Placemaking Phoenix: Habitat Metro & Local-Focused Development

When you build local projects like we do, you know that the drive to ‘go local’ is no fad. It’s a movement we, and others, have embraced for decades because it’s an extension of who we are.

I grew up in Lawton, Oklahoma, a small town in those days, roughly 30 or so thousand folks. It seemed wherever you went—the grocery, mechanic—you always knew somebody. Police officers, delivery persons, these were people you knew from your neighborhood, or people you knew from school. It was easy in a town of that size to feel a sense of place, a sense of belonging to a community rooted in local culture and traditions. My parents moved us to Oklahoma City from Lawton when I was in the eighth grade, but that sense of living locally that comes from growing up in a small town stayed with me. As I built my business, I always preferred working with people I knew and trusted.

It’s been nearly 40 years since my wife and I packed up and moved to the Valley from Dallas, Texas where we first settled after law school. In that time, our adopted home city has changed in remarkable ways. But even in the fall of ‘79, Phoenix was a metropolis compared to the town in which I grew up. It would seem at the time, as it does now, that the challenges around placemaking would multiply in a city of Phoenix’s size. And yet, the city still evoked—and continues to evoke—a unique sense of place. Phoenix is a big, small town with open doors to opportunity and folks that care about where they live.

The development company I started with John Hill more than 30 years ago—that continues today as Habitat Metro—takes the principles of local placemaking to heart. As my grandfather used to source produce and beef from local farmers and ranchers, we source our contractors almost exclusively from the local market. Custom cabinetry is fabricated locally and local artisans create gorgeous light fixtures now being installed at the FOUND:RE Hotel. Architects, chefs, lamp makers, contractors—everyone involved in our projects has a stake in the success of what we’re doing.

If you glance around the city, your gaze may not always land on what’s local. But look closer and you’ll find a local essence embedded in the DNA of Phoenix. Take Downtown for example. Every month, I meet with community leaders at the Downtown Voices Coalition meeting. Attendees include local stakeholders from the Garfield, Evans Churchill, FQ Story, and Roosevelt neighborhoods. Places where for generations, pockets of connected neighbors and business owners have bucked the trend of urban sprawl, building strong communities with an indelible character. And now, Downtown Phoenix is thriving more than ever before because the city, the art, the food, the music and the revival of our outdoor spaces tap into the energy of a connected culture that’s always existed.

As developers, the benefits of ‘going local’ are ever present. John and I pride ourselves on building more than just structures. We’re striving to build communities, engaging in a process of creative placemaking with people we know and respect. When you’re working alongside people with whom you’re familiar, it’s easier to get exciting things done and the energy behind a locally sourced project generates its own word-of-mouth advertising, because good news travels fast! People want to know, when they see the cranes rising up and the foundation going in the ground, that you’re driving the local economy, growing jobs, and giving back. And when you honestly try to build that trust within the community, you become fortunate to have a lot of people rooting for you.

That synergy is cumulative, compounding year after year, lending a vibrancy and vitality to our community. Coming from a small town, my whole idea of community was built upon the strength of relationships, getting to know those around me and planting the seeds of connectivity so important to constructing that sense of place one finds in close-knit communities. By developing these linkages across industries and socio-economic boundaries, and accessing the local market, we aspire to strengthen the local economy and help make our city more inclusive and more resilient. It’s just more fun when you get to do business with people you know and respect. Plus, it’s equally rewarding when you see them succeed along with you.

‘Mom n’ pops,’ start-ups—the coolest businesses are the local ones. Lola Coffee, MonOrchid, The Breadfruit & Rum Bar, Cibo, FEZ, Carly’s, Phoenix Public Market, Matt’s Big Breakfast, and so many others. These are places noted not only for what they serve but what they serve as—meeting places, thinking spaces, intersections where people and ideas can come together.

That’s the essence of community, the essence of local, and the basis behind authentic placemaking.


This blog post was contributed by Wm. Timothy Sprague, co-principal of Habitat Metro, a developer of thoughtful mutlifamily and mixed-use developments across Arizona. Their latest projects, developed in tandem, are Portland on the Park, an infill condominium development located along Hance Park and the Roosevelt Historic District, and the adjacent FOUND:RE Hotel, an art-focused hotel and hospitality venue adaptive reuse.