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October 29, 2013

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On Fareed Zakaria a few weeks back, three leading "urban" experts stated the following:

1. 85% of Americans expect and desire the SUBURBAN EXPERIENCE.

2. Major Cities and their suburbs will go forward TOGETHER, or not at all.

These are the experts talking, so save your arrows for them. Go see the clip.

There is affordable housing available for seniors in downtown Seattle, too. There is also entertainment available for Boomer seniors (like Steven Stills concerts, etc...).

When I get old enough not to be able to care for my acre and a half of wooded land on a stream that runs 24/7 all seasons, I'll probably move into Seattle proper.

Phoenix could benefit from Boomers in the inner city with all of the free gubmint money they'd be spending.

It's been my observation that people who want to run government like a business don't understand that the government is the source of the money.

Emil was right about downtown renewal.

I would add one "reason" to Rogue's list even though it's really an aspect of every other good reason why Phoenix's star is fading. The Salt River Valley was not meant to contain a great city. Therefore, the meteoric ascent was midwifed by unrepeatable factors - mostly cheap resources - along with technological advances like air conditioning. It's why Phoenix was a small city in 1940 and, perhaps, the nation's most stunning success story by 1960. It grew, to paraphrase Ed Abbey, like a cancer cell because of good weather and cheap everything. And when it finally exhausted itself from its growth orgy, there weren't the crucial assets in place to sustain it as an important, thriving city. Yes, Phoenix will stay large and even grow. But it won't attract creators or even "producers" (read: hucksters) like Donald Trump. It will continue to attract people whose idea of civilization is Wal-mart, Applebee's, and 12-lane freeways.

I feel a little guilty about writing these words because Phoenix is my home town. I gave up on it very gradually, always hoping against bitter experience that good things might start to happen. During the last boom, I was even excited that condo towers were being built downtown. But when less than 1% of the construction activity in a metropolitan area is downtown, even during an epic final boom, the evidence became clear that Phoenix was unsalvageable. Its economy, at long last, was self-cannibalizing.

I see the damage in greater Portland from too much suburban schlock and not enough "best practices". But Portland exhibits a vital and redeeming feature in contrast to Phoenix: in its metropolitan area, it's where people want to be, where the rents are highest, and where the excitement is most obvious. In metro Phoenix, that would be Scottsdale and Tempe. Phoenix can only hope its parasites don't ultimately kill their host.

The Phoenix orgy is done except for a few late stragglers searching empty rooms for yesterday's orgasms. There's an aching head and a barking dog but the thrill can't be found.

The political culture is now an ominous harbinger. Phoenix's meteoric descent will be spelled by extremists in Bermuda shorts and sandals, barbecuing what remains of the city's once-bright promise. Behold your great city, spectral legions of the Sonoran desert.

Another fine article Rogue. Insightful observation on the resort ethos of Phoenix and one of the things I personally like about Phoenix even though it is a negative quality for the community's quality of life.

Headless, older residents moving into Seattle proper later in life is a common occurrence in King County. It is a nice option for the affluent. Seattle has become so affluently young white that friends who have made the move into Seattle proper claim to miss the diversity of Bellevue.

A recent article in the Seattle Times by a native Arizonan complained about the homeless and of course being from the land of Arizona v Miranda wants a carpet bomb cleaning of the street people.

Thanks Jon for a fine article and bringing back the ever brilliant poetic words of Soleri.

