind of "seminar commenters" paid by right-wing groups to post talking points on blogs around the country."

Generous of you, Mr. Talton. I wish I could say the same for PHXsunsFan, alias Cisco Corrales, et al., and it seems a remarkable coincidence that just when "Joe" shows up, PHXsunsFan (who has been notably absent of late) follows immediately on his heels, saying how much he likes and understand's Joe's opinion.

I wonder how construction jobs fit into the employment picture in other large American cities? I suspect when most cities are in economically strong times the ranks of the construction employers grows substantially.

The lottery split with transportation where talked about two years ago and took effect last year I believe. I suspect a legal battle over such cuts as the state is currently being sued by several watch groups, citizen's committees, and educational advocates for underfunding the educational institutions (primarily k-12): In accordance with Proposition 301 and the State Constitution,the state is committed to funding education more vigorously than what is occurring today.


"PHXsunsFan" wrote:

"I wonder how construction jobs fit into the employment picture in other large American cities?"

Now, do you really wonder this, or are you trying to suggest a conclusion to readers by asking a rhetorical question (i.e., trying to suggest that Phoenix's economy isn't more dependent on construction than elsewhere, when in fact construction has been a much larger part of its local economy than average)?

Here's the answer to your question:

"The chart above (and Table 1 in the appendix) breaks down declines in construction employment by state from peak levels to December 2009. Some states show considerably higher construction job losses than the overall national decline of 26.2 percent. States particularly hard hit include California (-36.1 percent), Florida (-41 percent), Michigan (-42.6 percent), Arizona (-46.1 percent), and Nevada (-46.8 percent)."


There you are. National average decline 26.2 percent; Arizona decline, 46.1 percent. And don't forget that the national average is inflated by construction dependent states like Arizona: eliminate those from the statistics and the national average decline in construction jobs falls precipitously.

Be sure to have a close look at the graph labeled "Decline in jobs during the Great Recession: construction and total percentage loss by state".

"PHXsunsFan" wrote:

"The lottery split with transportation where talked about two years ago and took effect last year I believe."

Nope. The sweep occurred earlier this year:

"Earlier this year, a legislative sweep of state Lottery funds that help pay for Dial-a-Ride service forced cities and towns to scrimp on the transit service or cut elsewhere to compensate.

"Bryan Jungwirth, president of the Arizona Transit Association, described the $34 million funds sweep as "a crippling loss for transit in Arizona."

"Forty percent of the Lottery Transportation Assistance Fund had gone to Dial-a-Ride.

"The state now is one of five that provide no public-transit funding. The others are Alabama, Colorado, Hawaii and Utah."


Perhaps Arizona's only 'out' is now to follow the lead of the Duchy of Grand Fenwick and declare war on the United States. Oh, waitaminute...

Emil, I am actually interested in knowing how "dependant" metro Phoenix is on construction. Arizona's loss is high, but that was expected in a state where construction of housing was spreading to rapidly in areas outside the metro and traditional growth zones of Phoenix and Tucson to areas like Payson, Prescott, and Pinal County.

I am still searching for current figures of metro areas/large cities with employment snapshots and figures for different sectors. And to clarify, the lottery to transit was being discussed far in advance of the actual sweep...we where discussing the raid last year and the discussion turned to finding ways for individual cities to fund transit as is with minimal disturbances.

Most knew there would be give and take. Keeping late night weekend service in exchange for waiting a few more minutes during the weekday; raising taxes in municipalities with free services in order to sustain current level of service provided for safety and public services (Tempe, Phoenix, Scottsdale with Orbit, Dash, and the trolley respectively)...

OK, this is specific to Metropolitan Phoenix:

"Approximately one in four new jobs created between 2001 and 2006 were directly related to construction. Every one job in the construction industry supports an additional 1.18 jobs in other industries. This means that construction was directly or indirectly responsible for over half of the jobs created in the region.

". . .The steep drop-off in construction activity from 2006 through the present has caused a pull back in many other employment categories. As of September 2009, the region has lost two-thirds of new jobs since the beginning of the decade. These losses have pushed the ratio of jobs to population to its lowest levels since the mid-1990s, and more scarce employment opportunities make the region a less attractive place to


See page 12 of the pdf starting at "Why did the Growth Engine Stall?" and continuing into the next page. As you can see, Metro Phoenix closely reflects the statewide trends in dependence on construction and job losses in that sector.

