If Arizona was a 'clean slate', how would you do it the second time around?
This challenge, from commenter Rate Crimes, is too tempting to avoid. But it risks being the kind of temptation found in the bars of history at closing time: A pointless counterfactual fling that will end in regret or even worse. No place can be separated from its moment in history, the larger forces at work upon it, the larger-than-life people who mold it, and the masses of people who live there. Arizona and Phoenix were always going to be exactly what they are. Maybe.
Yet here's one imagination exercise: An Arizona with 2 million people, about the population of real-life New Mexico (rather than 6.6 million). Most live in relatively compact versions of Phoenix and Tucson. Every city and town in the state has maintained its distinct identity, look, feel. The larger cities have kept and enhanced key industries while drawing high-value, leading edge sectors proportionate to (or disproportionately favorable to) their population. Housing is a much smaller part of the economy. Smaller places especially have scalable local economies. Multiple universities, federal laboratories and a robust technology cluster are a draw for international talent. Incomes are higher than the national average, as in real-life Washington state or Colorado. Most people are literate and educated, engaged in the community, committed to preserving the environment, part of a vibrant two-party political system that veers to moderation whomever is in power. This outward-looking state is a major trade hub for Mexico and Latin America, comfortable with its Hispanic part, but largely insulated from a huge illegal alien influx by its high-end economy and the cohesion of its cities.
I could get even more specific about Phoenix.