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March 26, 2014

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I am reading this as I travel on Amtrak back home to Phoenix.

As a country, we need choices in our means of travel. I would love to see trains subsidies equal to the subsidies
for airports and roads.

On my train travel, I saw many large families. I saw many traveling to multiple cities to visit relatives. The cost of airfare would be sky-high for these families. Long distance road trips in winter would be costly and impractical. These families need choices and rail travel is a good choice.

Also, all the kids and young adults seem to really enjoy the train. There lies the future demands for trains.

How did passenger rail become one more chewed-over bone in our Culture War? It's not immediately obvious since it's so counterintutitive. Trains more than any other mode of transport connected people during the heyday of the American Century. Even today, people wax nostalgic about them. At one point, every other country-western song seemed to be about them. And yet today, they're just another arrow in Satan's quiver, a liberal conspiracy to separate Real Americans from their cars and planes.

I think about Paul Weyrich, a right-wing extremist by any measure (he also co-founded the Heritage Foundation and ALEC), who was not only pro-rail (and streetcar and light-rail, too), he sat on the national board of governors for AMTRAK. Why didn't he have more sway here? He was one of the most powerful figures in late 20th century America, more powerful, I'd argue, than even Ronald Reagan, but he couldn't make headway on the one issue he was actually correct about.

Some might argue that the right reflexively disdains anything liberals might be for, which seems true enough (case in point: their own health-care plan). But I wonder if it doesn't have something to do with their instinctive love of suburban sprawl, and how trains don't help spread that cancer. Maybe surveying a demographic map gave them a clue - Republicans live most where trains travel least. Maybe they connected those dots and then realized there's no reason to help cities where the liberals all seemed to live.

Now that the business of America is making sure government can't do anything aside from helping defense contractors, Big Ag, insurance companies, and Big Oil, and Wall Street, there's not much we can do to help fund a renaissance in passenger rail in Arizona. Sprawl is a political position now. It rewards disconnection and nihilistic politics. It's why there's a Kookocracy and why it focuses mostly on fetuses and guns. This is your American Century after 40 years of right-wing craziness.

I still have the newspaper clippings from 1998, when I ran for a seat in the Arizona legislature. One item always remarked on with disdain by my incumbent opponents in the House was my proposal to copy San Diego's success with using existing rail lines to create a network of light commuter rail connecting the outlying suburbs with the central city. One line going all the way to Wickenburg, another to Buckeye, another to Apache Junction, another to Casa Grande (with future connections to Tucson). No wonder I was soundly defeated.

I spent the whole month of February in Australia. Half of it in the greater Sydney area and the other half traveling around. My primary mode of transport was the rail system.

Sydney Airport has two terminals (International and Domestic) on a line to Sydney Central Station downtown. Central has 23 platforms for passenger trains that go everywhere. Some of them are light rail and mostly newer, some go through Central and continue on, but most are heavy rail that start/end at the platforms.

Electric trains serve all urban and suburban areas, sharing the tracks with freight, which has its own sidings, terminals and repair yards. Diesel trains serve more outlying areas with smaller populations and long hauls between major metros. The service names tell you a lot about what they do: CityRail, CountryRail, CityLink, CountryLink and so on.

The train schedules are intricately laid out and would be difficult for many, but online resources allow you to enter your start point, destination and time frame and it will give you several options to choose from with generous time for transfers- all from your smartphone. It even links to the bus and ferry systems with passes that cover all modes for one price and one ticket. The online system even tells you when your trip will be affected by track closures, which are always supported by free buses to take you around the closure with little or no change to your schedule.

In addition to using the system in Greater Sydney for everything I did, I took a train from Sydney to Melbourne, a ten-hour journey through the southeastern part of the country. Reserved seats in multiple classes and club/restaurant cars for each class. I saw wild kangaroos three times from my window seat.

Near the end of my trip I took a classic excursion; The Ghan (short for Afghan) is an Oriental-Express type 3-day trip from Darwin on the northern coast all the way through the Red Centre (sic) of the Outback to Adelaide on the south coast. The train features standards seats, Gold-class single and double cabins and Platinum service (which I didn't see, but it includes limo service to/from your hotel).