From the same report:

"Metropolitan Phoenix experienced a 38 percent decline in construction employment from 2007 to 2009."

I believe that this is residential housing construction only. Total decline in construction employment was considerably higher (see above).

I'm still trying to locate specific totals from 2006 for construction in Metro Phoenix (Phoenix-Mesa-Glendale metropolitan area). As of May, 2010 according to official figures there are 87,600 construction jobs in Metro Phoenix.

It probably doesn't help that my browser software is so primitive (and its settings outside my control). If anyone finds the spreadsheet for 2006 let me know and post the link here.

Sorry, that spreadsheet link:


Got it!


Construction jobs in Metro Phoenix peaked in 2006 at 185,000. As of May, 2010, there were 87,600 (see link above). That's a loss of 53 percent of construction jobs in Metro Phoenix during and since the recession.

In 2006 there were 1,930,000 in the workforce, so construction jobs then made up 9.6 percent of local jobs (i.e., 1 in 10). In May, 2010 the size of the local workforce was 2,120,000, so local construction as of May of this year accounted for 4.1 percent of local jobs.

Emil wrote:

"You've yet to specify which facts you contest. Besides, didn't Mr. Talton just get through explaining that he writes an opinion column, not an almanac? If you don't like his attitude, that's your personal opinion. If you disagree with his facts, where is your counter-argument?"

Mr. Talton himself said he represents truths in his is "opinion" pieces and reporting of the facts. What I disagree with not only is in this "opinion" piece but in others he's written. Including the comparison of Phoenix traffic to L.A.'s even Seattle's. Please look up countless traffic studies over the decade you'll notice that Phoenix has never made the top ten worst for commuting, miles traveled, traffic tie-ups/bottlenecks, time spent in vehicles, etc etc. I'll help you get started:


Or how Phoenix is a leader in Sprawl (granted, Phoenix is a sprawling city taken into account of the city itself) but metro Phoenix is compact compared to all American metro areas save a few. This implies that transportation and mass transit, once it continues to grow beyond the current light rail line, has a much higher success rate; note Seattle's dismal numbers from the southern suburbs compared to Phoenix' explosive ridership counts that exceed 60% of what was projected.

There are many more issues but I'll start here.

Wrote Emil; " I wish I could say the same for PHXsunsFan, alias Cisco Corrales, et al., and it seems a remarkable coincidence that just when "Joe" shows up, PHXsunsFan (who has been notably absent of late) follows immediately on his heels, saying how much he likes and understand's Joe's opinion."

It seems to me that many choose not to comment because of the hostility they receive, including myself when my ethnicity was questioned because I opinions didn't fall inline with "many" of the Latinos/Hispanics that a certain poster was used to conversing with.

Furthermore, when ever I or another contributor respond to an article with a dissenting argument, Emil is the first to scream "CONSPIRACY." As if I conspire with Joe or any other contributor because we share similar ideas. Am I to conclude that Emil is in cahoots with Mr. Talton because he so respects and agrees with his opinions?

Emil contributed this to the conversation: "In 2006 there were 1,930,000 in the workforce, so construction jobs then made up 9.6 percent of local jobs (i.e., 1 in 10). In May, 2010 the size of the local workforce was 2,120,000, so local construction as of May of this year accounted for 4.1 percent of local jobs."

Great piece of information and glad you found it. I am comparing these numbers with other cities, during the peak and after, to compare workforce sectors. Rather than blindly agree with Mr. Talton's assessment on construction in Phoenix I like to know the facts and see numbers.

Granted, I am an optimist and Mr. Talton and possibly many others hate that about certain people, I see the opportunity to retrain these individuals into other higher paying construction fields; solar, infrastructure, steel, etc etc.

Granted for solar to take off in Arizona the Corporation Commission and the utilities in Arizona will have to change the rules of the game and allow the industry to flourish. Call me foolish, but I believe that will be happening very soon.

I forgot to note that Fareed said that 1 in 10 jobs in metro Phoenix were of the constructions industry and made inferences that these construction jobs were all tied to the housing industry.

