Once just a small farming community and highway pit-stop between California and Mexico, the Phoenix suburb of Buckeye, Arizona, is growing at an exceptional rate. Between 2000 and 2006, Buckeye’s population increased by almost 200 percent – from 10,147 to 29,615 residents. The city numbers close to 40,000 residents today. In 2007, Forbes named Buckeye the second fastest-growing suburb in the nation.
There are critical infrastructure decisions that need to be made in Buckeye if the town both wants to continue to expand and be able to support its current population. In the third segment of a five part series on infrastructure in the U.S., PBS NewsHour Senior Correspondent Ray Suarez reports with Blueprint America on how the suburbs of Arizona grow with no boundaries.
Buckeye has largely welcomed its growth, annexing 370 square miles of surrounding unincorporated land into its city limits in the last several years. It has approved 22 master planned communities that are expected to house more than 400,000 people by 2030. At this rate of growth, Buckeye will cover more land than the city of Phoenix.
This growth, however, is not without challenges and drawbacks. Buckeye continues to suffer the effects of a stalled housing market. There were 468 foreclosures in the first six months of 2008, compared to 82 foreclosures during the same period in 2007 – a 470 percent increase. The influx of residents to Buckeye seems to have slowed dramatically. Of the 22 approved master planned communities surrounding the suburb, only seven are actually under construction.
In an article this past June, Catherine Reagor of the Arizona Republic reported:
“The town (Buckeye) sped up the annexation of tens of thousands of acres, beefed up its planning staff, formed its first economic-development group and looked forward to a bigger share of tax and other state government money to prepare for its population boon. But growth slowed so much in Buckeye that some home builders who bought parcels in new developments have lost those holdings to foreclosure, shutdown or filed for bankruptcy. Investors who bought homes during the boom believed they could quickly flip them for a profit because so many people were going to move to the town. A growing number of those homes are now in foreclosure. In the past few years, Buckeye’s planning staff has been downsized. Though the city gets more state funds for the additional land it annexed, Buckeye has to pay to maintain its vast borders where fewer than expected taxpayers now live.”
Nevertheless, a motion to annex a new unincorporated community is on the Town Council’s agenda every meeting.
Buckeye is an example of leap-frogging development – where new developments are proposed and built outside of the existing town boundaries. Usually, road, water and other infrastructure resources are limited in these new locations. The question then becomes who will take charge of building the needed infrastructure – the developers or the town? Buckeye currently has a plan for integrating new housing developments into the town’s existing infrastructure, but no real action has been taken.
Buckeye is located just 35 miles from central Phoenix, which translates into an hour to an hour and a half commute each way. The commuting traffic is causing longer backups on Interstate 10, and there is currently no real mass-transit option for reaching Phoenix. The town planners are hoping that Buckeye will develop and attract new business to the area, which would reduce the number of residents commuting to Phoenix. However, the current economic recession across America has hindered business growth in Buckeye too. Development of the Buckeye Corporate Center was put on hold again just in August, following a previous three year delay.