Having taken the Coast Starlight from Los Angeles to Seattle years ago, I can tell you the Ghan is better than what Amtrak had then, but its newer and more expensive, too. Full restaurant, club cars and cars with cabins are all connected in a sensible arrangement that allows for easy access and comfort with full-time professional staff that know what they're doing and are happy to be doing it. They seem to be on similar schedules to airline crews.

In some ways Australia is like the USA about 100 years ago. The track from Alice Springs to Darwin was only completed in 1980, but service from "the Alice" to Adelaide goes back almost 100 years, replacing camel trains wrangled by "Afghans" (hence the name).

Great Southern Rail has two other epic train journeys. You can take the Indian Pacific from Sydney to Perth (East Coast to West) or the Overland between Adelaide and Melbourne. A fourth trip, the Southern Spirit has been temporarily cancelled.

Traveling this way I feel that I really saw Australia. I flew between points when I had to scheduling purposes. I know that the US has its own history and even current rail corridors, but I have seen only a little of that. Australia is one pace that has invested in rail and shows what it could be here if we could get it done.

Our neighbor to the east has commuter rail service along the Rio Grande valley.
If the policies of NM Gov. Bill Richardson's administration had been retained, this system could have eventually connected the spine of a very rural state, from El Paso to Taos. It currently connects Belen, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and other communities along the Rio Grande.
I take it regularly when I travel to Santa Fe from Tucson - fly to ABQ, shuttle bus to the beautifully restored Alvarado Transportation Center in downtown Albuquerque, then Rail Runner to one of three stops in Santa Fe.
Connection with Amtrak's Southwest Chief is also available in Albuquerque.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Mexico_Rail_Runner_Express

The basic principles of this system could be applied to service along the Nogales - Tucson - Casa Grande - East Valley - Phoenix - Wickenburg corridors, much as Jon suggests.

Side note - the future of the Southwest Chief in New Mexico, Colorado and Kansas is unclear due to track maintenance/upgrade funding requested by the railway from the states. Republican governors in New Mexico and Kansas are not keen on the idea.

http://cjonline.com/news/business/2014-02-02/amtrak-train-planned-through-kansas-could-derail-new-mexico-governor

Thanks for the great dispatch, buford.

Suzanne the answer to your tithe question in the Downtown Pod cast blog is 10 percent of the cost of every ADOT built highway for starters.

Jon, great post great comments. PBS Horizon Arizona had a piece of the normal dribble on light rail retail development within a quarter mile of rail. I sent them an email to check with you about the participation input to Phoenix planning.
Gotta work. Mas Tarde.

If I might divert the thread slightly. Has anyone ridden on a Megabus?

FYI: Megabus is an interchity bus company. The buses do seem to be bigger that the Typical Greyhoud, but it could be just an optical issusion. They do not have terminals, they pick up and drop off at disitnated curbside locations. All ticketing is electonic w/plastic.

The fares are very low. For example a LA-San Fran fare is between $23 and $34 depending of TOD. Trip time between 6:50 and 7:30 hours, again depending of TOD.

LA-San Fran trip time via Amtrac = 10:00 hours

Bham-New Oreans fare (comperable to above) = $44 - $86

Here's what I don't know: how is the trip experience itself?

Oops, the Amtrac numbers are for LA-San Jose

soleri:

Maybe surveying a demographic map gave them a clue - Republicans live most where trains travel least. Maybe they connected those dots and then realized there's no reason to help cities where the liberals all seemed to live.

Exactly right:

http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2011/01/25/understanding-the-republican-partys-reluctance-to-invest-in-transit-infrastructure/

The 3rd quartile of population density is solidly Democratic. More than 2000 people/sq mile and Republicans become exotic. And why should they vote for 'socialist' transit that won't benefit their constituents? Competing interests are just that.

But likewise, the dense metropolitan areas should not let themselves get fleeced due to the suburban clamor for road projects. Your transportation, your problem.

Another upside down issue: now Amtrak is only allowed to subsidize the transcontinental tourist trains which are very expensive but have marginal transportation value. Very useful regional trains like Hiawatha and Cascades are supported by the states. Why not let the tourist trains die and put the money to good use in the Northeast corridor?

Unlike many other states, Arizona does not have much (if any) redundant and/or abandoned railroad track that is in working order.

