Mesa, Arizona, is located 15 miles east of Phoenix and is considered part of the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan Area. This placid desert suburb and golfers' Mecca is now one of the fastest-growing American cities. With a population estimated at more than 460,000 in 2006, Mesa is the third-largest city in Arizona and the 37th-largest city in the United States.
Mesa has a record of habitation dating back thousands of years. Over many centuries the Hohokam people constructed canals in the desert, some of which remain active. White settlement began in 1877, led by members of the Mormon Church, whose presence and influence remain strong in the area. Agriculture was the predominant way of life until after World War II, when Mesa began its transformation into a bedroom community.
NEIGHBORHOODS AND DISTRICTS
Mesa's development has been diverse and uneven, with low-income areas languishing in neglect while affluent districts and subdivisions have sprouted up like desert flowers. The city's character is defined by a number of neighborhoods:
- Downtown Mesa centers around Main Street, an east-west thoroughfare located between highways 202 (the Red Mountain Freeway) and 60 (the Superstition Freeway). Anchors of the downtown strip include Pioneer Park, a 17-acre urban park, and the new Mesa Arts Center. The closing of a Wal-Mart reflects the decline in Main Street's fortunes of late, but a renaissance is predicted for the area. A new light rail system with service to Phoenix began operation, and a dense, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use community is planned around the station on West Main.
- Reed Park, near Main Street around Broadway and South Gilbert Road, is a neighborhood in turmoil. This Latino area has been hit hard by the economic crisis, as well as stiffer immigration enforcement. Vacant houses and sparse church attendance indicate a population in decline. The area has recently been designated as a Mesa Building Strong Neighborhoods Initiative site.
- Marlborough Mesa, just south of the Superstition Freeway and east of Highway 101, combines a convenient location for commuting into Phoenix with a friendly neighborhood feeling. It is close to several malls, two golf courses, and most of Mesa's largest employers.
- Las Sendas, north and east of central Mesa, is a master-planned community in the foothills of the Sonoran Desert. Tall saguaro cacti are integrated into the landscaping of this upscale gated community, which is home to several professional athletes.
ECONOMY AND INDUSTRIES
Two airfields built during World War II helped spur Mesa's transformation into a military-industrial center. Aerospace became the city's leading industry, and that sector remains well-represented:
- Boeing manufactures Apache combat helicopters in Mesa.
- Alliant Techsystems builds medium-caliber armaments.
- McDonnell Douglas Helicopter is headquartered at Falcon Field Airport on the eastern edge of town.
- Cessna is slated to open a new Citation Service Center at Williams Gateway Airport, relocated from Long Beach, California, in early 2009.
The electronics sector, specifically semiconductor manufacturing, also has a sizable presence in Mesa:
Banking and retail are among Mesa's other top industries. The city is home to three shopping malls:
- Fiesta Mall, in west Mesa
- Superstition Springs Center, in East Mesa
- Mesa Riverview, an outdoor mall in the northwest of town
ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT
- Mesa Arts Center, built in 2005, is one of Arizona's premier venues for theater, music concerts, and the visual arts.
- Mesa Amphitheatre is an outdoor stage where Shakespearian drama and symphonic performances are among the cultural offerings.
- Mesa Arizona Temple is a Mormon place of worship that also hosts an annual Easter Pageant and Christmas concert.
- Arizona Museum of Natural History, located one block off Main Street, is an excellent resource for learning about the unique natural and cultural history of the Southwest region.
- Mesa Historical Museum features exhibits on the Hohokam and their Native American neighbors, the Mormon settlers, and other markers of the town's history.
- Arizona Museum for Youth was designed to help children learn to enjoy the arts.
- Tubing on the Salt River, just east of town, is popular.
- Mesa is a baseball town. The Chicago Cubs play their spring training games in Mesa's HoHoKam Park, the home stadium of the Mesa Solar Sox of the Arizona Fall League.
- Several professional sports franchises play in the Phoenix area, including:
- Arizona Diamondbacks (Major League Baseball)
- Arizona Cardinals (National Football League)
- Phoenix Suns (National Basketball Association)
- Mesa Community College
- Arizona State University-Polytechnic (Mesa)
- Arizona State University-Main Campus (nearby in Tempe)
Mesa is part of the Phoenix media market, the 12th-largest in the United States. Two daily newspapers serve the area: the Phoenix-based Arizona Republic, one of the nation's ten-largest papers in circulation, and the East Valley Tribune, whose headquarters are in Mesa.