In the early 70's I woke up on a bus from San Francisco where I'd been living maybe 7 years after leaving Phoenix for school in California. The driver's announcement awakened me and I looked out the window all fuzzy-headed trying to orient. At first I thought that I'd slept through and missed my destination because I didn't recognize anything for blocks until I saw St. Mary's bell towers. I was expecting to land at the old terminal on First St (Best selection of pinball machines in town, btw.) It was the first "no There there" moment of the many since. (Apropos of a recent topic, there's difference between having a fond, fairly accurate, if selective, memory of a place and nostalgia.)
Too much of what I liked about Phoenix is gone; that's to be expected. But most of what's left is neglected and too much of the new is distancing dreck. As a kid and teen I could walk from home to downtown and to school if I didn't ride my bike, which Schwinn took me all over (Maryvale to Papago Park.) These days walking in Phoenix during the Winter is pleasant until I have to cross a major arterial. Then I feel like a Texas armadillo unless I want to walk the quarter to half a mile to the nearest lighted crosswalk. Forget about biking.
The people I know in Phoenix were born and grew up there. I know what they're doing there. What is it about the day to day life that keeps most folks there? When we moved from the Bay Area to Portland 10 years ago it was a difficult uprooting but we knew what we wanted. That first year a bunch of grass-roots urban redevelopment started on Alberta street just north of where we live. About a mile of that street became vastly different ( "vibrant", interesting) in a few years. The process has been repeated on N. Mississippi and is underway on N. Williams. All 3 are less than a mile from where we live. There are probably others. In contrast, after almost 30 years Roosevelt has probably gone as far as it's going to go. It has far better bones than any of the examples here.
The attractions of these revived neighborhood centers are non-essential shops and services, but it wouldn't happen without the restaurants and bars. People here are out in pubs (emphasis on the public) in all kinds of weather. If I'm missing similar areas in Phoenix, I'd like to know so that I can visit them in January.
Please excuse this micro perspective in an excellent macro post.

To quote Gertrude Stein, the problem with Phoenix is "there is no there there." Thanks to our leaders, nothing has been preserved or enhanced that residents can be proud of in downtown Phoenix. Even in the 60's,Scottsdale or Sedona or Flagstaff was the place to go to see 'real Az." When the leaders have no vision,"the people perish." The vision was Park Central, then Thomas Mall, then Los Arcos Mall, then Fiesta Mall, and now Superstition and Chandler Mall, with resulting freeways and subdivisions. There was never any loyalty to Phoenix, just to the newest shiny thing.

Here is an url to a map of AZ:

http://www.infoplease.com/atlas/state/arizona.html

If you look at the central portion of the state (bordered by Flagstaff, Show low, Prescott, Wickenburg, and Phoenix, you will notice that it is still, to this day, EMPTY. There is a horse trail that laterally bisects this area and takes about a week to complete (on horse).

I would recommend that anyone who wants to know of the real AZ that has existed from time immemorial, that they take this trip.

If you like to hike, check this out:

http://arizonahiking.blogspot.com/2010_01_17_archive.html

I loved growing up in 50's and 60's Phx and being a young adult living all over the state -- but check this stuff out. Its still there. This is what my father and I did for entertainment back in the day.

Chomsky has a new article out:

http://www.salon.com/2013/10/30/chomsky_the_u_s_mexico_border_is_cruel_by_design_partner/

In addition to the Mexican border there is long bit on suburbia.

What a great closing flourish on a great post, soleri!

Thanks for the link to National Treasure Noam's article, e-dog.

“Urban designers from across the country will be in Phoenix on Monday to share ideas to improve streets and public spaces.
The City of Phoenix will use the conference to show off two new retrofitted road projects that include bike lanes and public art.
One is at Grand Avenue south of McDowell, and the other is on 1st Street near Margaret T. Hance Park. . . .
Bearup says his department has lost $200 million over the past five years for road work because of declining gas tax revenues.” http://kjzz.org/content/8529/urban-designers-check-out-phoenix-projects

And in this radio listen with Steve Goldstein, I especially enjoyed Lindsay Kinkade and Sarah Sullivan in their discussion on the topic ‘Why Young Leaders Are Breaking Up With Phoenix’. Basically, they say that Phoenix is the land of opportunity, a “tabula rasa” so to speak. They think that people are not getting out and “plugging-in” to what is available. They use First Friday as an example.
http://kjzz.org/content/7164/debate-over-phoenixs-creative-environment

headless,
Speaking of Cat Peaks Loop, I hiked near there this past weekend. I can assure you that there were not as many houses crouched up against Usary Park’s boundaries in the 50's and 60's. In earlier times one could smell the dry desert spice and hear isolation; where today there are hikers, bikers and horsemen competing with one another, with the elements and with time.

Side-note: Two new replies to AzREB on the subject of effective government (and efficient private business) and how libertarian critiques hypocritically apply two different standards to the public and private sectors. Here:

http://www.roguecolumnist.com/rogue_columnist/2013/10/secession-with-benefits.html

For many years, I've had my fill of #14, watching the transplants come and go with no real commitment to the area. Demographic shifts may reduce the in migration . . . in which case the game will change.

side note: weary response to emil.

