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April 08, 2014

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Charter government is in name only. Mayors and their machines run Arizona cities. City Managers in the image of Andrews and Fairbanks are only memories. Today's Arizona city manager is not much more than the Mayor's lap dog.

Jon, I am not sold on the "strong mayor" argument. What is the basis for your "Mayo is deliberately far from transit and brown residents" comment. As a transit supporter, I experienced the "If you build it 'those people' will come" arguments of the opposition. However, when SR 51 was opened to Cactus Road, the "lingua franca" of Roadrunner Park turned from English to Spanish overnight. **Transportation**, not just transit, facilitates the movement of citizens among different parts of the city. Mayo Hospital is near the Loop 101, and the Mayo Clinic is served by a bus line.

I have no use for the "Tea Party," but the left hasn't come up with a reasonable alternative to simply "spending other people's money." If all the energy spent to badmouthing Republicans on Facebook and elsewhere were instead devoted to promoting a lively discussion about an adaptive reuse (and/or return of passenger service) to Union Station, we'd all be better off.

When I moved to Portland, I knew most of the generalities but few of the specifics of its celebrated status as one the world's greenest and best planned cities. One thing I noticed quickly is how thick the discussion is here about issues from homelessness to transportation to architecture to the environment. Democracy's little battalions are everywhere, from 79 neighborhood associations (staffed with volunteers but funded by the government), to volunteer groups on every conceivable issue, value, concern, and interest. Having spent almost my entire life in Phoenix, I was a bit dazed by the conversations. How do you even begin to comprehend the layers of complexity here? Phoenix, by contrast, was rather too easy to understand.

100 years ago, Portland was a hotbed of strife about one thing or another. There were Wobblies and the KKK, anti-Asian labor movements, anarchists, even a free-love movement. A couple of days ago, I saw a family wearing T-shirts emblazoned with something called HIPS. Turns out it was an organization dedicated to protecting sex workers. Chances are you'll find more people concerned about homeless dogs than homeless people, but the fact is startling how every issue has its claque.

I mention all this not to reinforce Portland's stereotype of weirdness but to contrast with the apathy in Phoenix where people not only don't vote but don't even know their neighbors. The government functions reasonably well but not well enough to create a civic heartbeat. Phoenix is what it is, which probably has more to do with its epic sprawl than political history. You want to know how much people care about their city? Look around and see if you think it looks loved. There's your answer.

Ultimately, the built environment coupled with examples of cultural history and social conscience will tell you everything you need to know about any city. Phoenix was built on the cheap by real-estate grifters and the result is predictable. In 2000, the Sierra Club decided to take a page from Oregon's history and put an initiative on the ballot (Prop 202) that established growth boundaries around Arizona cities. The early polling was favorable and to naive observers it looked like it might pass. By the time the real-estate industrial complex got finished threatening everyone's job if it did indeed pass, it lost better than 2 - 1.

For better or worse (I pick #2), Phoenix is not going to change by having a stronger mayor. It's way too late for hoping that changing the process will also change either the city or its social reality. Sorry for sounding so cynical about this, particularly to those who struggle in the teeth of a wind that eventually mows everyone down. Phoenix is actually a nice city if you don't care too much. Indeed, its citizens figured that out a long time ago.

@Cal (last thread): "Reminds me of when I stopped in Vicksburg while walking across america in 95 and went to Mens Day at the all Black Southern Baptist Church." Walking across america!!!!

You need to write a bood. At the very least maybe a guest post when Rogue is tied up with other stuff.

im a reader not a writer. i leave that to brillant guys like Jon and Soleri. whens your next book coming out Soleri?

and good to c Master Detective Bill Richardson weighing in here.

Phoenix might benefit from a stronger mayor, but Phoenix, and the rest of Arizona, would definitely benefit from a weaker legislature.

Phoenix could elect the world's wisest, smartest, and strongest mayor, but anything he or she did to help the city could/would be overridden by the loons in the legislature.

Side-note: Some additional comments elucidating the possibility of false black-box pinger detections from oceanic creatures, have been added to the comments section, here:

http://www.roguecolumnist.com/rogue_columnist/2014/03/when-push-comes-to-shove.html

Strong mayors are like other autocrats: great if they are honest and wise and you like their policies; otherwise, not so much. The ability to act decisively without the endless disputations of groups (councils, panels, legislatures, bureaucracies) cuts both ways: the potential is strong, not only to get things done that need doing, but conversely, for using the power of fiat to ignore the sober counsels of others, to thwart the public will, or to act unwisely and precipitately, on personal whim or to satisfy a narrow range of personal political backers.

The council-manager form of city government, like the strongman model, is not immune to problems of corruption and abuse; where it differs is that, theoretically, each council member has an independent constituency whose interests they must represent, thus giving political voice to a diverse city population, each with its own particular problems.

