A few years ago, when it seemed that Phoenix had become the nation's fifth most-populous city, the New York Times decided to post a reporter to this unknown land somewhere on the other side of Jersey. Recently, the job has been handed off to Fernanda Santos. Lately, the Newspaper of Record has uncovered that it's hotter than hell in the un-air-conditioned atrium of the Sandra Day O'Connor Federal Courthouse (a plan which I remain convinced starchitect Richard Meier just pulled off the shelf from his student days, although others say he was enamored by the misters at a restaurant at Arizona Center). Santos has also revealed for the Times' influential readership the tortilla factory at the Ranch Market on Roosevelt at 16th Street.
Then came the topper: A story this week on the excessive heat that never mentioned the worsening urban heat island because of the loss of agriculture and sprawl, much less climate change and its dire potential consequences for a big city where, to paraphrase Ed Abbey, one should not be. The conclusion of this bastion of sophisticated journalism: It's very hot in Phoenix in August.
To be fair, Santos was said to looking for a house in the historic districts, according to sources who wished to remain anonymous because they wished to remain anonymous, as the Times might put it. Good for her. She has done some (reactive) lifting on the Badged Ego's legal troubles and immigration. And one never knows the misguidance being given by editors. But Phoenix desperately needs all the real enterprise journalism it can get, however much it discomfits the local-yokels. Let's help out the Old Gray Lady.
Even a cursory look at this blog should offer a trove of good story ideas. But I'll restate a few target-rich areas and perhaps Rogue readers will offer more.
- The substantial political and economic power of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Phoenix and Arizona, how it will affect the 2012 election, how it has enabled the Kookocracy's grip on power, weathered scandals (e.g. alt fuels) and the fascinating split between Kooks such as Russell Pearce and more sensible Saints such as Mesa Mayor Scott Smith.
- Phoenix's huge and growing Hispanic underclass, with the consequences for the city's future from underfunded schools, poor job opportunities, poisonous white-right apartheid hostility and America's loss of economic and social mobility for those at the bottom.
- Water: The oversubscribed Colorado; the fact that the feds won't build a second CAP canal even if the water were available; risks to the snowpack that feeds the Salt River Project, and the utter fraud of water resource management or even transparency outside the SRP footprint.
- The city's struggle to avoid decline as it fends off large suburbs ripping off its assets, faces aging infrastructure and a poorer population, lacks the economic muscle of any city its size and confronts a state Legislature hostile to urban solutions, particularly for Phoenix.
- Power and money. Who has it and how do they use it? For example, who owns the Legislature, the congressional delegation and makes sure regulators look the other way on water issues? What is the effect of wealthy part-time residents with no connection to the city, one result being the starving of cultural institutions? The Real Estate Industrial Complex and its role in making the state more extreme and less viable for the future. The national right-wing's big spending here. Who benefits and how? You don't need their advertising, so just tell the truth.
- Dig deeper on solar power. We can read all the sun boosterism elsewhere. Why won't city or state mandate solar panels on houses and what are the consequences? What is the environmental damage from massive solar farms in what should be pristine, left-alone desert? What about water use?
- The Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.
- Climate change and (real) sustainability.
The Times was wise to put a reporter in Phoenix, and not just because of the bat-crap crazy that has become synonymous with Arizona and has spread throughout our politics. Phoenix really matters. It's gone from a sweet, if flawed, place, from a mass of crapola suburbia to a risky, unsustainable megalopolis built on assumptions and denial that could result in disaster on a Hurricane Katrina scale. It's also a hell of a news town, with corruption on a majestic scale and abundant sleaze — it only lacks investigative reporters to dig it all out. Without fear or favor, as they say.
Good journalism that kicks these rocks over could avert the worst that Phoenix faces. It could even encourage a much happier outcome.
A few more tips: Be very skeptical of the local-yokel "experts," their explanations and their hustles. Realize that Phoenix has a much longer and more complex history than it appears from the blazing parking lot of the new Wal-Mart or in the minds of newcomers who want to make it Des Moines in the Desert. Arizona has dust storms, not haboobs. And, yes, we are called Phoenicians.