Time Inc.’s Money magazine ranked Gilbert the best place to live in Arizona and the 22nd-best place to live in America. The study, released Sept. 19, evaluated all 781 cities with populations between 50,000 and 300,000, analyzing factors like jobs, housing, education and health care. Gilbert is the only Arizona municipality in the top 50.
“It wasn’t a surprise,” said Gilbert Parks and Recreation director Rod Buchanan. “We went from No. 33 to 22 this year, so we climbed 11 spots.”
The report listed Gilbert as the second-most populated. Only Irvine, Calif., ranked 14th, is larger. The 2013 US Census Bureau population estimates had Irvine at 236,716 and Gilbert at 229,972.
“We’re adding another 100,000 people — probably in the next 10 years — to our community,” Buchanan said. He cited the projections by the Maricopa Association of Governments that predict Gilbert will have 322,300 total residents in 2040.
The increase is made more dramatic by the fact that Gilbert wouldn’t have had the minimum residency requirement to qualify for the award 25 years ago. The town jumped from 29,188 in 1990 to 109,936 in 2000 and to 208,453 during the 2010 census.
Town Planning Manager Linda Edwards said single-family home permits show approximately 130 homes being built per month in Gilbert. That number alone — not including apartments or senior-living facilities — accounts for about 400 new residents a month, Edwards said.
“We’re still in the adding phase, the growth phase of our community,” Town Councilmember Jenn Daniels said. “Of course, I think one of the major things is our safe community, which has a lot to do with the type of residents that Gilbert attracts and the coordination and efforts with our police department and others. Good families, good people, good businesses and good teamwork with our town services.”
Daniels said parks and recreation are crucial to Gilbert’s attractiveness, in addition to businesses and education.
“Whatever you want to find, you can find in Gilbert when it comes to recreation for your kids. Positive outlets for your kids. Art classes and all kinds of things — there’s no shortage,” she said. Daniels’ four kids have participated in football, soccer, dance, gymnastics, jujutsu and art and music classes.
Buchanan said the parks and recreation department hopes to expand with the growing town.
“We’re trying to find efficient ways deliver what the community needs,” he said.
The town is discussing a deal with Maricopa County to build a 300-acre regional park in south Gilbert. The potential site, located in the Chandler Heights basin, would be three times as large as Gilbert’s next closest park. The large park would cater to the greater Gilbert community and to the county, and the appraisal is scheduled for next week.
“So this would be a 300-acre park, which allows significant opportunity for other uses that we currently don’t have today,” Buchanan said.
Daniels said she’s confident Gilbert will continue to improve in the ranking — assuming it doesn’t reach the maximum number of 300,000 residents — and continue its economic and residential development.
“I think there’s been a lot of care and attention to detail for many years — not just recently but for many years — and now you’re able to see the fruits of that attention to detail,” she said.
• James Anderson is a junior at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. He is an intern with the Tribune this semester. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.