An attempt to make it seem as though the only construction in Phoenix was housing or that construction only meant the building of new housing, especially on the periphery of the metro region; an incorrect assumption.

Also note, that in 2006 (at the peak), tens of thousands were hired and brought into metro Phoenix to build HUGE projects; the 22 mile light rail line and all its parts including a huge rail facility, airport expansion, downtown Phoenix and Tempe high-rises, condos, apartments, and lofts (to a lesser extent high density housing in other in suburban "downtowns" or city centers, i.e. Scottsdale, Chandler, and Glendale), stadiums (including the massive and state of art Cardinal's Studim, now University of Phoenix Stadium), the Phoenix Convention Center was another massive, massive project which included the 34 floor, 1,200 room Sheraton Downtown Phoenix, ASU's downtown campus, and countless other huge projects...

I meant to post this as well, but not trying to overkill with information. This is a list, from Forbes.com, compiling the most congested cities. Forbes used Inrix Traffic System studies among others to conclude these findings. Note that the top 10 most congested metros as congested because of Sprawl and commutes that tax the freeway systems; primarily in Atlanta, Houston, and Los Angeles.

These numbers are in descending order from "best" to worst and include their metro populations (based on 2009 figures):

20. Riverside, CA (4 million)
19. Detroit (4.5 million)
18. San Jose (1.8 million)
17. Baltimore (2.7 million)
16. Denver (2.5 million)
15. San Diego (3 million)
14. Miami (5.4 million)
13. Phoenix (4.3 million)
12. Atlanta (5.3 million)
11. Philly (5.8 million)
10. Minneapolis (3.2 million)
9. Seattle (3.3 million)
8. Boston (4.5 million)
7. San Francisco (4.2 million)
6. Houston (5.6 million)
5. Washington, D.C. (5.3 million)
4. Dallas (6.2 million)
3. Chicago (9.5 million)
2. New York (18.8 million)
1. Los Angeles (12.9 million)

While I listed worst congestion in another thread, here is another study, published by the Daily Beast of America's 75 worst commutes; this shows Seattle's #7 ranking and Phoenix' #29 ranking under different criteria than the Forbes (Inrix study where Phoenix ranked 13th and Seattle 9th)...


Ah, for the luxury to weigh in more frequently. It is not mine. Nor is this a blog about Seattle.

My take on the commute/congestion surveys is: Thank god Seattle has longer times for commuters. It's a sign of a city of narrower streets, narrower and fewer freeways, and intact city neighborhoods and a downtown. I live downtown and my commute is nothing. It's a choice I made. If someone chooses to live in a far-out suburb, that commute is their choice. In any event, the bus system is excellent despite budget pressures and the number of people riding the bus from suburbia to work is remarkable.

As readers know, I am opposed to using freeways and failing to price externalities as a way to subsidize far-flung suburbia, especially when it comes at the expense of the older urban area.

Seattle offers many choices. Phoenix doesn't. That's one of the differences. Metro Seattle (the city is one of America's greenest cities) has all the suburban crap of any American metro area. But it also has wonderful city neighborhoods and a vibrant downtown. Phoenix doesn't offer this. To those happy in PHX, it's God's Country. To me, it's a competitive disadvantage, not to mention heartbreak at the destruction of the old city I care about. (E.g., I don't really care much about the latest shopping center in Gilbert).

There's no argument to win here. There's no contest between Phoenix and Seattle. They are too different. If Phoenix is your thing, you'll probably hate Seattle and vice versa. My earlier take:


Mr. Talton, thank you for weighing in again; however, even though there is nothing to win we use comparisons of cities to gauge a city's...uniqueness and "citiness." How else are we to know how dense or well planned one city is without relative comparisons?

You say narrow streets and transit contribute to Seattles "long" commute while study after study attribute most of the congestion (freeways in Seattle are just as wide as Phoenix) to long commutes...as in distance. Tacoma is greater than 30 miles from Seattle and Olympia is over 60 miles with Everette a great distance to the north and the eastern suburbs stretching to the foothills of the Cascades. There are many commuters from these far flung regions of the Sound where commuters must drive to Seattle or nearer Seattle for work.

