/ Modified dec 10, 2011 11:03 a.m.

Beyond Sprawl: Rethinking the Southwestern Economy

Fronteras: The Changing America Desk Series presents a new radio series analyzing the housing boom, bust and future. December 12, 13, and 14 at 6:30 and 8:30 a.m. on NPR.

Single-family home construction has been one of the most powerful engines of economic growth for the Southwest since World War II. The current economic recession, however, has decimated the housing industry and some economists suggest it may never rebound. There are also significant demographic changes, which could possibly change the face of our suburbs forever. If growth does return, it may look very different than it has in the past.

Fronteras: the Changing America Desk reporters visited communities across the Southwest to gauge what life is like in a post economic housing boom.

beyond_sprawl_split_image_spot (PHOTO: AZPM)

Zombie subdivisions are half-built housing developments scattered across Maricopa County. They are symbols of our past mistakes, our ferocious rush to build, and a reminder that during this lull we have reached a turning point. Some economists are pushing the concept of Smart Decline -- a recognition that shrinking a city in decay may be more sustainable than promoting rampant growth. The practice may be hard to swallow in the wide-open West, but some cities hit hardest by the housing bust acknowledge the importance of re-thinking old models of growth.

Growth in the housing market of the Southwest isn't over, its just changing. In the next 10 to 20 years, more people will want rentals, multi-family homes, and denser urban-lite communities. Fewer people may be moving to the southwest. A group of professors and grad students at ASU took these kinds of demographic projections and created the ideal cul-de-sac of 2030.

With housing prices in Las Vegas falling down to levels not seen since the 1990's, foreign investors are seeing opportunity. Investors from Canada, Asia and Latin America are buying up properties sight unseen, often with cash, that they then pay property management companies to rent out. Some Las Vegas realtors are saying these international investors are the valley's best hope for getting homes out of the saturated market, and ultimately, driving up home values again.

Beyond Sprawl: Rethinking the Southwestern Economy, December 12, 13, and 14 at 6:30 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. on NPR.

Fronteras: The Changing America Desk

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