Las Vegas Growth Pushes Development Into Northeastern Arizona, But At What Cost?

Kingman-ArizonaA planned bridge expansion on the Colorado River, providing easier access to Las Vegas from Eastern Arizona by expanding a two lane bridge to four lanes, is opening up the region for new development, the New York Times reported. As developers around the Las Vegas metropolitan area thirst for raw land, plans are underway to develop communities in northeastern Arizona as the newest exurbs of Las Vegas. Builders in Kingman, Arizona, a desert outpost with a current population of 40,000, are planning on building new homes at a pace that would create 80,000 new homes in the region by 2040. This could boost the town’s population to nearly 200,000 in that time span.

The developers responsible for the planned communities are optimistic, despite high gas prices and the collapsed housing market. According to John Salem, the mayor of Kingman, “It’s gorgeous here, we don’t have any natural disasters, no forest fires, no hurricanes, tornadoes or floods, good schools, lots of cheap land, the cost of living’s down, we have proximity to the Colorado River, to Flagstaff, to Las Vegas, to Phoenix.” In addition to this, hydrology studies by the principal developers in the region have concluded that the local aquifers could support high population growth for the next 100 years.

Despite this confidence in building new houses in Kingman, I find it surprising that these types of developments are still being promoted with such fervor. Given the state of the economy, rising fuel prices and growing concern about global climate change, building 80,000 homes in the middle of the desert, two hours away from the closest metropolitan area (one hour once the bridge is completed in 2010) on top of a reserve of water that is estimated to last 100 years at best sounds like an economic and environmental disaster waiting to happen.

At a time when consumer preference appears to indicate a shift back to more urban environs, investors should consider more realistic options. To borrow a concept from environmental writer Bill McKibben, we need to look for durable solutions--such as investing in public transportation infrastructure, urban infill and brownfields remediation--rather than continuing to push development into geographic regions that can be considered "marginally sustainable" at best.


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August 14, 2008 at 10:45 PM Anonymous said...

Why buy in Kingman or White Hills (even closer to Las Vegas) when you can now buy a bank owned home in Las Vegas for less than $100/sq.ft? Not to mention there's nothing to do... That bridge won't be done until 2012 anyways.

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