It seems that I cannot escape the toxic blob that Phoenix has become even when working on the new David Mapstone Mystery. I learn that the FBI's Phoenix Field Office decamped its Midtown fortress in 2010 for leased offices at Seventh Street and Deer Valley Road.
The FBI has a long history in Midtown, once being located on the second floor of a modest office still standing on the northeast corner of Third Avenue and Osborn. Back in the hardly innocent 1960s, it was labeled with "FBI" right on the outside wall. By the time I returned in the 2000s, the bureau was in a hulking, anonymous and heavily guarded midrise around Second Street and Indianola, with a motor pool a block away. If you tried to stop your car on the street to drink the Diet Coke you had purchased from the (now closed) nearby McDonald's, a uniformed federal officer appeared and told you to move on, no questions answered.
Now it is in a 210,202 square foot building built and owned by the Ryan Cos., meant to be home to the field office "for the next 20 years." News reports tell me the building won a LEED Silver design award, which shows the moronic/mendacious nature of these greenwash labels. The office is about 17 miles away from the most common destination for the feds, the Sandra Day "I Gave You The Presidency of George W. Bush" O'Connor Federal Courthouse downtown. It is located far from the urban footprint. How can this possibly be considered a green building?
How does this kind of thing happen, over and over? Central Phoenix is filled with literally miles — when all the parcels are considered together — of empty land. Not all is upzoned, thus prohibitively expensive. A good chunk is actually owned by the city. But the FBI Field Office was relocated into far north Phoenix, necessitating even more car dependency, destroying empty desert, without either protest or examination. What the hell?
In Seattle, the FBI is downtown, a few blocks south of my condo on the same street. But that's Seattle. How about LA, Monarch of Sprawl? The G-men are based in the massive federal building in dense Westwood, one of the City of Angels several downtowns. It will be near a station of the "subway to the sea" that is under construction. Bus service on Willshire Boulevard is abundant.
In Houston and Dallas, however, new field offices are located far from the central city and totally car dependent. This doesn't make me feel better. For one thing, the federal government is abetting climate change and costly sprawl. Also, both Big D and Houston actually have real downtowns with expensive land and, in some cases, little of it. Not Phoenix. One more asset disappears from the core.
Would it have been necessary if city leaders had intervened and assembled land downtown? No. Plenty of freeway access. Plenty of security possibilities. Efficiently and securely close to the federal courthouse. One gets the sense that no one is paying attention.
Sure, some good things appear to be happening: a new 10-story research building at the Biosciences Campus (the kind of higher-rise density that should have been happening years before); the boutique hotel in the art deco former Valley National Bank headquarters, and even a likely buildout of the north side of the Portland Parkway.
But this is crazy. Even the G-men are in on the real-estate hustle.
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So the population figures are out and Gilbert, which insists on maintaining the fiction (and probable legal advantage) of being a "town," is among the fastest growing places in the year ending in July 2013. I will let the Republic story add the essential context:
That 4-percent growth rate made Gilbert the 12th fastest-growing municipality in the U.S. last year, joining the likes of Odessa, Texas, and Lehi, Utah, on the list.
The real news is the relatively slow population growth in Phoenix, up only 1.7 percent. It still hasn't caught Philadelphia to become the nation's fifth-largest city. Houston, No. 4, grew by 1.6 percent. The biggest gainer among large cities? Dense, liberal Seattle. It is a major beneficiary of the "back to the city" movement that is rewarding livable places with abundant cultural, economic, civic and economic assets.
You know my position: Merely adding people doesn't mean squat. What has it gotten Mesa (larger than Cincinnati, St. Louis or Minneapolis)? Goodyear is the next-gen Maryvale. Gilbert might hold out longer, thanks to the Saints, but I'd rather live in Odessa, Texas.
Far better to be growing arts, bookstores, a great downtown and inviting (real) neighborhoods, great schools for poor children, Ph.D.s, research funding, start-ups, capital investment, philanthropy, civic stewards with means and vision, world-class universities, talent from around the world...shade trees.
But the numbers are sobering because Phoenix's "business model" remains dependent on population growth. I'd love a Phoenix that de-annexed four-fifths of its 500 square miles and made its stand as the beautiful oasis, emphasizing quality, not quantity. In the meantime, trouble. The fleeing of assets to the suburbs, and their relative economic gains, are also helping make Phoenix the hole in the donut. Those 500 square miles, many of them linear slums, many more with aging infrastructure, are expensive. They are not supported by a city economy, not even the one that existed circa 1995.
Americans are moving less. Many can't afford to, as inequality increases, opportunity dwindles, unemployment remains at crisis levels and wages for most stagnant.
These stresses are played out in a dysfunctional City Council, which spent inexcusable time blaming public employees and bickering over relative pennies over a budget gap caused by a weak economy. And instead of blaming pensions — once a commonplace for the American worker — why is no one scrutinizing the role of Wall Street? Say what you will about Charter Government, but it was Athen's Golden Age compared with "Better Call Sal" DiCiccio and his mini-me tea partier, Mayor of Vice Waring.
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Meanwhile, the Republic had one of the most remarkable stories I've read recently anywhere. A $40 million "response center" to be used in the event of a major disaster at a nuclear power plant has opened in...Tolleson.
That's right. Tolleson.
All that empty land in central Phoenix and along the $1.4 billion light-rail line (WBIYB), and this $40 million investment goes to Tolleson. Is anyone at Phoenix City Hall awake? Or is it all about denouncing those money-grubbing, lazy, pension-scamming goddamned unionized cops and firefighters (but they're momentarily "our heroes" when one dies in the line of duty)?
Then there is the Onion or Borowitz Report aspect to this news. The industry is putting its "major disaster" crisis center downwind from the largest nuclear generating station in the United States, which has had a dodgy safety record even from among the most compromised federal regulators.
Don't worry about a thing.
Until next time,