While you Mr. Talton live in downtown Seattle and your choice enables you to live an urban, "green" life (much in the same way I live in downtown Phoenix and have not driven in over 3 weeks for any reason) most Americans, Seattlites, etc do not and mass transit in the Puget Sound is not Newark, NY, Connecticut.

Transportation options are better compared to Phoenix but not by much, again it is no New York, Washington, Chicago, Philly, or even Portland. Of the 3.2 million in metro Seattle only 700,000 live in Seattle and of that only 30,000 live in downtown Seattle. In comparison, 1.4-1.5 million live in Phoenix while 4.3 million live in Phoenix.

I am still calculating the urban footprint density of Phoenix (minus the regional, municipal parks, preserves, etc that the city has set aside and cannot be developed). I will have to finish on Monday as I am heading out for the evening.

Earlier I wrote:

" In comparison, 1.4-1.5 million live in Phoenix while 4.3 million live in Phoenix."


...1.4 million live in Phoenix while 4.3 million live in metro Phoenix.

During a year in Seattle I rode 7,000 miles on my bike, less than 2,000 in my car, and maybe 1,000 on the bus (I didn't keep count of those). The number of cyclists (of all types) in Seattle is astounding to an Arizona expat. I hope that the stats and the analyses account for this great divide. Seattle is a bike-friendly city while Arizona is rife with hostility towards bicyclists. Plus you can pick bucketfuls of delicious, wild blackberries from the side of any WA road for several summer months! :)

I quickly came to love Seattle.

Well, there are several issues being conflated here. One is "sprawl" (i.e., the geographic extent of an urban area); a second is "compactness" which is a function of (average) population density per square mile; a third is "congestion" which measures the extent to which traffic delays occur, and which is a function of such things as the number of motor vehicles in use in the area, the extent of road development, and the design (good or poor) of the transportation grid.

Note that congestion is NOT related to distance: one can have theoretically have high sprawl and low congestion. Also, compactness is not intrinsically incompatible with sprawl.

Another conflated issue is city vs. urban area vs. metropolitan area. There are three fundamental ways of thinking about local growth: (a) in terms of the municipal boundary of a city-proper; (b) in terms of the "urban area" (understood as an area of continuous urban development including and surrounding, but connected continuously to, a central city); (c) a metropolitan area, which is larger than the urban area because it includes non-contiguous municipalities as well as undeveloped/rural areas bridging/surrounding them.

Nearly all growth since 1950 has been suburban-style, low-density development emphasizing detached, single-family homes. So "sprawl" has been a nearly universal feature of the American landscape. For major cities it's simply a question of to what extent the sprawl has been "captured" within municipal boundaries, and to what extent it has filled geographically continuous but politically separate suburbs.

For example, Seattle the city proper has relatively inelastic boundaries, and as one might expect, it's more compact than Phoenix (i.e., it has higher population density per square mile). It also has less geographic land area and thus less sprawl.

However, it is surrounded by geographically contiguous (if politically separate) suburbs and those suburbs are very much a part of the local economic and social dynamic, so for the purpose of discussing "sprawl" the concept of an urban area can also be considered. I prefer the concept of "urban area" to that of "metropolitan area" in such discussions because "metropolitan areas" are statistical constructs which may include large undeveloped/rural areas and non-contiguous municipalities.

One problem with much of these discussions is that they are often based upon decennial census data and the last one was completed ten years ago. That's a VERY important caveat because the metropolitan Phoenix area underwent an orgy of expansion during the 2000s.

In 2000, The Phoenix urban area had a population of 2.9 million; that of Seattle 2.7 million -- quite comparable. The land area of the Phoenix urban area was 799 square-miles; that of Seattle a significantly larger 954 square-miles. That gives the Phoenix urban area (circa 2000) a population density of 3,630 per square-mile; that of Seattle 2,830 per square-mile. In other words, the Phoenix urban area, at least in 2000, was significantly MORE compact than that of Seattle.


(Note that slight differences in figures are due to rounding errors between census/website/my numbers.)

Is this still the case? I don't know, and I don't expect we will know until after the 2010 census is completed and evaluated.