Thus, intercity rail (e.g., Phoenix - Tucson) becomes much more expensive (and possibly cost prohibitive) compared to other states.

I'm not sure there's going to be many more comments here on this subject, so I'd like to mention the title of this post, Train Dreams, as also that of an acclaimed novella by a local writer, Denis Johnson. I'm not actually sure if he still lives in Phoenix, which was always off and on, but he's one reason to be proud of a state that isn't exactly known for celebrating its good writers. The novella, which is set in Idaho, is as lovely a tone poem as you will read in the English language. Johnson also wrote a Vietnam novel, Tree of Smoke, which won the National Book Award a few years back. Some of you might also remember a bar just east of 24th St on Thomas. Johnson took its name, Incognito Lounge, and turned it into a volume of poems that won several national awards back around 1980. So, thank you, Rogue, for a slightly oblique reference to something Arizonans can be justly proud about.

RE Soleri: "Johnson also wrote a Vietnam novel, Tree of Smoke, which won the National Book Award a few years back." If it's the one I'm thinking about, it was a great book. Seems like it was like 25 or 30 years ago though.

wkg, I checked and Tree of Smoke was published in 2007.

I wonder if you might be thinking of Robert Stone's Dog Soldiers, a story of drug running in Vietnam. A movie was made of it with Nick Nolte (local connection!) and Tuesday Weld titled Who'll Stop the Rain?. Stone was one of my favorite novelists in my youth. His first novel, Hall of Mirrors is set in New Orleans in 1962 and concerns a right-wing talk radio jock. I wonder if it's even still in print. It should be. Actually, quite prescient.

I saw this in Sunday's Arizona Republic (tip o' the pen to Jon Talton):

"There may be no better symbol of central Arizona's ambivalent relationship with the railroad than the forlorn and boarded-up Union Station at Fourth Avenue and Harrison Street that served as a gateway to both these spurs. The modest 1922 depot was built in the Spanish Mission Revival style, in vogue during that era, but it grew shabby as the Sun Belt emphasis on freeways and aviation corridors turned Phoenix outward and closed in 1996 after the last Amtrak train departed.

"Today, it houses communication equipment for Sprint, a Southern Pacific telecom subsidiary, behind a fence. As former Arizona Republic columnist Jon Talton has noted, it is still more beautiful than any of the office buildings that surround it."

http://www.azcentral.com/story/opinion/op-ed/2014/03/21/arizona-trains-history-romance/6714029/

Really squeezed for online time tonight, but the current Rogue blog looks very fine.

wkg in bham: I've never ridden the "Megabus", but I did have the opportunity to ride the "Fung Wah Bus" from Boston to New York City. This was shortly after my wife and I moved to Boston back in '04; friends told us about this bus company that offered cheap ($20) fares for this route, and since we'd never been to NYC before, we did it. What a mistake. Aside from the fact that the driver had a difficult time keeping the bus on the road (he hit the rumble strip numerous times), bus was filthy inside and the crowd was interesting, to say the least. The company was shut down a few years later because it had been involved in too many serious accidents, maintenance records showed falsification on the part of supervisors and the company did not have proper DOT licenses. The fare might be cheap, but you get what you pay for.

Megabus is a big national company with hubs in Atlanta, Chi, Dallas, NYC, Toronto, Pitts,Phil and DC. And a "California Network". I've seen their buses downtown and they're big and shiney and nice looking. I've read about the Chinese and Mexican "ethnic specials" for lack of a better word - and I think I'd pass of them.

Sanjeev, and why is that?"

Wkg do yourself a favor, buy a ticket on an ethnic special.
In 95 and 96 I backpacked from Phoenix to DC. Great time.
I rode a Greyhound (Hispanic Special) back, great experience.

Soleri, I have Stone on the shelf, “The man that killed JFK”

@cal: i have no problem with the "ethnic" part. it's the "special" part.

i lived in japan for about a year and a half and used to just love to ride the trains around. somethimes would go somewhere for no reason at all.

To GO, A dying instinct.
I can drive a 1000 miles listening only to the rubber on the road.
I can walk the desert listening only to the silence roar.
Today, the ears are full of deafening plugs and the eyes glued to a screen of un-reality.
The buffalo have been replaced by drug fed cows and the astounding on foot arrival in 900 AD at the edge of the Grand Canyon has been replaced by a van full of 15 minute camera shooters thirsting for the next beer stop.
The Europeans should have stayed home, they are the true illegal aliens.

