When the New York Times wrote about the high-fliers coming to the Super Bowl, they didn't fool around with the silly locution "the Valley." They wrote Phoenix, and Phoenix area.
Of course the local mantra is "Arizona's Super Bowl." But Arizona is a big state, and that's a little like saying the Super Bowl in Miami (it was also played in a suburban stadium) is "Florida's Super Bowl." In other words, meaningless. Once again, the region will miss a great "branding opportunity" by continuing to deny itself the cool, distinctive name, Phoenix. It's a world of competing cities, not geographies of nowhere (in Jim Kunstler's apt phrase). But for Phoenix and "the Valley," it's an old tale of self-destructiveness.
What's less understood is why it happens.
After all, the city of Phoenix has a greater share of regional population than the cities of Atlanta, Seattle, Los Angeles, etc. But for some reason, this region can't be called Phoenix, even though those other regions go by their simple, distinct monikers. Why?
First, Phoenix's old big, headquarters companies were bought or imploded. Meanwhile, the wealthy congregated in Scottsdale and Paradise Valley. Even the region's major foundations are located there.
So the economic power shifted inexorably the suburbs: to chips in the East Valley, tourism in Scottsdale, ASU in Tempe, and, especially, to the big suburban house-building enterprise. Metro Phoenix is America's last major factory town, and house-building is the product. The entire universe of players, from builders to Realtors to sliding-glass door installers, is focused on the new suburbs, such as Surprise and Gilbert. They are selling "master planned communities" and have little interest in an identity that implied the "old" city of Phoenix.
The traditional center of gravity held by the center city was lost. In other cities it is a center built around major companies, powerful CEOs, stewards with money and deep love of place, major economic assets, and other private powers. Its loss creates a vacuum that city hall alone can't fill. The big Phoenix asset of Sky Harbor does a great job of serving the prospering suburbs at a comfortable distance.
Second, Phoenix has gradually developed a very large population of first-generation, low-skilled immigrants, largely cut off from rising in the broader society. It is the center of illegal smuggling and its violence. It is miles of linear slums, underfunded schools and an emerging underclass. Phoenix's sheer size can conceal this problem. But for the powers-that-be, "Phoenix" became a name of discomfort, if not shame. "Phoenix is the Hispanic Detroit," as a rich man from north Scottsdale smugly told me.
Third, as an increasingly urban, diverse place, Phoenix tends to be, in Arizona terms, more progressive and Democrat, which puts it at odds, politically and culturally, with many of the 'burbs.
So the implicit putdown of Phoenix in "Valley," the lost opportunity for global identity, all this is sad for me, one who is proud to be a Phoenician.
So Arizona, Valley, whatever. Enjoy endless driving from the "amenities" of Scottsdale to the stadium in the middle of nowhere, on the other side of the "valley". Amid the lookalike suburbia you might well wonder where the hell you are. No wonder they use a term that could apply to anywhere.