It’s a counter-intuitive move that has those who care about the environment leaving quiet suburbs for the hurly-burly of urban life. Call it Green Acres in reverse.
Imagine the earworm of a song that kickstarts the famous ’60s sitcom ending, not with “Goodbye city life/Green Acres we are there,” but with … “Goodbye city life/We’ve left the ‘burbs behind!”
Increasingly, young professionals are moving from their traditional homes in satellite communities to the heart of the heart of our urban centers.
Especially here in the Valley.
Some move to be closer to work. That came into play for Mitchell and Christy Moore, as did preserving the environment.
“Our reason is that we have intentionality, and wish to reduce our carbon footprint by 60 percent,” says Christy, 37, who recently moved with her 45-year-old husband from a sprawling, four-bedroom Northeast Mesa home near Power Road and the Loop 202 to a one-bedroom condo in downtown Phoenix.
“At first, we changed out my truck for a gas-efficient car. Then, we started carpooling. But that still meant 300 to 400 miles per week, roundtrip. Both of us were working in downtown Phoenix,” she says.
So, last year, after 10 years as suburbanites, the couple said goodbye to quiet and hello to noise—but also farewell to that nasty, costly, air-polluting commute.
“The biggest challenge of the commute was leaving early home and then staying at the office late to avoid rush hour each way. That created 12-hour days.”
Those days are over. In fact, Christy, a social worker, and Mitchell, the chief administrative officer for a major nonprofit, rarely drive a car anywhere anymore, relying on their feet and the light rail to get them the short distances they need to travel to sustain their lives as city dwellers.
If you think the switch from 1,900 square feet to 850 constricted the couple, you’d be wrong.
“We were head-to-head in the kitchen or living room or bedroom at the house, anyway,” Moore recalls. “Meanwhile, we were consuming all this extra space, including a large back yard and a diving pool.”
Getting rid of the stuff that filled that extra square footage was a major endeavor that involved seven trips to Goodwill, four yard sales, and three pick-ups by the Junior League. Moore says they don’t miss those things at all.
They do miss their Mesa neighbors, but have quickly made new ones. It helps that the new neighbors are so close.
Phoenix’s Community and Economic Development Director Christine Mackay reports that there are 5,000 units that are close to opening, being constructed, under construction or in the planning phases in Central City. The village is bounded by McDowell Road and the Grand Canal to the north and northeast, the border with Tempe to the east, the Salt River to the south, and 19th Avenue/Interstate 17 to the west.
“It is a huge push here in the Central City,” Mackay says. “It’s a response to the lifestyle people are demanding. Until the last couple of years, we haven’t had a great opportunity for people to have that true urban lifestyle. The great part is we delivered 650 units in December alone. People said they’re going to stand vacant, that our vacancy rates were going to skyrocket. They delivered in December and they’re already over 75 percent occupied.”
Kris Tomlinson, regional property manager for Pinnacle Property Management Services, has seen a “big trend, a push toward downtown Scottsdale, downtown and north Tempe and downtown Phoenix.”
“Specifically, in the downtown Phoenix corridor, you’re seeing a vast infrastructure where there’s never been anything before,” Tomlinson says.
“There were very few places to live. But now, major companies are moving their corporate offices in from the East Coast and especially from the West Coast, so we are building higher-end, urban-style product.”
Tomlinson likens the trend to the Sonoran Desert landscape as well. He grew up in Texas and knew the neighbors, who would gather on their lawns and talk.
“People here don’t have lawns,” and the lengthy commutes cut down on the time that might be spent visiting with the family next door, Tomlinson says.
“Now, people want to be downtown, active and close to their neighbors, with time to get to know the local food truck guys, the farmers market around the corner, and the mom-and-pop stores down the street.”
Mackay agrees that the influx of new residents has more to do with amenities than proximity to jobs.
“We have these great businesses moving in down here,” she acknowledges. “But we haven’t seen a correlation between the tech startups and the tech companies moving downtown. We haven’t done a study that says that’s what’s causing it.
“I see it as Phoenix is a city that’s growing up. The workforce works downtown or other areas and they’re used to that urban lifestyle. They want to be walkable. Their living room is the pub on the corner or the restaurant. It’s not in their house.”
In the Central City alone, there are 330 restaurants, Mackay says.
“I can eat at a different restaurant every single day and never eat at the same restaurant twice in a year,” she says. “It’s cool.
“Plus, you have Valley Bar, Crescent Ballroom, Comerica Theatre, Orpheum, the symphony and the ballet, Valley Youth Theatre, the Herberger, the Arizona School for the Arts. There’s always something going on, whether it’s festivals, celebrations or art walks.”
Now, she adds, with Fry’s opening at Central and Washington, all Central City needs now are hardware and soft goods stores to make a “great downtown.”
Tomlinson credits social media, which put people in touch with one another virtually, for nurturing the desire to be in touch in real-time.
The rush to suburbia of decades ago happened for many reasons, among them environmental (improve lifestyle quality!), personal (find a community!) and health (flee urban tensions!). Now the reverse is happening, and for the same reasons. The Moores’ move reduced their carbon footprint and, at the same time, places them inside a vibrant, growing community of urban dwellers. As for those urban tensions….
“My husband says it is very relaxing for him here,” Moore says.
“It’s definitely a stress-free living environment.”