Ah yes always on the sharp edge of religion and profit.

There was fortunes waiting to be made by selling liquor just outside the boundaries of Indian reservations and train tracks to get it by the tons to its destinations.

http://ryepatriotism.blogspot.com/2008/12/prohibition-is-dead-mormons-killed-it.html

Well Calvin intimated you could tell who was going to heaven by the accumulation of wealth. he left out extra wives and didnt comment on how many kids you had to have.

Megabus: Bus system primarily in the upper Midwest and Northeast. Primitive network in the Southeast and California. Offers service comparable to or superior to Amtrak in terms of price, trip times and comfort. Buses are clean and the drivers are polite and professional. Advertises availability of Wi-Fi but service is spotty. Primary market is college kids, hipsters and the military. Avoid traveling on late afternoon/evening on Fridays and Sundays. Service is point-to-point with minimal interim stops. No terminals; curbside pickup/drop off at transit stations. I would keep this in the back of your mind if traveling outside of the Southwest or Mountain states. Had a Phoenix-LA route at one point and withdrew it due to lack of ridership.

Travel Modes: I am indifferent to riding cars, buses or trains. It all comes down to cost, convenience, comfort, travel time, etc. I would have added planes to the list, but the abuse that air travelers are subjected to has caused me to take this mode off the table. If I’m going to have to rent a car at my destination, that cost goes into the equation also. I think I would like trains more if it was like the old days and you could go to the bar-car and smoke and get liquored up. The only mode of travel I really enjoy is via cruise liner – and only older, smaller ones at that. I’d like to see Zeppelins make a comeback.

WKG, everything was good and cool and on foot until early 1400.

@cal: foot my favorite mode. All others just an accomodation to other factors.

From the main article: “It isn't seeking my input for reasons that will become apparent, but here goes anyway.” He’s not seeking mine either, but here it goes:

Let’s simulate Phoenix-Tucson rail as closely as we can using buses. That is if there were train service, it would be between Union Station in Phoenix and xxx in Tucson. Trip time = 90 minutes. For buses there would be no speed limit. The driver would be allowed to travel as fast as he feels he safely can. Start with an hourly departures in each direction. If demand requires, add more than one bus per hour for certain time periods. What would all this cost? I have no experience with transit operations, but here it goes:
10 buses at $300,000 each $3,000,0000
20 drivers at $100,000 each $2,000,0000
O & M (net of revenue) $2,000,000
Admin, etc. $3,000,000
Total $10,000,000
Run the service for a couple of years and you’ll have your answer. If it goes over like gangbusters, then you can put rail on the table to make the service even better.

Not bad for an old commie, Uruguay President Jose Mujica.
Acting like a profiteer?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/28/uruguay-track-pot_n_5051231.html?utm_hp_ref=world

Cal, I read that WSJ piece and, between rolling my eyes and arching my eyebrows, I probably burned a couple hundred calories. It would be one thing if the WSJ was sincerely agrarian in its worldview. But it isn't. It celebrates pretty much everything that has devastated rural America, from Big Ag to the winner-take-all economy in which the middle-class is told to suck it up and produce what people want. Well, it is pretty clear these people don't want drudge work in a slaughterhouse for barely above minimum wage. They do want a middle-class lifestyle, and maybe the best place for that opportunity is in cities. Not that even those places are immune to the economic hollowing out of the middle class. This phenomenon crosses geographic and demographic lines. This is the Randian logic behind tax cuts for the "producers" and benefit cuts for the workers. Suppose the government actually decided to incentivize rural lifestyles beyond the rhetoric of bootstrapping or sucking it up. Is there any policy that doesn't involve further tax cuts for the wealthy or deregulation? Of course not. That's pretty much the sum total of all "free-market" economic principles that animate our zealots.

Suppose, however, that we tried this one thing: cutting subsidies for huge agricultural behemoths but enhancing them for modest-sized family farms. Do you think that might help stabilize rural America? It couldn't hurt, of course, but America's right-wing faith in markets would never allow picking "winners" that weren't already rich. That's anathema. And therefore it can't be tried.