In practice, it sometimes happens that council members (whether city or otherwise) conspire to trade favors, each supporting the graft of the others. There is also the possibility that powerful backers may put a majority clique into office, resulting in a governing quorum that is corrupt or at least in negligence of their broader duties.

The addition of a city manager attempts to accomplish this: to allow city council members, each representing the interests of different portions of the city with their own demographic differences and challenges, to appoint someone independent of them all yet presumably reflective of the sensibilities of the council majority, to run the day to day affairs of the city.

Since the manager is a purely administrative rather than political position, there is (theoretically) less scope for graft and influence from political constituents (since he has none and relies on nobody except the city council for his position). The manager also brings a technical expertise to such affairs that city council members, being political persons, may well lack; and he can attend to city matters on a full-time basis without being required to campaign or to attend to the numerous political tasks and public appearances associated with council membership.

P.S. From a recent Arizona Republic "Quote of the Day":

"Government is raw power. Government is not compassionate or merciful. That is left to individuals."

-- Senate President Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert

Surely an interesting condensation of conservative governing philosophy, from someone in a position to put it into practice, and not merely a figure on the fringes.

Jon, I gotta gp with Soleri and Emil on this one. Stantons a nice guy that has abondaned dowtown and moved to North Phoenix. I prefer appointed accountable mangers over elected officials, ie, Joe Arpaio. I will sleep on this and get back to U later.

Reference Emils post from I run the state from Gilbert (home of the Devil Dogs, KKK without sheets)Senate President Andy Biggs at least spoke the truth. He just posted the definition of the LDS LLC

note todays Republic has LDS LLC legislators (and some Democrats?) pushing hard an education package from a Utah company that donates $$ to elections. nothing new here.

The City of Phoenix suffers from many problems, but with regard to the issue at hand I think the following are most salient. One, it’s big and two, it’s poor – at least for a big city. Merely being big causes overheads and other organizational needs. Big – regardless of mayor/council makeup – is always going to result in a certain amount of graft and corruption. Big cities means big budgets. If your rich enough, these problems can just be paid for. Phoenix isn’t rich.

I think the best them Phoenix could do would be to split into seven cities of around 200,000 +/- people. Thirty cities of 50,000 +/- would be even better. 35,000-50,000 seems to be sweet spot for good city government.

Since this thread doesn’t seem to be going anywhere, let me toss in an issue: how big does a city need to be to be a viable entity? Most urbanist ‘s thinking puts this at somewhere around a million. These are metro numbers, not core city numbers. Living in Birmingham, at about 1.1 million, I can attest that 1.0 million is enough. Actually I think it can be less. Birmingham suffers from a large poor and underclass population (both white and black). I think a city of 700,000-800,000 could be quite viable.

The term “real city” is vague. I guess everyone has their own version. Here is mine. Are there any really good restaurants? Up-scale and funky, off-the-wall shopping? Airport? Symphony? “Events”?

Here’s another one: a real city has a multiplicity of neighborhoods. A place that accommodates all tastes in what constitutes a great place to live. That’s one of the things that distinguish Atlanta and Phoenix. Or Birmingham and Phoenix for that matter. Nifty in-town walkable neighborhood – got it. High rise Chicago thing – got it. McMansion sprawlberg- got it. Working class-in town neighborhood – got it. A good city accommodates everybody.

Continuing previous thoughts. I think a real city does real things. Even if they’re non-tangible. Taking Birmingham for instance. We do Eds and Meds like everybody else. UAB with credible med school. Andrews sports injury clinic world-class. Two regional banks (Regions, Compass), Insurance (Protective Life, Liberty National), … all the usual stuff. But we still make a lot of steel here. Energy a big deal (coal, gas, oil). Building cars a big deal (Mercedes, Honda, Hyundai). Car part’s and associated industiries a really big deal.

Well what do they do over in Atlanta? Well just everything you can think of. Just the corporate line-up will give you an idea: Coke, Delta Airlines, UPS, Turner Communications, ICE, Home Depot, Chick-filet, Southern Company, Cisco Services, Georgia Pacific., Sun Trust Bank, Probably their biggest “industry” is a sales/customer rep office for almost every national and international company. I know IBM has a huge presence in the city.

Side-note: a comment on the new pair of Australian sonar detections and claims as to artificial origin, has been posted in the Comments section, here:

http://www.roguecolumnist.com/rogue_columnist/2014/03/when-push-comes-to-shove.html

wkg wrote:

"Big – regardless of mayor/council makeup – is always going to result in a certain amount of graft and corruption. Big cities means big budgets. If your rich enough, these problems can just be paid for. Phoenix isn’t rich."

While it's true that big money seems to provide an irresistable opportunity for waste, fraud, and corruption regardless of venue, you haven't shown that such abuses account for more than a tiny fraction of the city budget: therefore the suggestion that the city "cannot afford" them does not follow.

wkg wrote:

"I think the best them Phoenix could do would be to split into seven cities of around 200,000 +/- people. Thirty cities of 50,000 +/- would be even better."

