Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 03:42 | SYDNEY
Friday 08 Oct 2021 | 03:42 | SYDNEY

Boom and bust in Phoenix


Sam Roggeveen


7 April 2011 02:54

Australians with an interest in international affairs are these days used to hearing jaw-dropping facts about the growth of China's cities. Shenzhen is the most notable case; it was a fishing village in the '70s and now boasts 14 million residents. The American economy is more mature, and many US cities passed through this growth spurt in the post-World War II era — this table shows the amazing growth of US cities since 1950.

The city I'm now in, Phoenix, grew its population by 728% between 1950 and 1996. But that growth actually continued well into the 21st century, not at China-like pace, but still at an impressive rate.

Yet Phoenix has been hit hard in recent years by a combination of the burst housing bubble and some highly controversial immigration laws, which made world news at the time they were passed. Opponents of the laws say they have had a chilling effect on business from interstate and have reduced the local Latino population, which is emigrating to other states. But its hard to separate these trends from the wider economic crisis.

To an outsider, this city still oozes wealth — public infrastructure such as  roads, hospitals and a new light rail system look to be of a very high standard, though most of what I have seen is downtown and in the wealthier suburbs. I'm told Phoenix has some genuinely poor neighbourhoods. Before the recession, unemployment in Arizona was near the lowest in the country; it is now around the national average of 8.8%.

As with many things American, there are aspects to the city which, as an Australian, redefine your sense of scale. The downtown conference centre is colossal, and a facility recently built near the airport to house all the rental car companies and their fleets – with five storeys of cars and check-in facilities — looked almost as big as the domestic terminal at Sydney airport.

Photo by Flickr user Stefan Baudy.