Here's a link for you at (caution if you're not a subscriber) at the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/30/opinion/sunday/egan-at-home-when-the-earth-moves.html?ref=opinion&_r=0
It's the painful realization that denial of environmental consequences does not protect idiots from nature. By this point, it should be crystal clear. But somewhere, a blogger is getting ready to blame environmentalists for the disastrous landslide on the Stillaguamish River in Washignton state.

Thanks Soleri.
Guess there is no caring about
"Sometimes a Great Notion."

I found the WSJ to ring true on a personal level. I was from a small town in Florida, Cocoa (it’s not so small anymore); although we specialized in shooting off rockets, rather than growing corn. I went to UF then into the Navy for two years. I had two years to ponder: what do I do now? It came down to a choice between Miami and Atlanta (Although I had a pretty sweet offer in San Fran). For me returning to Cocoa, or Orlando (the nearest “big town”) was off the table. I’ll be returning to Cocoa/Orlando soon: not because I want to, but sometimes family crap trumps other concerns. I guess I’ll be a “returner” then.

An aside: I had the “pleasure” to
driving through SE Alabama recently. They do serious agriculture down there. I really think there is a renaissance for agriculture in this country. Saw numerous tracts being put back into production.

Another aside: it would seem to me that the mud-slide was caused by clear cutting too close to a steep slope.

"The advent of Agriculture was the beginning of the down fall of man."
Jared Diamond
Get your legs in shape for scrounging food gathering. The Quest for Fire and the Naked Ape by Desmond Morris.

@Soleri: Had a good chance to do some "walking around" via google streetview today. I think I'm with you: Pheonix is broken beyond fixing. If I get a chance I'd like to expalain why Atlanta, which on the serface would seem to be very similiar, has a splendid future in front of it.

wkg, I'd be interested to hear your take on both cities. I haven't been to Atlanta in decades, so I know a lot has changed. Nonetheless, I thought it had a major-league downtown when I saw it last. It's not what I'd call wonderful so much as large and vibrant in its own way.

Both Phoenix and Atlanta have big issues. Paradoxically, Atlanta's water issue is probably graver than Phoenix's. Socio-economic/racial segregation are major issues in both cities. And for Phoenix, the lack of a dynamic core is damaging not only to the city itself but to the region as a whole.

It's amazing how different cities manifest different stories, different strengths and weaknesses, and different trajectories. Outside of Detroit, I think Phoenix's future is the most problematic of any large American city. I don't think the city will implode like Detroit has but the "discontinuity" that Rogue always talks about is fast burying Phoenix in a second-tier class. Phoenix cannot reinvent itself, despite the promise its name suggests. Sprawl does not retrofit easily, cheaply, or willingly. And this summer, I predict, will be hellaciously hot. We're tiptoeing past a graveyard that few acknowledge even exists. But nature has a way of eventually getting our attention.

A Tale of Two Cities (Part 1)
In 1950 the population of Atlanta was 330,000. I don’t know the metro population, but probably somewhere around 400,000. It has grown explosively ever since to around 5.5 million +/-.

Like Phoenix in 1950, it was strictly a regional city with minimal national presence.

In 1950-1960, everything was very downtown-centric.

Since then, the city has sprawled in all directions. I’d put up Atlanta’s sprawl with anybody’s. It can take an hour at good interstate speeds to
cross the city.

In 1973, when I moved to Atlanta, it was if not officially segregated, in practice it totally was.

Oops: that should be "officialy integrated, in practice is was totaly segregrated."

@Soleri: “Both Phoenix and Atlanta have big issues. Paradoxically, Atlanta's water issue is probably graver than Phoenix's.” Yep. But Atlanta’s are voluntary. Could very easily build reservoirs to deal with droughts, but do not have the will to do so.

@Soleri: Re downtwon: "It's not what I'd call wonderful so much as large and vibrant in its own way." Yep. Atlanta does a huge convention business. Most locals stick to an area called "Buckhed", or the "Virgina-Highlands", or "Midtown".

wkg, "Reservoirs" is that like dams?
Ah the Monkey Wrench Gang just met recently in Salt Lake City. The last thing this planet needs is another dam, be it on the Colorado River or in China.

@cal "wkg, "Reservoirs" is that like dams?"

