“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, April 06, 2008

A lack of common ground

LI admits to being a little out of joint with the current American kultcha. But there are times, oh, there are times when we realize that we just don’t get it. Case in point – this sad article about the end of the boom in Maricopa, Arizona, that could have been entitled, from my perspective: what if they offered you a great deal on property in Hell?

Here are some descriptive grafs – and let me confess, I can coolly read the most disgusting tortures described in 100 days of Sodom, but this, this was almost beyond me. The agony, the vision that opens up of infinite environmental wreckage to create the most boring environment possible to train up children in the fine arts of psychpathy…

“IN THE EARLY 1990S, Maricopa was a small farming community with a population of about 600, mostly longtime farmers and Hispanic laborers, along with a few American Indians. Local businesses included a low-profile Nissan testing site and the state’s largest beef-cattle feed lots — industries that chose Maricopa because it was out of the way. But as Phoenix grew, far-thinking developers began buying up tracts of land in and around Maricopa. By 1996, one developer, Mike Ingram, had amassed with his business partners 18,000 acres — an area larger than the island of Manhattan — most of it purchased for $500 an acre or less. He had a vision of Maricopa’s future, and he helped persuade the state to widen the two-lane road to Phoenix, turning it into a four-lane divided highway. That year, Ingram and his partners announced plans to build a 6,000-acre community in Maricopa. They cleared farmland, brought in utilities and designed a maze of cul-de-sacs, drives, circles and courts oriented around a golf course. They sold building rights to a variety of “superbuilders” like KB Homes, Hacienda Builders and Continental Homes, and in the fall of 2001, the first houses went on sale, while they were still being built.

The first subdivision was completed in 2003 and quickly sold out. The median price for a new home in the city was $147,000, about $80,000 less than a new home in Chandler. Other builders rushed to get in on Maricopa. Within a matter of months, a grove of pecan trees would transform into a few thousand new housing units. The Maricopa post office requested a new ZIP code. Builders literally couldn’t put up houses fast enough, which drove up demand, which drove up prices and buzz. The median house price rose to $160,290 in 2004, then to $212,051 in 2005 and $281,798 in 2006. Subprime financing supercharged the town’s growth; according to First American CoreLogic, a housing-analysis firm based in Santa Ana, Calif., more than a third of buyers in Maricopa in 2004 and 2005 were subprime, a higher rate than in the rest of Arizona and the United States. Investors and speculators bought houses in Maricopa before they were built — often having put little or no money down — and resold them for a profit without ever moving in, sometimes on the day construction was completed. Maricopa’s mayor calculated that at one point in 2005, three new people moved to Maricopa each hour.

Ideally, a growing city will negotiate with developers to reduce the impact that new residents will have on the area; it might offer the builder smaller setbacks from the road in exchange for providing space for a school or widening roads. But at the beginning of Maricopa’s growth, the city was unincorporated, and all these negotiations were made by a three-person county board of supervisors that was working from rural zoning codes dating back to 1962. As a result, in those early years, decisions about Maricopa were driven by the concerns of developers, who left little space in their plans for business or commerce — just lots and lots of houses. They created blocks of identical homes, because it was more efficient to build with as little variation as possible. They built sidewalks on only one side of the street to save money. They happily left space in subdivisions for playgrounds and five new elementary schools, which they thought would help bring in the young families they were targeting, but they did not leave space for parks for older kids or for a high school. Each builder worked independently, so there were no paths connecting any of the subdivisions.”

Actually, things are looking up in Maricopa from my point of view. With houses being abandoned by the block, the place seems on the verge of acquiring character as a Bush ghost town. Now, that, I admit, would be all right. The sprinkler systems malfunction, the grass dies, the stray mesquite plants starts growing in the abandoned guest room, the Goofy mail box shows definite spots of rust, one night a coyote races up the street. But the stories, the heartfelt stories, of people who were attracted to a life that wouldn’t challenge a low IQ chicken – it amazes the fuck out of me.


Brian said...

People driving two hours each way, just so they could get a cheap subdivision house. Utterly alien.

I was in a subdiviion last week where 40% of the houses have been forcelosed. It was eerie.

JCD said...

Developmental madness, it really is. But a Bush ghost town would be interesting. Maybe I should head out there and document in about 10 months, when things have really crapped out.

roger said...

jcd - pick me up on the way! I want to go! I'll be a grip, whatever they are.

roger said...

Okay, I am tempted to put the expected musical link to Big Country here. But this seems more appropriate vision of the future awaiting Maricopa.

And in the meantime, it is obviously time to read Stephen Wright’s M31: A family romance

Dominic said...

Do they sprawl on the fringes of the city in geometric order, with insulated borders, in between the bright lights and the far unlit unknown? I'm just asking.

roger said...

Alas, the "mystic soul alone" in the video will have to go straight from elementary school to burger flipping since the developers decided that granting land for a highschool was property value poison. On the other hand, an elementary school was a value attractor!

"As Maricopa grew, a coalition of farmers and newcomers decided that they wanted to try to exert some control over the town’s expansion. In 2002, they applied to the state to incorporate Maricopa as a city, and the county appointed an interim city council and a mayor. Eventually, the city purchased trailers from the highway department and set them down across from the railroad tracks near the old downtown under a sign that said “Interim City Hall.” By the time Maricopa became a city, though, almost half of its land was owned by developers. In 2005, the local school district appointed a superintendent, John Flores, who began pleading with the developers for space for a high school (for a while, Maricopa schools were admitting 300 new students every month). But it was to no avail. Amy Haberbosch, Maricopa’s former director of planning, told me that developers believed high schools lowered property values; she said one developer told her he’d rather build a jail on his property than a high school."