As we reach a pivotal moment in Scottsdale’s history – an upcoming election for mayor and three city council seats combined with the devastating fiscal effects of the COVID-19 crisis – the Scottsdale 2020 committee over the next few weeks will be providing historical and fiscal background to give residents context and understanding as they look at what the city faces ahead.
By Jim Derouin
The story of Scottsdale begins in 300 BC with the area occupied by the ancient Hohokam, an indigenous people who practiced agriculture and built canals to carry water; there is evidence of their culture until about 1450 AD after which they were succeeded by the Pima and Papago. Many descendants today are members of the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Community.
In 1888, Army Chaplain Winfield Scott and his wife purchased 640 acres of land in what is now downtown Scottsdale. In 1937, Frank Lloyd Wright purchased what is now known as Taliesin West. In 1942, the current Scottsdale Airport, then called Thunderbird II Airfield, was created to train pilots for World War II. These were all pivotal events in the city’s development.
With a population of 2,000 residents, the city was incorporated on June 25, 1951, with an area of less than one square mile. Over time, the city has expanded to more than 184 square miles (about 118,000 square acres). Offset against this growth, Scottsdale citizens twice voted to increase the city’s sale tax, once in 1995 and once in 2004, to spend more than $1 billion to purchase the McDowell Sonoran Preserve and its 30,000 acres – or 47 square miles. That’s 25 percent of the city’s total area. The projected population of Scottsdale without the Preserve was 480,000; deducting the area for the Preserve leaves a projected population of 285,000.
Geographic growth brought more residents: population grew from 88,000 in 1980 to 202,000 in 2000 and an estimated 255,000 in 2018. The most explosive growth in the city’s history came between 1980 and 2000. Population has increased less rapidly since 2000 and Scottsdale is close to residential build-out.The median age of Scottsdale residents is 47 with 25 to 54 being the largest age group, followed by the 55 to 74 age group. Scottsdale’s median age is 9 years older than the national average, and the city is growing older.This has created challenges to the continued progress of Scottsdale and maintaining its quality of life. A recent study done by the Athena Foundation found that families with children have the highest incomes of any segment of the city’s population by age group, but that segment has decreased by 12 percent since 1990. The segment of those most likely to have children also has dropped by over 22 percent. The Athena study found that 19 schools have been closed in the city in the last 20 years.
Given those trends, including the fact that Scottsdale’s population is ageing, it is important that the residential buildout for the last 30,000 residents in Scottsdale be suitable to recruit and retain families with children.In terms of home values, Scottsdale has the highest median housing value ($433,000) of any of the large Valley cities. The next highest are in Chandler ($268,000) and Gilbert ($286,000). Of the 132,500 total housing units in Scottsdale, 81 percent are owned or rented by year-round residents while 19 percent are owned or rented by seasonal residents.
Data shows that Scottsdale is a self-sufficient, economically diverse city, not a bedroom or a retirement community. It is an employment hub which is important to supporting our lifestyle.Heath care, finance, insurance and technology firms dominate the list of Scottsdale’s largest employers. Along with 18,000 other businesses in the city (including those in the tourist, automobile, retail, entertainment and construction sectors), they generate sales tax revenue, keeping property taxes low and home values high.Each day, 150,000 workers enter Scottsdale while half that number (Scottsdale residents) leave to work elsewhere in the Valley.
The next chapter in this series will deal with how Scottsdale pays for itself. But, in ending this chapter, it is useful to recite why we are fortunate to live in Scottsdale and to celebrate what we have.
Scottsdale is an asset-rich community; but it won’t stay that way without appreciating what got us here.
Here is a short list of the assets and amenities that make Scottsdale great.
· 42 parks consisting of 975 acres
· 30,000 acres (47 square miles) of Preserve land
· 70 athletic fields
· 4 aquatic facilities
· 4 urban lakes
· 5 public libraries
· 2 senior centers
· 6 community centers
· 37 playgrounds
· 39 basketball courts
· 53 tennis courts and 2 tennis centers
· A world-class, multi-use, multi-purpose baseball stadium
· 3 equestrian centers
· 129 miles of paved pathways
· 153 miles of unpaved pathways
· 31 volleyball courts
· 19 pickleball courts
· 2 skate board parks
· A renowned railroad park
· 38 public schools with 25,500 students
· Scottsdale Community College, with more than 6,000 students
· The Arizona State University Scottsdale Innovation Center at SkySong
· 7 museums· An international airport that generates $1.9 million a day in economic benefit
· 111 art galleries and art dealers
· 827 restaurants
· 50 hotels with 8,800 rooms as part of a tourist industry that is unparalleled
· 18,000 businesses
· 51 golf courses, many irrigating with recycled water
· WestWorld, an event center with about 300 special events annually
· 4 police stations
· 15 fire stations
· 6 water treatment facilities which deliver 66 million gallons of water daily
· 52 solid waste trucks
· 1,483 miles of sanitary sewers and
· 2,126 miles of water mains.
Keeping Scottsdale great will require constant effort. No place moves forward (or, for that matter, maintains its status) by standing still.
Jim Derouin is a long-time Scottsdale resident, attorney, and member of the city of Scottsdale’s Districting and Charter review task forces.
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