Beyond this, we can compare the Seattle and Phoenix urban areas for purposes of evaluating such things as their local economies, public transportation networks, and schools.

It's obvious that Seattle beats Phoenix in every one of these. Seattle has weathered the Great Recession comparatively well. The city proper has a vibrant downtown/core. Its economy is more diversified. It has better public transportation. Arizona public schools rank consistently near the bottom, nationally, in spending per student.

One basic criticism of Phoenix in Mr. Talton's blog is that it has been overreliant on construction as an engine of growth, specifically residential construction. (Yes, there are other kinds, but they tend to follow in the wake of new residential areas, as do new retail opportunities, etc.)

That's true, as even the developers are admitting these days. The area grows its economy by attracting large numbers of out of state immigrants (including retirees), builds new housing for them, and builds new retail and office space to take advantage of the increased population. That's a fact.

It's also a fact that this pattern of growth isn't going to recover in the near term (next several years). It may not recover at all: without growth, the number of local jobs is not sufficient to support additional heavy immigration, and many will think twice about moving here if the unemployment rate remains high. If local economic growth depends on attracting new immigrants, that creates a vicious circle which is difficult to escape unless the local economy changes fundamentally. It's also true that housing values are not what they were, and with many underwater mortgages, households are less likely to sell their homes elsewhere and move here.

Seattle's congestion is nearly all attributed to I-5. I-5 is the only north-south quick way to get around. Otherwise I think its not too bad considering its a hilly metro.

I miss Seattle, but I love swimming in Chandler,AZ more. No solar cover like I had to take off everytime in SF Bay either. Just enter the back yard after walking from Walgreens\cleaners\Thai place\ and jump in the warm pool. No pool heater required!

Another way to evaluate metropolitan Phoenix's dependence on construction and related sectors for economic growth, is to examine how many local jobs were lost during the recession as a percentage of local jobs.

Out of the 100 largest metro areas, the Phoenix metropolitan area area ranks near the bottom (93/100) having lost 11.9 percent of its jobs from peak employment (3rd quarter 2007) through the first quarter of 2010:


By contrast, the Seattle metropolitan area ranks in the middle (49/100) having lost 6.4 percent of its jobs:


P.S. The percentage of jobs lost isn't a perfect measurement of dependence on housing construction in the local economy, for a number of reasons, but there is a good correlation.

"jump in the warm pool." - ChandlerMan

The Phoenix aquifer has been in overdraft by 250,000 acre-feet annually.

"The Phoenix AMA is tasked by Statute to achieve safe-yield by the year 2025 through the increased use of renewable water supplies and decreased groundwater withdrawals in conjunction with efficient water use."


Happy swimming.

What a dumb state. I am torn because I like it here for so many personal reasons but I can't stand my representation in Congress or the Leg, the lack of a real urban environment, and the lack of motivation by those in charge to support an economy where I can develop a "creative class"-type career. I hope to leave soon to live in a real city from where I will blog about the horrors of Arizona from afar like the Rogue Columnist.

I just thought I would post this video link (maybe some of you have already seen this before)-It is Richard Florida talking about the options Phoenix faces for its future (which Jon talks about frequently of course-I am pretty sure he has discussed Richard Florida on this blog before).

Phoenixmike11, thanks for posting that video. I've often wondered why Richard Florida does not focus more attention on places like Phoenix, where we could certainly stand to benefit from targeting the microscope on our current situation. As he points out with regard to Las Vegas' gambling industry, Phoenix too needs to better capitalize on its intrinsic value as a "place," and sell that expertise to the rest of the world.

But it seems that in recent years, we've totally lost sight of what our intrinsic value is. It's always interesting to ask people what they truly appreciate about Phoenix and observe how congruous their ideas are with what it would have been 50-100 years ago and then, further, to analyze how these perceptions have evolved over the years.

Places like Seattle and Silicon Valley have changed drastically in the last several decades, primarily because of the intellectual capital that was created as a result of innovation and improved technology. Phoenix, on the other hand, has become attractive to many people for reasons that are generally manufactured by the so-called real estate industrial complex and our transient population -- and our growth is not self-supporting.

