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June 03, 2010

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Part of the Freak Show included the lurid murder of actor Bob Crane (Hogans Heros) and the suicide of French actor Charles Boyer. Back in the 60s and early 70s, when Arizona was the national land fraud capital, bodies of "players" used to turn up in the Arizona Canal near Scottsdale Rd.

As much as I dislike the faux Tuscan archtitecture of north Scottsdale, the topography of the upslope is magical. In the summer when Phoenix is being roasted 24/7 the thunderstorms Phoenix used to get will still rumble off the McDowell Mountains. Around "Troon", the desert gets so lush it's almost something else entirely.

Old Scottsdale south of Camelback has bits of magic, particularly the Palm Springs elements evoking margaritas by the poolside and car-culture fun. The problem with the new wealth on the north side is that it doesn't really look like it's having a good time. In fact, it looks like fun has been banned altogether.

Money is a consolation in a place that is disconnected from its history, lore, and better possibilities. The emptiness is suggested but never discussed. If it were, the quiet desperation might get raucous.


An excellent, descriptive, engaging history. However, I still hold that South Park said it best . . . http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bu2q8pk6ua0

My father grew up in Scottsdale and graduated from Coronado in 1970. He said that they only people that lived at that time in Scottsdale were poor whites, poor hispanics and crazy artists.

I had a recent 'mirage in the desert moment' when visiting the Musical Instruments Museum, which is technically in North Phoenix. This museum is a real gem. It completely surpassed my expectations. Not because it was entirely privately funded by Scottsdale’ rich white men, who made their money in other places, but because of the quality of the exhibits. Entering this museum felt magical and sad at the same time. Magical for the building and the presentation of the collection and I have been to the best museums on the subject in Paris and London, sad because this museum could be so much more than a manicured box at a freeway exit. In a way that epitomizes what happens with Phoenix's, i.e. Arizona's best assets. This state still has great assets, it's just not been able due to a lack of imagination, coordination and vision to set a frame around them and capitalize on them to the extent it could.
The museum would have been a mold breaker and could have elevated downtown Phoenix to an actual travel destination (it’s really that good..) would it have been built in downtown or maybe mid-town along Central Avenue, if Phoenix wouldn't be this car crazed, disembodied shell of a city with a leadership marked by a particular kind of limited vision and now thanks to the thanks to the implosion of the FIRE economy limited means. In other cities this place would have been built right smack in the center, surrounded by pedestrian areas with shopping and housing. Denver did it with its new art museum.

Chris: the wonderful MIM was Bob Ulrich's brain child, funded with $50 million from his personal checkbook. Bob is Target's retired CEO and a product of its arts and community service culture whereby it still (I believe) gives 5% of pretax profits to those causes.

He has great digs on Camelback mountain (in addition to Minnesota) and has loved Phoenix since his days in the 80's as Dillard's CEO. To me, he's a latter-day role model for making a difference. Does Scottsdale have individuals who deserve mention here? Or are the big dogs content with the salubrious life of golf and gated communities?

I tend to think Chris' misgiving about the new museum's location correctly illustrates the Scottsdale problem. While it's great that wealth will endow a wonderful cultural amenity, why place it in a far corner of the metroplex? If north Scottsdale is segregating itself socially and economically, this seems to drive the point home with a thumping crescendo.

Bob Ulrich, no doubt, is entirely generous in bringing this stunning museum to Arizona. He could have located it in some other far-flung rich suburb, say Plano, Evergreen, or Schaumberg. But putting it ten miles north of downtown Scottsdale seems to suggest that American civic culture has become unmoored from geography itself. Places really don't matter except insofar as wealth insulates them from various social stresses.

Poor Phoenix still has its jewels but the old dowager is looking increasingly ragged. The real money has moved outside the center city. Not that it matters that much anymore. The Old Guard has either died or moved away, taking with them the pride that regularly regenerated our civic spirit.

For all the man's generosity, etc., the museum will not get my patronage. With my limited "consumer" dollars, I will support the Phoenix Art Museum and the Heard. Because I want a real city with real critical mass and a real soul. Sorry to say, it comes down to this in a zero-sum America. Also, I don't feel welcome in north Scottsdale (or "Desert Ridge"), and reciprocate the feeling (As FDR said, "I welcome their hatred."). The Troon abortion and all its kin defiled some of the most beautiful land in the West. Few remember it unspoiled. Whatever.

The museum is instructive. Like much in Arizona, it can't be disconnected from some larger private land play. Thus, the football stadium is in the middle of nowhere, disconnected from transit, an infrastructure drain, and inconvenient to most metro Phoenicians — but private speculation built on the public stadium trumped any civic good. Or even the common sense of stadiums downtown. In this case, the museum is far from any real public spaces, which most Arizonans don't even comprehend. It does nothing to add to a cultural critical mass as it would had it been placed in the central city near other museums. I can't imagine the land in far north Phoenix was less expensive, than anything near the Phoenix Art Museum or Roosevelt Row. It is another car-dependent "amenity" for the vast development plans of this affluent part of the "city."

I'm sure good intentions abounded. The Target guy might have been steered the right way with real city leadership. But Phoenicians can't even comprehend critical mass, public spaces, a central city and the good that can come from such things.

"Many residents of Scottsdale have the money and clout to make metro Phoenix better; instead, most are part of the problem that is manifested in, say, giving to the arts being far below comparable-sized metros."

One of my Phoenix Symphony-going group, a retired university prof from the Midwest, berated metro Phoenix for its lousy arts scene and then, not more than a sentence or two down-conversation from his criticism, remarked that retirement in Arizona was still terrific because his property taxes here are only one-fourth of what they were back in Madison.

So, compared to the "I've got MINE" crowd of affluent retirees and seasonal residents with Scottsdale addresses, Bob Ulrich's generosity certainly stands out, doesn't it? True, he could have had better vision as to the MIM's placement but he gave the Valley something of great value. Hard to know what went into the site location decision, but his retailer's mindset may have been based on demographics and all those occult metrics like "gravity studies". I'm just glad this wonderful asset came to our area vs. many others with a more evolved arts community.

I believe Jon has written before about the problems with channeling public investments to strategic locations that could create a critical mass in a city over 500 sq. miles large. The museum is another reminder of this.

In addition to geography, I think the Phoenix City Council district system also plays a large role here, with each council person acting as their district's mini-mayor and trying to channel dollars and capital into their own little "city".

Jon is right that the government doesn't really have a location strategy for economic development. As long as the development falls within the City's boundaries, they don't care. Thus W.L. Gore is building a manufacturing and R&D outfit in a location closer to Anthem than downtown Phoenix - where it would have done much to infuse the core with high end private sector jobs and contribute to a technology agglomeration.

The light rail system could be a template to organize strategies and create a focused development strategy. Apparently, no heads are giving this any serious thought and no one is knocking them.

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