It seems that many people wonder why the ridership numbers and community acceptance for METRO light rail in Phoenix has seen so positive. The reality just might be the fact that MANY different reasons have combined to create demand for the venues and neighborhoods surrounding light rail stations.
One of the biggest factors in large light rail ridership numbers has clearly been the proximity of light rail to ASU which has seen a LOT of students ride the rails. Other factors have helped the success of light rail such as the proximity to major sporting venues like the Suns, Diamondbacks and Devils, proximity to job centers, entertainment and arts venues, a ton of great restaurants, the Mill Avenue and lake district, Roosevelt Row, historic and modern neighborhoods. Arizonans are beginning to realize that the “drive until you qualify” mindset isn’t always best, and many are looking for convenient, walkable and accessible places to live, work and play.
Recently, one of our Walk Score friends got me thinking about an article he found tiled, “Here Comes the Neighborhood.” The article has, in my opinion, many similarities to what has and is occurring here in Arizona and along the light rail line in Phoenix. Places in outlying areas have been hit hard, and the article quotes Stan Humphries at Zillow discussing property values in outlying areas vs. a more urban setting. Stan says “outlying areas having experienced substantially higher total declines in home values than areas closer to the central city.” This is just part of a bigger picture here. You see, in the areas surrounding the light rail line in Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa the shift is not just in looking for places to live, it appears to be in searching for a new or different lifestyle that has not been previously available in Arizona.
Another interesting aspect of the article talks about the road to recovery. The article seems to say that people moving from suburbs to more urban areas just might be a very important part of the puzzle. The author appears to believe that, as people continue to age, children leave home, couples marry, babies are born, new jobs are taken, the choice to be closer to a live, work and play environment is becoming much more prevalent. The changes in lifestyle mentioned in “Here Comes the Neighborhood” come from many different parts of the country and is not specifically talking about our area, but the overall trend in the article tells us that “if you plot changes in home values within a typical metro region on a satellite map, the result “looks like an archery target, with the outlying areas having experienced substantially higher total declines in home values” than areas closer to the central city.”
Looking deeper into the article and finding another link to another “sprawl” article, we read that there are many different thoughts on what type of community is actually convenient or walkable. There is a big difference in how a neighborhood feels to people in the community. Think about it this way. Walking a mile on a walking path that has no surroundings or shops or things of interest seems a LOT different than walking a mile in a dense setting. Having things to look at, shops to view, etc. make for a much different experience. Many areas along the light rail line here have an opportunity to create such places.
“Urban-style housing in walkable neighborhoods—including those in the inner suburbs—is what’s in demand today. And for a variety of reasons, that demand will intensify in the coming years. Only by serving it can the country kick-start growth in an enormous and essential part of the economy.”
This light rail system in Arizona is in it’s infancy. The beginning has probably had more ups than downs, and the future promises to be a ride that will continue to change the way people around here live, work, study and play…