I'll never forget a great series of articles from The Economist that appeared during the height of our boom times (here's one about our declining cowboy culture: http://www.economist.com/node/7281152). At the time, I recall thinking that the magazine was being a little harsh on us, but also raising some very important concerns that no one around town seemed interested in addressing. The article that I wish I could locate even asserts that Scottsdale is doomed to become a second-rate enclave of wealth, since the city has long since discarded most of its characteristics that were so desired by people from other parts of the world.

Looking back over the last five years, we really must wonder, was it all worth it? I would say no. And as I work to explore our region's intrinsic values and the ways in which we can better make use of them in creating a stronger sense of place, I find myself wanting more information from a variety of sources. One of those is Mr. Talton, and I think the Phoenix area desperately needs his harsh criticism, as well as that of other journalists. As long as the investigation is good, the perspective compelling, and the commentary challenging to my assumptions, then let's have it.

On a much more topical note, I've often wondered lately why we're seeing this immigration debate conducted as though it happened in a vacuum. Where are the reporters and scholars who should be drawing parallels to historical cases like ours. Ever heard of Ellis Island and how it came to exist? How about the 14th Amendment.... Is this really the first time we've asked whether it should only have applied to the children of freed slaves? And is "Immigration" really a problem, or might this be a red herring of a political issue? How about if we looked at the opportunity to leverage our border state status so that immigration creates a regional advantage? Where's the leadership for this kind of plan?

I too am frustrated, but not with the Rogue Columnist. I need some help pointing out where bad ideas are presented and where they take on too much momentum. If it's from an exiled journalist now living thousands of miles away, I'll take it. But I also have learned not to ask for too much more from this arrangement.

As has been written on many a yearbook, "sorry so sloppy." That was a hastily written post, so I apologize if it's a little tough to read.

For me one of the most frustrating things about newcomers, transplants, and those that aren't very familiar with Phoenix is the constant rub of a lack of an area of real urbanization or "hope" of such urban cores developing in Phoenix. This statement is usually followed by me asking, "Which neighborhood do you live in?" Thinking the individual lives in downtown, or even the Central City only to be told they live in Anthem or “near Chandler.” Um…hello and where is “near Chandler” exactly? Reading Judy’s statement just reminded me of this familiar exchange although I can’t say if the situation fits her experience.

Emil, I’m can’t be sure how much the urban area of Phoenix has grown, I tried to finds this information from a solid source but to no avail. From what I gather, it hasn’t grown much and it is under 850 square miles. I await the 2010 Census to find out how much more dense the urban area has grown. One thing is certain, census bureau estimates thus far have shown huge slow downs in migration in the U.S. these past few years. Phoenix has dropped from the 1st place spot to 13th between 2008-2009. Atlanta has experienced the largest gain with 19,000 new residents (Phoenix with over 13,000 a sharp decline when Phoenix lead the nation by adding 100,000 new residents in a year).

What is evident, and correlates with census early figures, is that Phoenix and other growing cities have experienced population gains in the core/urban areas since 2007 (2007 was the last year Phoenix held the number 1 spot for yearly growth with 43,000 new residents). The suburbs and exurbs have lost population or growth has stalled.


This is evident in the downtown and Central City populations. Within a one mile radius of Central and Washington (the center of downtown), the population has grown from 9,000 inhabitants in 2005 to over 20,000 this year (estimated). This can be seen and felt while riding the light rail. The growth in ridership often is crushing at times, literally. Seattle may be a bike friendly city but so it much of Central Phoenix, Tempe, and Scottsdale. Get on a train in Phoenix and you’re likely to be bumped or have your just polished shoes run over by a bicyclist as there are not enough hanging bike stations on the trains to accommodate the growing bike culture. The summer months offer some reprieve as ridership slows and the student population dwindles but not by much as this transportation mode take hold.

My frustration and complaint is not with what Mr. Talton writes for the most part, but exaggerations like Phoenix having Seattle or L.A. like traffic (hear this often and just suspect these transplant with that opinion are from Tulsa or Milwaukee). I rather the talk be of the issues that are real. Of course we here in the Central City experience the little things that are happening that make downtown fun; it is understandable that from the outside it may not be noticeable or big enough for others to care about. The new Downtown Phoenix Public Market is no Pike’s Place, but it is now permanently housed in a historic downtown building and is open daily. This type of market has not existed in downtown for over 30 years.