Graft and corruption can be an even bigger problem in small towns than in large, as anyone familiar with the deep south knows. Also, splitting a city by 7 or 30 means a duplication of administration by the same amount, and that is inefficient and costly. There is also the question of the geographic and demographic lines on which such a division could be based, as well as the practical objection that such a division will never take place, as it is neither demanded by the public nor in the interests of the political status quo.

wkg wrote:

"Let me toss in an issue: how big does a city need to be to be a viable entity? Most urbanist ‘s thinking puts this at somewhere around a million. These are metro numbers, not core city numbers."

What do you mean by "viable"? Cities with a million residents were quite rare until the 19th and (especially) 20th century, yet nobody claimed that world centers like Vienna, Constantinople, London, Paris, and Tokyo weren't "viable". (Vienna had a population of about 300,000 in 1800 and about 600,000 as late as 1850.) As for modern cities, there are many with populations of a few hundred or even tens of thousands that seem to function quite successfully.

wkg, where Phoenix falls critically short is in the walkable downtown and urban neighborhood category. Does the city have a heartbeat or vibe that energizes the people who live there? I think it's an economic development issue as well. When a city doesn't have a strong core, it fails to magnetize new investment or attract new residents. Phoenix is stuck, more or less, trying to reinvent itself from the outside in, an impossible task. No amount of sports bars, arenas, or even trendy restaurants can heal the wound of a city with weak street presence and poor bones.

To engage a counterfactual: suppose Phoenix really did swing, that its downtown never died only to be replaced by a good-looking corpse. Would Phoenix have found the energy and will to modify its political system to enhance the strength of its core? I think it goes without question. Political muscle follows economic power. But what you see today is a downtown with no large institutional players except city government. That weakness is not only crippling, it's actually worsening.

You need more than a strong mayor and a competent city manager. You need a regional economic elite with money and the willingness to spend it. You also need a city with surrounding urban neighborhoods that feed the downtown and vice versa. You need a strong retail sector that attracts people from outside. You need a strong research university that creates new wealth. You need a strong transportation system that connects the city to its suburbs and beyond. Phoenix, needless to say, is not even competing.

If the eds and meds strategy eventually succeeds, Phoenix might have a modest success story to build on. It won't be enough, but it would be much better than what's in place today. But you'll still be looking at a decade of grinding effort just to even get that going. And it still won't make the streets come alive or the neighborhoods up and coming. I used to joke that Phoenix ought to beg the federal government to issue green cards to any foreign artists, gays, techies, or anyone with an entrepreneurial streak who pledged to live in or near downtown. The lack of real creative-class ferment is probably the most telling deficit in downtown Phoenix. It's true there are and have been thousands who want to believe, who actually toiled in and around downtown trying to make it happen. And city government stabbed them in the back almost every step of the way.

Former mayor Paul Johnson used to call downtown "everybody's neighborhood", which was apt in city with so few real neighborhoods. We still don't get it, either. We still think we can levitate downtown with glitz. But no matter how many millions you spend for art installation projects or even nice landscaping, its soul remains stubbornly inert. I would love to see people like Wayne Rainey, Kimber Lanning, Helen Hestenes, Beatrice Moore, and Ben Bethel put in charge of our good-looking corpse. But chances are we're going to keep doubling down on the strategy that created it. We've been at it for over 40 years. It's bound to come alive before we die, right?

Bill Richardson wrote:

"Charter government is in name only. Mayors and their machines run Arizona cities. City Managers in the image of Andrews and Fairbanks are only memories. Today's Arizona city manager is not much more than the Mayor's lap dog."

Hyperbole, sir. The Mayor of Phoenix is by no means on the winning side of city council votes all of the time; and a recently established conservative faction on the council has routinely thwarted the goals of a Democratic mayor by recruiting a swing-vote or two, and forced concessions on numerous other occasions. The city manager is placed in office by a majority of the council: there are nine votes, of which the Mayor is only one.

@emil “What do you mean by "viable"? Cities with a million residents were quite rare until the 19th and (especially) 20th century, yet nobody claimed that world centers like Vienna, Constantinople, London, Paris, and Tokyo weren't "viable". (Vienna had a population of about 300,000 in 1800 and about 600,000 as late as 1850.) As for modern cities, there are many with populations of a few hundred or even tens of thousands that seem to function quite successfully.”
I know. It seems amazing to me that Boston or Philadelphia were as small as they were in Revolutionary times. But “Constantinople, London, Paris, and Tokyo” are all over 10 million now. Two of the most delightful cities I have personal experience with are Charleston and Savannah, both less than a million. But they are rarities.