Yep. Most of the time here in ths South we have problems with floods not droughts. Our basic problem is too much water.

I disagree: not to much water just too many people.

Meanwhile true capitalism is hard at work> Chapo are really Chapos.

http://www.popsci.com/article/technology/radio-tecnico-how-zetas-cartel-took-over-mexico-walkie-talkies?src=SOC&dom=tw

A Tale of Two Cities (Part 2)

A crucial intervention. I don’t know when Atlanta became a gay magnet, but it did. Urban slum/rot was working its way on a generally south-to-north direction. Middle/working class abandonment was rampant (regardless of race). The gays settled a “no-man’s land” roughly defined by mid-town and Ponce de Leon. They didn’t care that the schools were no good and the police “protection” wasn’t all that great. They just wanted to be left alone.

wkg: U know that Hal and David had a kid?

meanwhile high speed rail in China keeps getting faster.
Just in case you forgot about China:

http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/30/china-political-gamble-of-century-president-xi-jinping

A Tale of Two Cities (Part 3)

Although Atlanta grew explosively, the city never lost its elite status. The best neighborhoods were still in the city. The best shopping. The best restaurants and entertainment. Albeit, none of them downtown. It remains the same to today.

Enter John Portman: downtown was, quite frankly, dying. His Regency-Hyatt House Hotel and Merchandise Market kick-started downtown into a revival that lasts to this day. I know that Renassance Center in Detroit was more or less a fortress when it was built, but then it had to be. Peachtree Center in downtown Atlanta is very open to the city. The 2nd biggest transit station on the MARTA system is in its basement.

Nothing like Arizona:
A ridiculous arrest. The kids to CPS, maybe but putting a person in jail that was looking for a job to feed her kids. I find it amazing how stupidity becomes a crime. This is a problem of helping a fellow human being. Jail is not helping other than she gets 2 green baloney sandwiches a day.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/28/shanesha-taylor-homeless-mom-arrested_n_5050356.html?utm_hp_ref=mostpopular

Cal, I have been following this story since it's getting national attention. The woman's mug shot - tears running down her cheeks - clearly struck a chord. A couple of obvious things - she's black (aka, one of Those People), and she's poor. We say the poor should work hard, etc., and then we arrest them when they desperately try to do that. In a society that is fundamentally indifferent and perhaps even hostile about them, the task can be nearly insurmountable.

What you do to the least among us you do also to me. Someone said that - Che Guevara? Bernie Sanders? Leon Trotsky? - I forget. I wish someone would remember.

wkg, there are a few obvious similarities between Phoenix and Atlanta. Sprawl is probably the foremost one. Then there's the polycentric thingie, which Atlanta appears to have made work if only judging by its impressive skylines. And then there's gentrification, which favors Atlanta since it has a much older building stock than Phoenix. Both cities want to leverage the back-to-the-city ethos of the creative class, of course. I checked Wikipedia, and Atlanta's population, after years of decline, increased in the previous decade. Good news. The last thing, both cities were really damaged by the 2007 crash, mostly because of real-estate prices, but not entirely.

The differences, however, appear more telling. Atlanta is a major home to large corporations. It's the regional economic hub and powerhouse. Its transportation nexus is very strong. It's educational institutions such as Emory, are more substantial.

What advantages does Phoenix have? Obviously, the black/white division is not an issue although the Anglo/Hispanic one is. Is the climate superior? I think most people would probably prefer Phoenix's warm winters and only marginally prefer Atlanta's very humid if not scorching summers. But a resort ethos is not really good for the civic culture. The emphasis on golf and sunbathing comes with a hidden price. Grown-ups do more than play. Somehow, Phoenix seems less serious. But Phoenix is a western city, and there isn't that Southern craziness that surrounds Atlanta. Politically, I think Arizona is more libertarian than fundamentalist. But it's hard to say old-time religion is really hurting Atlanta except on the margins. They do have some really crazy congressmen down there, on the other hand. Arizona has Trent Franks.

