Is Anaheim the New Brooklyn? With no soaring skyline or grand public spaces, Anaheim and similar "Boomburbs" are the ubiquitous background noise of the greater metropolis.

Jennifer LeFurgyRobert E. Lang The dust has settled, but it had to hurt. It, being San Francisco's World Series loss to a team from a place that is best known as the home to Mickey Mouse. This victory symbolized more than a blow to a city's ego; it illustrated the emergence of Anaheim, and several dozen other overgrown suburbs, onto the national stage. In fact, major league baseball has been an excellent barometer of urban growth patterns going back to the days when three of New York City's five boroughs had teams.

Big league ball teams were traditionally located within the large cities of the Northeast and Midwest. But by the 1950s, California at last entered the major leagues by drawing the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants to Los Angeles and San Francisco respectively. No longer were teams limited to roughhewn industrial cities, now they were relocating to the comparatively antiseptic Sunbelt. People have grown comfortable with the idea of big Sunbelt cities capturing professional franchises. But the victory by Anaheim offers a new twist-have the Sunbelt's suburbs grown so large they are now home to the majors? The answer is yes. Go ask Arlington, Texas, home to the Texas Rangers. Anaheim and Arlington are now so big that they match Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in population. Imagine the horror of the once mighty Yankees.

Arlington and Anaheim are part of an emerging family of super suburbs that we call "Boomburbs," which have over 100,000 residents and have been growing by double digits for each census since 1950. There are over 50 such places, many of which surround the big Sunbelt cities. The biggest Boomburb is Mesa, home to football's Arizona Cardinals. Mesa now has more people than St. Louis, Minneapolis or Miami. Even many smaller Boomburbs have passed their older urban peers. For instance, Peoria, Arizona is now bigger than its namesake Peoria, Illinois. When people now raise the question "Will it play in Peoria?" you have to ask which one.

These Boomburbs with major league franchises will gain more fame than those that do not have major league franchises, but will probably not gather more fortune. Boomburbs are the ubiquitous background noise of the metropolis and have yet to develop their own distinction. Little town blues can melt away in New York and hearts can be left in San Francisco, but who sings about making it to Mesa or croons over Arlington?

Anaheim, like Brooklyn during the industrial era, is an evolving network of employment centers, shopping areas and a mix of residential neighborhoods. Certainly not obscure, but not a singular destination for tourists or multinational corporate headquarters. Another reason that Boomburbs have stayed somewhat anonymous is that they do not match the traditional concept of a city. They have no soaring skyline, no grand public spaces. Boomburbs instead represent the new drive-by city--comprised of office parks, highways and shopping malls. Faced with this non-traditional urban form, Anaheim's leaders had to stop and think for a moment-where could we possibly hold a World Series victory parade?

Disneyland gives Anaheim perhaps the highest national profile of any Boomburb. Yet Anaheim today is worlds away from the young suburb where Walt Disney built his first theme park in the 1950s. Back then, Anaheim was the quintessential Orange County community-white, Republican, and middle class. Today it is home to a significant population of immigrants and is one of the most diverse cities in the nation. These new Americans are the 21st century equivalent of the southern and eastern European immigrants who cheered for the Brooklyn Dodgers during their 1955 win over the Yankees. So take heart San Francisco. You did not lose to a theme park parading as a city. You lost to the new Brooklyn.

Jennifer LeFurgy is Senior Research Manager, Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.
Robert Lang is Director, Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.



"Doomburbs" II

As a City and Regional Planning student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and a disgruntled habitant of Orange County throughout the duration of my childhood, I ask you this question once more: Should we really be celebrating booming suburbs that not only hold zero character but destroy the very fabric of our urban society.

I am trying to do a research paper on Boomburbs right now. I have stumbled upon this article. In all actuality I think I am "doomed", because there is simply not enough literature on how to solve this horrible tragedy that has become a reality to so many metropolitan residents.

