William deBuys, author of A Great Aridness: Climate Change and the Future of the American Southwest, wrote the latest screed about why Phoenix is doomed, this time in an op-ed article in Grist, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications. The best-known previous blast was Andrew Ross’ 2011 book Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City. As a lifelong resident of Phoenix, author of the book Phoenix in Perspective, and a frequent commentator on our desert city, I have had the privilege of debating both Ross and deBuys. While both have many important points about the future of America’s urban places, I must point out they both continue to misunderstand a great deal about my city.
It comes as no surprise to those of us who live here in the Valley of the Sun that it’s hot and that it is likely to get hotter. In Phoenix, more than any other American city I know, we debate our future constantly. Maybe that’s because we fully realize that Phoenix is built in a place with geographical challenges. In fact, every system that supports this city was built in recognition of those challenges. Balmier places have taken for granted that their hospitable climate will continue into the future, so a place like Atlanta is greatly challenged when rainfall decreases by 15 or 20 percent. Phoenix, on the other hand, depends virtually not at all on rainfall occurring within its geographic proximity.
Let’s look at deBuys’ criticisms of Phoenix and its future: