American West and Western History

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Desert Visions and the Making of Phoenix, 1860-2009

Philip VanderMeer

Whether touted for its burgeoning economy, affordable housing, and pleasant living style, or criticized for being less like a city than a sprawling suburb, Phoenix, by all environmental logic, should not exist. Yet despite its extremely hot and dry climate and its remoteness, Phoenix has grown into a massive metropolitan area. This exhaustive study examines the history of how Phoenix came into being and how it has sustained itself, from its origins in the 1860s to its present status as the nation's fifth largest city.

From the beginning, Phoenix sought to grow, and although growth has remained central to the city's history, its importance, meaning, and value have changed substantially over the years. The initial vision of Phoenix as an American Eden gave way to the Cold War Era vision of a High Tech Suburbia, which in turn gave way to rising concerns in the late twentieth century about the environmental, social, and political costs of growth. To understand how such unusual growth occurred in such an improbable location, Philip VanderMeer explores five major themes: the natural environment, urban infrastructure, economic development, social and cultural values, and public leadership. Through investigating Phoenix's struggle to become a major American metropolis, his study also offers a unique view of what it means to be a desert city.


Philip VanderMeer is associate professor of history at Arizona State University. He is also the author of Phoenix Rising: The Making of a Desert Metropolis.


"Highly recommended."



"This geographically informed history of Phoenix makes an important contribution to the small but growing body of recent scholarship by geographers, historians, and planners. ( Desert Visions and the Making of Phoenix), with its multiple themes, broad scope, and lively detail should appeal to a wide and diverse audience of readers interested in a contemporary American city in which the constant has been changing visions of growth."


Journal of Cultural Geography

"Easily the most useful biography of Phoenix available. Well researched and effectively written, this book also demonstrates the benefits of urban biography in helping readers understand what is unique about the urban Southwest and what is shared by today's cities throughout the country."


H-Net Reviews

"VanderMeer has filled in significant gaps in Phoenix history, particularly for the political arena which has received comparatively little study. His treatment of the home construction industry, informed by recent research based on cultural resource surveys, will be extremely valuable as more and more of Phoenix moves into the historic realm. Desert Visions is a noteworthy achievement."


The Journal of Arizona History

"A fresh and insightful examination of Phoenix's history."


Southwestern Historical Quarterly

"A fundamental work on the city of Phoenix."


Midwest Book Review

"VanderMeer has provided an invaluable resource for his adopted city and for anyone interested in the urban and environmental history of the Southwest, the Sunbelt, and cities in the modern United States."


Southern California Quarterly

6 x 9 in. 480 pages 4 drawings, 36 halftones, 18 tables