On balance, I think Atlanta is the much stronger city. Its economic power, old building stock/civic monuments, transportation system, and dynamism outclasses Phoenix. The danger, however, is that Georgia's political nuttiness eventually damages Atlanta's brand. Arizona's craziness hurts Phoenix, of course, although it's less obvious since Phoenix stopped being the galvanizing core of its metropolitan area a long time ago. We just don't know what might have been if the kooks never took over. Both Georgia and Arizona are red states with strong purple potential. Economically, Atlanta appears to be in a stronger position to change Georgia than Phoenix would be to change Arizona. But culture is the crucible here and the South appears determined to never forget.

@Soleri: “there are a few obvious similarities between Phoenix and Atlanta. Sprawl is probably the foremost one.” Yep, for sure. But in the middle of it is a city that is becoming a real city. The suburban thing has never given me heartburn. I’d say go so far as to say a good city needs good suburbs. It’s the preferred life style of what 80% or 90% of Americans.

Another difference: 90% of the metro-Atlanta population is outside of city limits. It’s never been in position to try and ram things down the throats of others. There is not an anti-city bias. If anything, I’d say there’s a pro-city vibe. The suburbanites enjoy hanging out in the nifty in-town neighborhoods, attending events, the up-scale shopping, etc. I’d say the common feeling is that the city as an amenity, and an enemy.

Another good thing: Atlanta is still a very affordable city. I think I find a pretty nifty neighborhood where you could live on a working class or middle class income.

The city is rich. It can pretty much go-it-alone on most things.

You touched on the economic strength. I know if the readers here are aware of just how strong it is. Companies headquartered in Atlanta that I think off of the top of head include: Coca Cola, Delta Airlines, Georgia-Pacific, Cisco Services, Southern Company, UPS, Home Depot, Turner Communications, Chick Filet, Sun Trust Bank and ICE. ICE is the Intercontinental Commodities Exchange. The last I heard they were buying the NYSE. Many large companies run their sales and service arm out of Atlanta. IMB has a huge presence in the city. It’s a little light on the manufacturing side of things.

There was a “growth-for-growth’s-sake” element to the economy. This element was hammered in 2007. I think the housing overhang has been dealt with. The last time I saw some numbers metro-wide population growth was back up to 70,000/year. This is down from 100,000/year pre-crash. People don’t move to Atlanta for the golf or the sun; they move there seeking economic opportunities. Newbies tend to be on young side but also a lot of middle-aged business/tech types who are hired from out of state to fill specific positions.

While the there are times in July, August, January and February when weather can be pretty nasty. While weather is certainly not a plus, I don’t think it’s bad enough to be a minus. Personally, I’d have real trouble with gloominess of Portland and Seattle. Interesting factoid: Birmingham gets more rain annually than Seattle. Phoenix is way too hot.

Oops. That should have been: "I’d say the common feeling is that the city as an amenity, and not an enemy."

Atlanta enjoys MARTA, at least in the city. This was the subway system meant for Seattle, but Seattle voters foolishly voted down the city's modest investment. In any event, although metro Atlanta is a sprawl disaster, MARTA is a great way to move around the city and will only become a greater asset if Atlanta can take advantage of the "back to the city" movement.

Unsolicited advice (and I promised not to do this – but I can’t help myself): Quit obsessing what they’re doing in Gilbert and Chandler. If they want to be crazy and insane, fine. Who cares?

Find a three block stretch somewhere. You can make a pretty cool neighborhood in three blocks. I can provide GPS co-ordinates to two: one in Birmingham and one in Atlanta.

I’d like to say form some kind of vision of what you’d like the city to be, but I think creative chaos is the way to go. Fix some of the obvious things like the streets being too wide and one-way. Eliminate zoning. Establish a business license fee of $1. Really relax building code requirements. Provide enlightened police protection. Stand back and observe.

I don’t think the average Phoenician is stupid. You need to put something real, tangible, and concrete in front of them. Not sketches and dreamy-eyed visions.

Phoenix is going nowhere as long as it’s a second rate version of Scottsdale.

I have started a movement to exile all Arizona White Republicans and non atheists to Georgia.
PS I changed my registration to Anarchist.

@Cal: I have started a movement to exile all Arizona White Republicans and non atheists to Georgia.PS I changed my registration to Anarchist.

Changed from Republican? Too bad. I would have liked to have driven over and had a beer or two or six with you (if you had been exiled to Georgia). No way I’m driving to AZ and no way I’m getting on a plane. If you ever make it over this way let me know.

cal, as an anarchist, you're a natural.