These “Boomburbs” are cities that exceed in all statistical characteristics the world-wide view of what constitutes a city, and even though I rooted for the Anaheim Angles in the 2002 MLB World Series, I cannot support a city of 300,000 that has a Coco’s Restaurant as it’s defining feature of the downtown district. My love of the 2002 Angels baseball team came from the hard work, teamwork, and small-market feel of the players. I almost felt like a jack-ass rooting for a team that was once owned by Disney. But the Angels are the least of my worries.

My major worry is that I have seen picture of Linclon Ave. (in Downtown Anaheim*) from 1920, and what my eyes saw in those pictures, is not what I see when I go there now.

Like one other commenter pointed out. Brooklyn is and was and always will be a city. It was by law until 1950 or so, and it still is because it represents a feeling. It holds a sense of place and stands on its own. There were Dodgers in 1940’s Brooklyn, but there aren’t nor have there ever been any Angels in Anaheim.

There are other ones, too

I mean, let's face it. I live in Ottawa and one of our city's suburbs, Kanata (home to the Ottawa Senators hockey team) is growing. There would also be other "boomburbs" of Toronto like Mississauga, Brampton (the last two are among Canada's largest cities and will likely be home to over 700,000), Vaughan, Markham, and Oakville. Eh, well - don't forget that there's more than just Orange County and Phoenix.


Very interesting observations, most of which I agree with.

But one quibble about one of the minor points of the article:

One gets the impression from the article that the authors believe that Brooklyn was / is a non-descript appendage to NYC (essentially just row house suburb).

Until 1898, however, Brooklyn was a separate city from the rest of New York. More importantly, it LOOKS very much like a separate city.

One of the delights of exploring Brooklyn is to observe how much it is a "real" city (much of it magnificent) that happens to be on a smaller scale than Manhattan across the river.

Brooklyn has its own City Hall, its own downtown, its own waterfront and industrial areas, its own Greenwich Village (Brooklyn Heights), its own Herald Sq. (shopping district), its own Central Park (Prospect Park), its own Metropolitan Museum (the Brooklyn Museum). It even has its own grand suburban communities and satellite villages (among them Prospect Park South, Flatbush).

Compared to the super-nova that is Manhattan all this is on a pretty small scale. But it is amazing how major a "city" Brooklyn is. As a real "city" with a sense of place, it seems to be larger than all but a handful of cities in the U.S.


Should we really celebrate the economic, and even cultural, success of booming suburbs—when it comes at the expense of cities?

It seems sad to me that places like Anaheim, which I loath personally, are able to draw sports teams in same way that they are able to lure away jobs from the central cities of America.

I am in no way an apologist for urban preservation, but I believe in our cities as living organisms that should continue to grow in population and amenities to maintain a tight and reconcilable ecological footprint. More so, our built cities are places to inspire and redeem the human body, if not the soul. Therefore, they should be sought out for all events and allowed to receive any and all comers, constantly evolving, as does a multi-celled organism. To idly watch as our great places are replaced (or perhaps not allowed to grow) by placeless-places (to use the planner's lingo) is a shameful act on par with promoting a war for peace and democracy.

No one can be surprised as to why members of my cohort seek these places upon graduation. That is, I suppose due to precedent, until we grow weary and retreat to the Anaheims of the world to propagate our seeds (i.e., kids). Unfortunately, an army of twenty-somethings cannot undo the harm inflicted in the previous decades by many millions of decadent, selfish and (in some cases, racist) middle-aged—kids. But let us not retire to the notion that these “Boomburbs” are where we of the future should want to live.


Robert Lang is truly a brilliant social scientist.

to Raushan,

Perhaps those doomburbs are taking away jobs you would not have wanted anyway? Wouldn't you rather live the good life on a farm, the way the author of _Better Off_ does? I would! Then again, I live in Oakland. There are more options here.

Check out this post on boomburbs:


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