So many myths, so little time or brain cells. I suppose that is why malign falsehoods carry us forward. The latest was a story I read where a UofA professor is having a loud growthgasm over Arizona's spectacular income growth and how 2014 will be even better.
I don't mean to be unfair or pick on people, but when these ideas enter the public square through the most powerful media outlets they reinforce the "everything's fine" lie that keeps Arizona backward.
To be sure, "staying positive" on the party line is a good way to keep one's job. I am proof of what happens to dissidents.
About income: Unless something radical has changed, Arizona is an underperformer and will remain so. The snapshots of "growth" are statistical noise caused by the large population churn. A certain right-wing columnist has ridden this for years to say, in essence, "Arizona does not suck, Talton!" — even though reality is quite different.
Reality: Arizona ranked 41st among the states and District of Columbia in median income in 2012, using a rigorous three-year average in inflation-adjusted dollars. The number: $49,689.
The data are not hard to find.
In per-capita income, another gold standard of how people are really doing, Arizona ranked 41st in 2012, down from 35th in 1990.
Interestingly, the five top-performing states are all blue: Maryland, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New Jersey and Massachusetts. Arizona trails its high-quality peers in the West: Colorado, Washington, Utah, Oregon — even low-quality Nevada.
But "the cost of living is lower!" Not really. Comparing Phoenix or Tucson to a major technology center is apples to diamonds. Few people from the latter would come to the former. Groceries and gasoline are average to somewhat more expensive. Housing is average to somewhat cheaper. But wages are very low, especially for a populous state and such a large metro as Phoenix. And Arizona draws a large number of working poor.
Facts are stubborn things. Unwelcome things, too, among the Kookocracy and the booster class.
Now to the New Year and some markers to watch:
1. Politics. I suppose we must care, even though the Big Sort keeps adding to the New Confederacy majority and the Democrats seem toothless.
The Legislature remains the biggest impediment to Arizona's progress. Until Democrats can rebuild from the school-board level up, tell a compelling narrative and retake the Legislature, nothing much will change. And even St. Janet had bend to the Real Estate Industrial Complex and NO TAXES!! crowd.
Who will run for governor? Who cares? See the above paragraph. Maybe drafting the Badged Ego and letting him do a Mecham would be the only way to be rid of him.
In Phoenix, we avoided more inroads by the nihilist Kooks on City Council. But two are enough and a critical question is whether the body, which worked with mostly comity and consensus for decades, is hopelessly stymied. As we know from national politics, "gridlock" is the friend and goal of the reactionary nihilists.
Phoenix will name a permanent city manager. This will be a big deal.
2. The economy. In truth, Arizona and Phoenix continue to struggle even by the boosters' favored metrics in housing and raw job creation.
Consider the latest report by the Milken Institute, which was kind to state and metro during the go-go bubble years. Its Best Performing Cities 2013 ranks 66. Better than the previous year's 122, but hardly escape velocity from the lesser depression. Tucson ranked 115, up from 150.
Lacking an established tech hub or energy center, without major connections to the world, this is going to be hard. Sunshine is not enough.
There's no housing boom coming anytime soon. Indeed, the froth in Phoenix is heavily dependent on banks buying rentals and bundling the rents into securities to sell to investors. That's a prescription for a mini-crash at worst, and neighborhood decline at best.
Federal austerity is hurting a state so dependent on federal dollars, all the red-Rand posturing notwithstanding.
An ominous sign comes from the 2012 data on migration, so desperately needed to keep the Ponzi scheme going. Arizona gained a net 25,615 residents from other states. This is an improvement from the worst of the recession, but far below the 100,000-plus of the past.
As usual, the churn is astonishing — and a major impediment to building a civic culture. Last year, 232,457 came, but 206,842 left.
Americans are moving less often, one of many signs of a middle class under siege. And many, including empty nest baby boomers, want to live in vibrant cities rather than gated properties with championship golf.
I see few signs that Arizona leaders are even discussing these issues. Maybe cheap-and-dirty can build a powerhouse economy. It hasn't happened under decades of Republican rule in the state, growing ever more extreme. But maybe...
3. Environment. The frogs/lobsters/crabs in the slowly heating pot won't even begin a conversation about climate change and Arizona's future, or a reality based assessment of water resources.
Is there the activist muscle to push back against the continuing destruction of the state? What fresh hell will the developers bring to the New Year in what was once pristine desert or High Country?
Make no mistake, denial about this doesn't make it go away. Just as people were surprised by the deadly Yarnell fire, each year ahead promises to be one where there's a hard slap about what is coming. (It doesn't have to come, at least with such severity, but that's another discussion).
4. Downtown and central Phoenix. Forgive me for not standing at the barricades as Harkins prepares to demolish Camelview. Scottsdale is rich and can take care or itself — or not. I still mourn the loss of what would have made great indie houses: The Fox and the Palms.
Here, I'll stick to what is doable.
In the new year, I'll be watching to see if the core, especially Midtown, can make some progress beyond restaurants and coffee houses. (And no, unnamed reporter, Seventh Avenue and Campbell is not "downtown Phoenix").
Councilwoman Pastor, please read Jane Jacobs and James Howard Kunstler — and buy copies of their books for your colleagues and the city staff.
Downtown, the light-rail line and the central city desperately need to get in the economic game against the suburbs. Phoenix needs to continue the progress at ASU and keep CityScape alive. It needs the walkable critical mass in its heart that is one key to quality urbanism.
Most arts organizations continue to struggle, brave faces notwithstanding. Let's hope they can do better in 2014. The problem is not lack of money in the metro — it is lack of stewards. The one exception is a guy that funds a museum — but one far from the museum district, all on private land and inaccessible by transit. That's not stewardship. It is merely another flavor of white-right apartheid, or, to be more generous, cluelessness about what makes a great city.
Meanwhile, fight for shade trees and grass in the heart of the city.
I welcome your Phoenix and Arizona markers for 2014 in the comments section.
Happy New Year.