Look like cancer x-rays, don't they? Look closer. They're really pictures of how Phoenix has grown since 1940. But as Ed Abbey used to say, "Growth is the ideology of the cancer cell."
Phoenix now spreads out over 420 square miles--the seventh-largest land mass of any city in the nation--and there's no end in sight. The city council likes to say it's aggressive about annexing new land so Phoenix won't suffer the "St. Louis Syndrome": a core city cut off from economic growth by a ring of independent suburbs. They conveniently forget to mention St. Louis is only 61 square miles in area--one seventh the size of Phoenix. That hollow argument has masked the real reason Phoenix has felt no need to rein itself in: Political egos believe bigger is better. And besides, if growth is your number-one industry, you're going to keep sucking that teat.
Actually, our generous annexations are just a symptom of the larger problem: that Phoenix officials aren't ready to bite the bullet on orderly growth. Only the economic recession has slowed things down, and that may end up being a blessing in disguise. Maybe with a lull, rational heads will realize that continued expansion simply means bigger is bigger. We doubt it.
It was only last January that the council adopted criteria for evaluating future annexations, including a look at their short-term costs to the rest of the city. But don't breathe easy. Even using those criteria, the city decided to annex a sixteen-square-mile section far north of the city that clearly will be a financial drain on the city for years. Councilmember Linda Sue Nadolski, who originally requested a rational annexation policy, says the city still has a long way to go. "It seemed to me the annexation report said hurry up and annex before somebody else does--there was no real creative investigation of why we're annexing or why we shouldn't annex anymore."
When we annex, we've got to supply sewers and police and fire protection; most significant, we've got to supply water--the commodity that doesn't exist at all in the lands to the north. We're all paying for the $3 billion Central Arizona Project to haul Colorado River water across the desert to the Valley. We need that water only because we've allowed massive development north of the Arizona Canal--all of us who live south of the canal have plenty of water. Worse yet, we keep expanding at the same time nearly half the land within the city stands vacant. And there's no pressure on developers to fill in. It's easier and more profitable for developers to build huge subdivisions out in the desert than on smaller parcels surrounded by other urban development. And as long as the council keeps annexing, they'll keep going farther and farther out.
It seems 420 square miles is large enough. Already, there's no single point in this city where you can see it all.
The new council elected next week should declare a moratorium on annexation. It just doesn't make any sense--politically, economically or socially--to keep doing it.