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Suburbia's Future: Arizona Suburbs Grow More Diverse As Cities Centralize

House under construction
(Photo by Giles Douglas - CC BY 2.0)
House under construction.

Suburbia is changing. In the future, it might not look so much like Pleasantville.

“The suburbs are becoming increasingly diverse. You know, back in the day, we used to think of the suburbs as a place where white people lived, affluent people lived. That is no longer the case,” said Dierdre Pfeiffer, assistant professor in Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

A recent conferenceat Massachusetts Institute of Technology about the future of suburbia tried to answer the question: What does the future of the suburbs look like?

They determined that the suburbs are growing across the globe, and they’re becoming more diverse as millennials, immigrants and a growing working class move into the suburbs.

In the Valley, Pfeiffer said we’re seeing the same trends. For example, she said about 40 percent of immigrants in the Phoenix and Tucson region now live in the suburbs.

“The suburbs are no longer the enclave of the affluent,” she said. “A big national trend that we saw was increases in poor people living in suburbs in the U.S. during the 2000s and this is continuing into the 2010s. And we do see this happening in the Valley as well.”

Here, the suburban poor population more than doubled over the 2000s, Pfeiffer said.

She said the Valley is becoming more like European cities, where wealth is more focused in the city center. It’s a small trend, but more people here are moving toward the center of cities.

“In planning we call it place-making, where we’re investing in these places that have a rich history and making sure that they fit well with a lot of the needs of workers who live there, residents who live there, and we’re making them destinations in ways that they weren’t in the past,” Pfeiffer said.

This kind of development is only attracting a certain demographic - namely, young professionals, college graduates and baby boomers, Pfeiffer said.

But, she said, you also have to think about who this is leaving out.

“Who’s getting displaced from some of these areas that are redeveloping? Who’s not living there? Who’s not able to move in?” she asked. “These are, you know, more people of color, immigrants, lower-income people, where are they moving to? Out to the suburbs. So, we’re seeing this kind of switch happen.”

That seems to have Valley developers changing their strategies.

Dave Garcia, vice president of land Acquisition and development at Shea Homes, said the housing crisis and the economic downturn in the late 2000s changed everything.

“Before the downturn, we were in Buckeye; we were in Maricopa; we were in the Johnson Ranch corridor now called San Tan Valley,” Garcia said. “Then, post the downturn, we’ve been pulling closer into the Valley and kind of winding down our efforts to move back out to Buckeye or the San Tan Valley or Maricopa.”

He said the economic crisis made home builders re-focus their efforts and they’re seeing buyers’ desires re-focus, too.

“We’re focusing on what we’d call core areas of Peoria, Glendale, Gilbert, Chandler, where you are close to transportation corridors like the 101, the 202. You’re close to major shopping areas. You’re close to major employment hubs,” he said.

More central areas throughout the Valley weathered the downturn a little better than outlying areas, Garcia said. Now millennial buyers are having children later in life, and they want to be close to shopping, restaurants and where they work or go to school.

“We’re seeing greater desire of home buyers to stay closer to those type of facilities. The concept of driving ‘til you qualify, is kind of taking a backseat a little bit,” he said.

Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.