Exploring the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California. This blog is advertising-free, and is supported by my subscribers on Patreon. History adventuring posts are shared there daily. The basic tier is a dollar a month, and the PhD tier, which includes "then and now" photos, billboards, aerials, videos, and super high-definition photos, is five dollars a month, and is discounted for seniors, veterans, and students. If you're a subscriber, thank you! You make this happen!

Why Phoenix and Los Angeles sprawl


My two favorite cities, Phoenix and Los Angeles, are very often described as "sprawling". And that's part of the reason that so many people want to live there, because everything there is wide-open and spacious. Which, of course, is what "sprawl" means. And it's the opposite of density.

I have a particular horror of density. I grew up in a tiny house with way too many people in it, and too few bathrooms. My neighborhood had houses so close to each other that my mom would say that people could "pass dishes between the windows". Of course, our neighborhood wasn't as dense as some of the neighborhoods, who weren't as lucky as I was, were. We were about in the middle. Some of my friends were living in big houses, down on the Parkway, with large lots that looked as if you could get about five of our houses in the same space. I marveled at that luxury. And some of my friends lived in such crowded conditions that it made the house I lived in look large and spacious. And from that I learned about the luxury of space.

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When I first moved to Los Angeles, recently graduated from college, I squeezed into a typical apartment in a, uh, less-fashionable part of town where the people squashed in as best they could. There was really no empty space, it was always filled, either with people, or cars. I often described it as "someone had to breathe in so I could breathe out". I yearned for the luxury of space.

My last year in Los Angeles I still hadn't made it out of the crush. The apartment complex where I lived was jammed with people, even though the apartments were barely 500 square feet, most of them had families living in them. My neighbors across the way, who helped me moved, had eight guys living there. They slept in shifts on the floor. There was only one space allowed in the parking lot for your car, and if someone took it, you had to drive all over the crowded neighborhood, hoping to find an empty parking spot, then walk back several blocks. This happened quite often to me.

When I moved back to Phoenix I saw the kind of space that I had dreamed of, and knew that I would be able to afford it. I got a good corporate job and bought a house in suburbia. It's on a street that doesn't have an outlet, there's no cross-traffic, there's precious few cars that even park on the street. Every house has a two-car garage and room for two more cars in the driveway. At first I was absolutely overwhelmed by luxury of space. I like it here.

I talk to people who've never lived in crowded conditions, and who fantasize about how nice it would be, you know cheerful neighbors walking by carrying groceries, friends relaxing at coffee shops a few steps away. And I often think that all they've ever seen of crowding is the artist's renderings of how a perfect little space would work. But I've seen people crowded together like sardines, and I didn't like what I saw.

I love Phoenix, and Los Angeles! Give me space!

Image at the top of this post: the freeway in Phoenix in the 1960s, from a postcard

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