Sprawl in South Phoenix 

“Urban sprawl” is a term you hear a lot in Phoenix these days.  The city is ever growing and merging with smaller cities around it, which in turn sprawl out even further.  In the reading “Phoenix in Perspective: Reflections on Developing the Desert” by Grady Gammage Jr. we get a feel for how this sprawl is happening and what the layout really is.  Gammage speaks of an average home density of four units per acre, and the protection of historic homes by the city planners.  He compares and contrasts Phoenix with San Francisco, Portland, Seattle and even Dallas.  Gammage says “…it is important to realize what Phoenix is: a different urban form, a product of the latter half of the twentieth century and of a desert location.”  I agree.   

However, the sprawl in Phoenix does do one thing that you can see first hand in the South Phoenix area… it blends with gentrification.  The push to develop, and redevelop South Phoenix blurs the lines between these ideas of sprawl and gentrification because of how the area was largely ignored until recently.  It is as if the area was never settled, or previously developed, and now the urban growing machine sees it as new room in which to grow.  New developments are popping up, and home prices are rising, and the local population that has dwelled there since before the 1990’s are going to be faced with some potential hardships in the affordability of their neighbourhood.   

The reason I say it is sprawl as much as gentrification that is invading the South Phoenix neighbourhood is that there is/was a lot of farmland and unused land down there that really doesn’t fall under the normal guidelines of gentrification alone.  Many of the areas that are being developed are increasing the population density of the area without tearing down older structures or homes.  This simple addition to the area has as much affect on South Phoenix as the gentrification does, and even blurs into gentrification when the development is completed and the overall feel of the neighbourhood is changed to favour the middle class.  I speculate that once the change over from lower class to middle class in South Phoenix, the upper class will be eyeing the gentle slopes of the South Mountain foothills, which could drive prices even higher, and change the flavour of the area even more.   

So what ever you want to call it, gentrification, urban sprawl, or both, the change has begun in South Phoenix.  The new houses are already up, and more are being built every day.  The investment of money has begun, and once that gets a foothold, there is no turning back.  It will be interesting to see how this area looks in ten years, twenty years, and beyond.  I am glad that I got to experience it before the fall. 


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