Sprawling Mesa, Ariz., Aims to Become a College Town

Sprawling Mesa, Ariz., Aims to Become a College Town, One Campus at a Time 1

Ashley Lowery for The Chronicle

Mayor Scott Smith, of Mesa, Ariz., plans to attract small colleges to the downtown area, to give the city's young people a reason to stick around.

Viewed from far above, this city is an irregular splotch sprawling east from Tempe—133 square miles, roughly in the form of a hook. At ground level, it seems even less defined—strip malls and developments of one- and two-story buildings flow as if they had been accidentally spilled out of a bottle. The downtown does have a gleaming arts center, but many of the businesses and restaurants around it are closed by early evening, even on weekends.

Mesa, in fact, has a larger