Amid growth, Gilbert keeps ‘town’ label, rustic roots

Resident says the label of ‘city’ conjures images of taxicabs and honking horns, while ‘town’ gives you stars at night and neighbors who care

By Parker Leavitt – Sept. 11, 2012 10:01 PM

The Arizona Republic

With a trendy shopping mall, two midrise medical centers and a growing high-tech sector, Gilbert seems poised to complete its rapid metamorphosis from a rural bump-in-the-road to a bustling major … town?

Despite frenetic growth over the past two decades and a population greater than that of major cities like Salt Lake City and Richmond, Va., Gilbert stubbornly clings to its designation as a “town,” a title it assumed when incorporating in 1920 with about 500 residents.

Not only has Gilbert become the nation’s most populous town, it’s the only community with at least 150,000 people to claim that label, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Gilbert’s small-town tradition mixed with big-city growth creates a unique juxtaposition in a community somewhat conflicted as to its true identity.

When Gilbert last year conducted a national search for a new town manager, a brochure advertising the position called for a “city manager” instead. Officials figured using the term “town” might discourage some prospects from pursuing the job.

At a League of Arizona Cities and Towns conference last month, Gilbert Vice Mayor John Sentz wore a T-shirt proclaiming his community to be Arizona’s most livable “city” based on new rankings from CNN and Money magazine.

“If I put ‘town’ on there, you know the grief I would have gotten from all the cities in Arizona,” Sentz said.

It’s more than just semantics, however.



Column explores Mesa’s long, rich past/The Arizona Republic

Major General Plan change eyed in north Scottsdale and HB 2826 conflict with Apache Junction city code/Arizona

Dignity Health buys land for emergency-care center, hospital in Maricopa/

No quiet on the western front: Quiet zone making progress, but Maricopa resident’s concern a roadblock/Maricopa Monitor

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September 2012