New restaurants are opening up and are full of patrons, new stores and boutiques. CityScape will house clothing retailers including an Urban Outfitters and the Arizona Center has attracted an upscale men’s clothier/European men's fashion, DAVINCI. Now I finally have another option while shopping downtown for clothes. Again this is no downtown Macy’s flagship or Nordstrom’s but these options also have not existed in our downtown for sometime.

What is really the issue in Phoenix and more so in Arizona is our out-of-touch State government. Mr. Talton writes brilliantly regarding the public disconnect and recently the Republic wrote of the situation in which it was noted that “…across the Valley, in districts where lawmakers vehemently opposed the sales-tax referral, voters gave it their overwhelming approval. ‘The size of the victory took everybody by surprise - I suspect even supporters,’ Kavanagh said. An analysis of the returns for Prop. 100 shows a disconnect between lawmakers and voters, say political scientists and observers.”

The problem is simply that not enough voters participate in Arizona and especially in metro Phoenix. Hopefully, as witnessed by the Prop 101 vote, more of the moderate, dare I say more liberal, individuals in this state get off their asses and start participating. This goes for the many new transplants who do not historically vote except for the retirees. There have been tremendous increases in the registration of Democratic voters, notably Hispanics.

On a side note, rising sales tax figures have once again returned to Phoenix. Note this is year-over-year increases and do not include the new city tax on groceries.

Also written in the article was this fact: “The last time the city saw positive sales-tax growth was December 2007.” I believe this very moderate growth thus far in 2010 is due to retail, restaurant, population, etc growth in the core and a “shop your city” campaign launched in many metro municipalities.


Phoenix streets and drivers generally aren't very friendly toward bicyclists sharing the roads with them. There aren't a lot of dedicated bike lanes on major streets. That said, not long ago I read that Phoenix had received an award for its extensive urban network of bike paths (especially some really nice canal paths).

I can't find this online so I suspect that it was in a community insert in the Arizona Republic: much of that content does not appear online. I'll look for my hardcopy clipping and post the relevant portions, possibly as early as tomorrow.

As for growth of the Phoenix urban area (not City of Phoenix but all areas of continuous urban development connecting to Phoenix) I'm pretty sure it's increased enormously since 2000. But I'll need to look into that.

OK, I found it, but it was in an issue of College Times (May 6, 2010) by Lauren Kawam titled Google Sends Bicycles On Their Way.

The article is nominally about how Google recently added 12,000 miles of bike trails across the country to their Maps section; but there is a strong local emphasis to the article.

It mentions that Bicycling Magazine named Phoenix its 2009 Bike Town. (Actually, I think it was the Phoenix Metro Area including Tempe, but not sure about this...)

The article also includes descriptions of five "great places to ride". Two large urban networks (one running generally north-south and the other east-west) mentioned are relevant here:

"Sonoran Bikeway: Phoenix's Sonoran Bikeway splices the city in half over paved trails and city streets stretching from South Mountain all the way up to Cave Creek. It's not only a great biking destination but a great way to get to know the city's neighborhoods. Its 50 miles cutting up through south Phoenix, across the Salt River, through downtown, up through Phoenix's various historic neighborhoods, and eventually forking off through the scenic climbs of Dreamy Draw and North Mountain Preserve before ending at the northernmost reaches of the Valley.

"The Arizona Canal: Canals provide plenty of running and biking paths in the Valley, none more traveled than the Arizona Canal. Glendale's developed Grand Canal pathway hooks up with Phoenix's own route, altogether stretching 38 miles from Glendale all the way to the east side of Scottsdale. The path is paved on the west side from 51st Avenue and Cactus Road to about 24th Street and Missouri Avenue in the east, transitioning into a smooth dirt path further eastward. It's an excellent recreational cycling route but also a great set-up for commuters."

Regarding government involvement and development (though funding may be a different issue, ahem) see the Maricopa Association of Governments' Regional Bikeway Master Plan 2007:


This is 162 pages but might make interesting reading for serious urban cycling enthusiasts and those interested in this aspect of urban planning for Phoenix and surrounding areas.