@Soleri “I used to joke that Phoenix ought to beg the federal government to issue green cards to any foreign artists, gays, techies, or anyone with an entrepreneurial streak who pledged to live in or near downtown.” Exactly, I don’t know when Atlanta and Birmingham became gay Meccas other than they did. They were willing to stake out a neighborhood and make it a place. The hipsters are doing the same thing now. You just need someone to show “look how fucking neat in-town living can be!”.

@Solaeri: "Former mayor Paul Johnson used to call downtown "everybody's neighborhood", which was apt in city with so few real neighborhoods. We still don't get it, either. We still think we can levitate downtown with glitz. But no matter how many millions you spend for art installation projects or even nice landscaping, its soul remains stubbornly inert." Exactly. Sometimes you just let "stuff" happen. Usually it's alot better than planned stuff.

In the beginning Phoenix was a vibrant downtown, town. Until about 1980.
In the more modern continuance and in the beginning of my relationship with Jon, when Talton was at the Arizona Republic and promoting his big city beliefs, I was writing editorials and sending him emails threatening to blade from North to South Mountains and plant Sajuaros. It's still a valid threat.

Timothy Barrows (as I recall was a republican) was the last powerful Mayor in phoenix. He had Jim Weeks , a fire fighter on the council and the backing of Duane Pell the president of the fire fighters union. And he had sufficient clout to push the city manager along the path. Not many politicians left in Arizona like Barrows, a guy that could work both sides of the street.
I am still in the page with Soleri and Emil on this one.
And the definition of City is defined best in Simak's book City.
The planet earth will be a better place once we are gone.

Yikes!!!!!!
I had no idea the "suburbs" of Phoenix were so big. According to Wiki
populations aroun 2010:
Chandler: 240 K
Gilbert: 208 K
Scottsdale 217 K
Tempe 162 K
Glendale 226 K

Compare to what I am used to

City of Atlanta 432 K
City of B'ham 212 K

I need to get my head around this

wkg, you forgot Mesa (439,041)!

Side-note: Why the new sonobuoy detection appears to further refute (not confirm) claims that the missing Malaysian airliner's black box has been found in the Indian Ocean, and other developments examined, in the Comments section here:

http://www.roguecolumnist.com/rogue_columnist/2014/03/when-push-comes-to-shove.html

Side-note: some additional corrections and clarifications added re the missing Malaysian airliner:

http://www.roguecolumnist.com/rogue_columnist/2014/03/when-push-comes-to-shove.html

Cal,
I'm out of there, so put Mesa at 439,039 and add 2 to Show Low's population.

Well after my shell-shock about how big the “small places” are as big as they are. Phoenix is never going to out-Chandler in a Chandler fight. Phoenix has to set itself apart. Even if only 10% OF Phoenicians are on board – that’s still over 200,000 people. You’ve got to start somewhere. Just one really neat neighborhood will do the trick. You want to be different. Not just merely different but shockingly different.

wkg, Phoenix has some distinctive historic districts like Willo, Storey, Palmcroft, and Coronado. The trouble is they're not walkable neighborhoods, the kind with good retail connectors. But there is something going on in Roosevelt near downtown. It's not much but it does come closest to the urban vibe Phoenix sorely lacks. I'd love to see the city really work with the neighborhood to make an integrated retail and residential hood. But the city seems mostly reactive and the energy feels incoherent.

People who actually see the old neighborhoods are often shocked because they remember graceful old residential districts from their hometowns but didn't know they existed in Phoenix. There are historic home tours that get good crowds, but the metroplex is so widely flung that most people in Chandler and Gilbert can't even begin to fathom where old Phoenix is. The little that Phoenix has is infinitely more interesting than anything in the suburbs but city government in collusion with the henny pennys of the historic districts (get off my lawn!) conspire to keep these neighborhoods looking and acting more like suburban monocultures.

If I were elected Czar In Perpetuity, I'd tear down Willo's fortress wall on its Central Avenue side. I'd mandate ground floor retail on every commercial office space on every major and collector street. I'd take out the "suicide lanes" on 7th Ave & 7th St. I'd forbid any new apartment construction that has gates or look like it belongs in a suburb. And I'd ban superpumper service stations in and near downtown. I'd hire a city architect whose job it was to make developers do urban infill rather than suburban schlock. I would do what I could to get developers to think in terms of a Phoenix aesthetic - midcentury in particular - and interest residents in the local history of their neighborhoods.

Phoenix has assets but the government has neither the focus nor the ambition to maximize the visual power of its treasures. Until Phoenix realizes what its real strengths are instead of playing the business as usual card, it's going to continue its relentless slog toward Southwestern Mediocrity.

Here's my fantasy for the core, if I were a billionaire-steward as are found in Seattle, SF, Chicago and NYC:

http://www.roguecolumnist.com/rogue_columnist/2013/03/billion-dollar-baby.html

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