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Assessing Sunbelt sprawl

  A recent poll found that nearly half of Phoenix's residents would pack up and leave tomorrow, if given the chance. Two-thirds think the region is doing a "poor" or "fair" job of preserving the desert or open space. With this harsh assessment of the city's quality of life in mind, a team of university researchers, land-use planners and civic governments collaborated to take a hard look at growth in this sprawling Sunbelt metropolis.

Issued by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University, the report, Hits and Misses: Fast Growth in Metropolitan Phoenix, uses colorful charts, graphs and GIS-generated maps to illustrate urban growth trends. The report finds, surprisingly, that Phoenix is one of a handful of metro areas to show increases in urban density over the last 30 years, a healthy sign of "smart growth."

The news is not all sunny, however. Metro area development creeps away from the city center at the alarming rate of one half mile per year, eating away at surrounding desert and agricultural lands. Morrison Institute researcher Mark Muro hopes the report will also serve as a "wake-up call to the social divide that goes along with sprawl." Frank Mizner, director of planning for the city of Mesa, sees the report as a tool for updating land-use strategies. "If we continue as before," he says, "things are going to get worse."

Copies of the 50-page report are available online at http://www.asu.edu/copp/ morrison/growth.htm or for $8 through the Morrison Institute at 480/965-4525.