Another resource is a 2008 MAG map called Bike Ways which I picked up at a Phoenix city library, which does a really nice job showing the entire Valley area (the scope is wider, in all directions, than any Valley street map for autos I've ever seen).

The map shows multi-use trails (unpaved), paved multi-use paths, bike lanes, bike routes, and paved shoulders. The emphasis is on urban bike trails rather than park and preseve trails though the major trails of the latter type are indicated. It also shows light-rail routes and stations, transit centers, colleges, libraries, parks and waterways, all superimposed on a standard street/freeway grid.

The map is VERY well designed, of good size and easily readable. Copies should also be obtainable from MAG at (602) 254-6300 and possibly from the website at www.mag.maricopa.gov.

I haven't had time to look for figures on Phoenix area urban growth since 2000 but hope to get around to it within the next several days.

Well Jon as U asked here goes my first attempt to blog. From what I have noted the discussions get way too complicated and long for my comprehension. My simple comment is as follows.

The Sweet Season
follow up

Jon, it was good to see you at the Poison Pen and thanks for a really enjoyable hour of Talton philosophy and commentary. As you know when I am not reading your stuff I am re-reading Ed Abbey and how an Anarchist and the Desert are a lot alike. They are unforgiving and eventually overpower all that comes to them. Time and nature will surely take the current home builders as it did the ones that came before them. HO HO who remembers the Hohokam. While you and I are of similar mind in many things, I still wish one of my favorite presidents would have made all of the southwest, including Utah a wilderness and skipped the dams (Roosevelt) and reclamation projects. I even liked Mo Udall, (even though he hung out with religious folks) who I believe came to wish he had not pushed for the construction of dams in the southwest. I thought Carl Hayden was a good man but I wished he had not been successful with the CAP. I miss ole time Democrats like Lefty Mofford and Republicans like Burton Barr.

Personally I think CityScape is a joke and downtown Phoenix ain't going to make it.
So as we have discussed before, I am proposing we remove all signs of human habitation from Roosevelt south to South Mountain and plant Sahuaros.

Also, I am in agreement with you that Obama’s speech was just more of the same touchy, feely stuff and didn’t deal with the issues. If I were a liberal person I would be really disgruntled with Obama. As a conservative, a life long conservationist and a REAL Republican at the tender age of 70, I am disappointed in that he didn’t get the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan the day he was sworn in. And I am disappointed that he is letting Ken Salazar rape nature’s wilderness and animal population. And that he has not legalized drugs and done away with DEA and increased the staff at the FDA. And that he and Bush (god I wish his mother would have kept him in the closet) were remiss in the bailout. Sometimes out of the ashes rises an new and stronger Phoenix.

Well I am off on my new Recumbent (bicycle for an old guy). Got my piece strapped to my side for errant motorist and loudmouths.
Cal Lash and his Dog Spot
In their motor home
Somewhere in the Great Sonoran Desert
What's left of it.

Hey Jon
I loved your old posting On Coronado High and the arts. I'm an alum from 1968 and I'm glad to have someone validate what a fabulous drama, art and music programs they had back then. I remember Newcomer so well from drama classes, and Gatti seemed like Picasso to me. The talent of some of those kids was outstanding. I was encouraged in writing and went on to publish poetry and teach writing to prisoners as a part of the thinking outside the box that Coronado encouraged. Let's not forget Dennis the chemistry teacher who kindly passed me through chemistry after I wrote a pro teachers' union letter to the Scottsdale Progress! Were we just blind then or did the social problems the schools face then pale in the current ones? Is funding really being cut or is it just so much more expensive to fix kids up now?

Funding has really been cut. And, yes, society has changed, too.

Phoenix makes me sad. This once proud, western town has fallen. Greed and power have entered her streets. The up side down pyramid say it all. There is something very dead about Phoenix. I would drive a long way around just to not have to drive through this once alive and vibrant town. Phoenix makes me sad.

Phoenix makes me sad. This once proud, western town has fallen. Greed and power have entered her streets. The up side down pyramid say it all. There is something very dead about Phoenix. I would drive a long way around just to not have to drive through this once alive and vibrant town. Phoenix makes me sad.

A reader notes that the Census Quickfacts link is out of date.

Try this:


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