Morecleanair, then you would not like living in Washington, DC. ? The urban experts who participate on this blog seem to lack living experience in Global Cities such as Tokyo, NYC or London. In fact, those who have lived in global cities mostly find Seattle and Portland good family towns but not too exciting. Phoenix is interesting in the same way it is interesting to live in Africa or other parts of the developing world with its insane politics, instability and backwardness. Yes, a lot of people move to Phoenix and do not marry themselves to the place, but who wants stupidity for a partner?

@Homeless...
"Phoenix is interesting in the same way it is interesting to live in Africa or other parts of the developing world with its insane politics, instability and backwardness."
LOL that is funny, thank you very much.

I second Petro’s ‘thanks’, eclecticdog. I especially enjoyed the middle article:
Next section: Chomsky on how America’s economic model created the suburbs
“None of this [suburbia] is ‘natural’ in any way. It didn’t emerge spontaneously—a magical product of the market. It was engineered for a specific range of interests.”

Suzanne,

The trouble with the "tabula rasa" meme is that Phoenix is not a blank slate.

For example, idealists quickly discover that the Real Estate Industrial Complex, Kookocracy and lack of capital and stewards with means results in the continuing toxic trajectory of sprawl and sucking wealth out to the 'burbs.

Move to Phoenix and want to go in on a shopping strip in Goodyear — welcome! Want to make a livable, vibrant downtown? Good luck, and we'll oppose you at every opportunity.

Sure, all that vacant land in the core could see a vibrant city rise upon it, but where is the capital? The high-wage jobs? The will at City Hall to create and relentlessly push strategies for economic development and great civic design? To undo the mistakes of the past? To provide incentives against land-banking and tear-downs?

It's not there. So I salute the Resistance and try to help them — even when they think I am being "negative." But they lack the money and power. The slate is damaged and highly constricted. Sad. True. It's a big reason so many talented people arrive with big dreams and leave with their hearts broken.

Mr. Talton, It seems to me that every small town in the valley has been spending enormous amounts of money stretching their boundaries. It cost a lot more to expand now that strip annexing is not allowed. When these small (now large) towns run out of space, they will, by necessity, focus more on the interior like Tempe has. I don’t know how much more room Phoenix has to grow, but it is far less. I believe that all of the points you outline are probably true, but temporary.

Good point, Suzanne. The overarching message, which the elites refuse to get, is that population growth and land area are a liability long-term. They may profit short-term -- and they do. But without a high-wage, global economy to match the metro's size, most lose.

Please call me Jon. (Or Rogue, as some do). I appreciate your smart comments.

Idealistic Suzanne I will buy u a copy of "Killing the Hidden Waters". More later its lights out in my sleeping bag near Bell Rock.
Sedona used to be a nice town.

My goodness Cal, the last time I saw "nice town" in Sedona was about 1958 when my parents and I used to stay at the Call of the Canyon lodge about a mile up the road from Don Hoel's.

10-4 my first trip was 1950.

I share all of the diagnoses here and much of the despair, but all is not lost. Even today there are places that could be turned into something quite spectacular. It's in tough shape now, but the residential area around the state capitol could be transformed into something akin to Roosevelt or Willo. Run light rail west down Washington by City Hall and the capitol complex. Do something with the old fairgrounds (ASU campus, perhaps?), and the Grand Avenue area will come back even further. And someday the Salt River through downtown can be something more than gravel operations and salvage yeards. All of these things will take 10-20 years, but the sooner we start the sooner we finish. Recall how hopeless it seemed when people first started trying to return Roosevelt to its former glory?

Chris,

Thanks for your comment. My point is not that all is lost. One point is that we must be realistic about the unique challenges Phoenix faces.

And I don't mean to be picky but...Roosevelt has not been restored to a commercial street packed with useful businesses and seamlessly knitted into lovely residential areas north and south, and a vibrant Central Ave. It has been made into something different. Far better than where it stood 20 years ago, and a monument to the hard work of the Resistance. But let's be clear on what has, and has not, been achieved.

And the Salt River is two miles south of downtown. The township was deliberately laid out that way because of the frequent floods, especially before the Salt was dammed. So, no San Antonio Riverwalk for us. The restoration is nice, but it doesn't connect with downtown.

All this points to another challenge: The inability to create critical mass. Things are too far apart, and the capital and vision to create quality place and the incomes and urban sensibilities to appreciate them are relatively scarce for such a big city.

Don't give up or be glum. Know the issues. Thanks to all for their comments.

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