Had a guy come into the restaurant today asking stuff about downtown - he's retired but he's going to do walking tours during the nice weather and he wanted to know about everything.

I told him about Phoenix 101 and gave him the link to Jon's joint here.

Beer, sounds like something the good ole boys of Georgia drink. Come on by for some 200 proof Blue Agave Mescal.
No worms. Better than Hill country White Lightin.
We can watch Thunder Road.

@Cal: Have to stick to beer. Hard liquor makes me crazy.

I'll take you up on the Blue Agave Mescal.

O/T, for your collective consideration:

The Debate: Independence or Partisanship

"Our Only Hope Will Come Through Rebellion"

wkg, I like your "creative chaos" idea. Would it work here? Given how the state is already devolving from order to chaos, it may happen regardless if we plan for it. But could we plan it? I tend to doubt it. Law is not something where you suspend the rules as an experiment. We humans tend to be all or nothing. And all it takes is one stakeholder who is a holdout to scuttle the experiment.

Still, it does point out why Phoenix doesn't sizzle except in the ambient temperature department. The absence of old retail/warehouse space is a killer. There's no place for the hippies to open a head shop, or for other alternative types to open bookstores, cafes, antique stores, etc. The very businesses which give a city verve are on very limited display in Phoenix.

There's a street, 7th Avenue, which did become a magnet for antique dealers. The city pitched in a made a nice overarching street sign for the folks. And there was even an annual street fair which got lots of attention. What happened? The landlords starting jacking up the rents. Since there weren't really any other districts with that kind of old retail space, the antique dealers had no place else to go. Some simply folded their tents, victims of the very success they midwifed.

Portland is a genuine mecca for businesses like these since it has a huge amount of old spaces that can accomodate them. But the handwriting is on the wall. As the city prospers, the really interesting businesses will be under increasing economic pressure to either move or become much less "interesting". I think the city has about 10 years before this happens. Portland's future is well-heeled yuppies shopping at Design Within Reach and Elm Street. It's not that yuppies don't appreciate weirdness but they're not going to buy bongs and lava lamps to decorate their expensive condos.

One other place to see this phenomenon is Tempe's Mill Avenue, probably the only walkable street in metro Phoenix. 20-some years ago, it was heaven. Changing Hands bookstore, by far the best independent in the region was there. So was Cookies From Home, and numerous vintage clothing stores. Today, they're all gone. There's the typical Urban Outfitters on one corner, and a Hooter's and countless T shirt stores for the homers. But aside from a few cool restaurants and bars, Mill Avenue's vibe is flat. Phoenix has one other corner, 7th Ave & McDowell, with the bones to offer something genuine and different. What happened? Chain fast food moved in. Some days you just have to cry about the city. It's snakebit.

Some days you just have to cry about the city. It's snakebit.

LOL. So true, so true.

@Solaeri: “Phoenix has one other corner, 7th Ave & McDowell, with the bones to offer something genuine and different. What happened? Chain fast food moved in.”

If a local business can’t beat the shit out of McDonald’s, or Whopper King, it doesn’t deserve to exist. Yep, the big boys have very deep pockets. But people will follow a business that they really like: to point where it’s almost a secret as to where it is.

One of the tragedies of Phoenix is that it can't create critical mass where it will be most effective, i.e. in the heart of the city.

Thus, an effervesce at Seventh Street south of Campbell isn't connected to anything else, especially light rail (WBIYB). And it is more than three miles from downtown. And it is not connected by convenient and frequent transit. And the nearby neighborhoods are mere subdivisions.

Grand Avenue. Another promise. Great bones, for a few blocks (it used to be for miles). But the connection with downtown is severed and no transit, no capital, ultimately another cutoff little pocket -- loved by its stewards and boosters, but not enough.

And so it goes. On and on. A successful city must have critical mass in the core -- the real downtown core -- that is walkable, connected and not car dependent. That can attract real capital investment. And, as was the case with old Phoenix, is very dense.

Where is Phx Planner?

re wkg "a local business can’t beat the shit out of McDonald’s, or Whopper King, it doesn’t deserve to exist. Yep, the big boys have very deep pockets." oops. I'd like to do a big undo on that one. Sometimes, the big national guys can just crush a small local guy.

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