Feature

Boomburbs

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.
April 7, 2003, 12am PDT | Jennifer LeFurgy and Robert Lang
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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.

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