Redlining is the practice of, in the United States, denying, or charging more for, services such as banking, insurance, access to health care, or even supermarkets, or denying jobs to residents in particular, often racially determined, areas. — Wikipedia
The SOBs are well-known, and what an appropriate acronym. It means the north Scottsdale fatcats who refuse to go south of Bell (SOB) and measure their specialness by pronouncing the city of Phoenix as "the Mexican Detroit."
Most people with means who move to metro Phoenix don't consider it "home," as in a place to treasure and be invested in the common good. They are drunk with the resort "lifestyle" use-it-up new extraction industry. Being "exclusive" means drawing red lines to show one's superiority. To define zones that are scary and lost, whether this is true or not.
In recent years, I've become more aware of another red line within the city: Camelback Road.
I was most recently reminded of this with news that Comerica Bank is moving its headquarters out of the old Phelps-Dodge tower (a relatively new, Class A building) to the Biltmore Commerce Center at 32nd Street and Camelback. Like most Arizona "headquarters," it means only 40 employees, but the symbolism is telling and depressing.
"To be closer to our customer base," was the excuse. But center cities in the best American metros retain their financial headquarters downtown. In Seattle, the wealthiest areas are on the "Eastside," the other side of Lake Washington, but all the banks and almost all the wealth management firms and brokerages have their main offices downtown.
With the city allowing bucolic east Camelback to be turned into a major office corridor, it has over the years sucked almost all the private investment that should have gone downtown or in the Central Corridor.
North of Camelback and east of Central are some of the city's wealthiest and, in some cases, most beautiful neighborhoods. The farther east you go, the closer it gets to Paradise Valley and Scottsdale.
Twenty Fourth Street and Camelback is, some claim, a "new downtown," with the Esplanade, condos, office towers, Ritz Carlton, Biltmore Fashion Park, and proximity to the Arizona Biltmore. Except it's not: no public spaces, barely any transit, no walkability or other assets one would associate with a downtown.
Camelback Road itself is the typical mess, a six-lanes-or-wider highway masquerading as a city street. But even though other "streets" in the city have seen much higher pedestrian fatality rates, this was the one that got a tunnel running from the Esplanade to the shopping center (horribly redone, from its magical uniqueness to suburban sterility).
But Camelback is the red line. The toffs who live north have joked to me about how they consider the once solidly middle-class neighborhoods just to the south, now in decline not least because of these wildly out of size buildings, "the Sonoran Biltmore." Sonoran, get it? We're being politically correct, but you can read between the lines. Hahahahah.
Much is made of The Yard, which apologists pitch to me as the big new thing for the center city. Sam Fox's "concept" is fine. The trouble is it's on Seventh Street south of Montebello, three-quarters of a mile safely north of Camelback. Your only transit option is the No. 7 bus. It is only walkable from the nearby neighborhood. It is not urban.
Not for nothing is AJ's at an Uptown Plaza undergoing extensive renovations (on the north side of the street). There's no real grocery store anywhere south on Central.
South of the red line, the skyscraper on the southeast corner — which never should have been permitted — is in such bad shape amid the many zombie towers of Central that there's a proposal to turn it into apartments.
The land on the southwest corner has sat empty for decades. It sits empty despite being a light-rail (WBIYB) station. In a city with a healthy economy, this prime spot long ago would have been remade into a striking mixed-use project.
And note the rebirth of the old Beefeaters into the Newton, with a Changing Hands bookstore. It is wildly popular and at least close to light rail. But for my money, it would have been wonderful in Midtown or downtown. But it isn't my money and the businesspeople got the message. It's on the north side of Camelback Road.
This is not just Homey's spidey sense. I have friends and acquaintances who have implicitly and explicitly made it clear they are only comfortable north of Camelback. What lies below is unsettlingly unknown and they don't want to know. They're like characters in M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, but they have the disposable income.
When I was on a fellowship at the University of Southern California, someone made a presentation based on polling and other data. It showed how Angelenos self-segregated to extremes based on class, income, and ethnicity. And how they didn't feel comfortable is some, or many, parts of the metro area. Phoenicians routinely crow about not wanting to be "another LA" — as if they knew Los Angeles and could even aspire to its many assets. But in this case, spot on. I can only imagine what the typical Gilbert resident thinks of heavily redlined Maryvale.
South of the Camelback red line, beyond the Village's cornfields, are downtown and Midtown. Downtown has made significant strides thanks to ASU, CityScape, the Convention Center, and light rail. CityScape has shrewdly positioned itself as a happening place for bored suburbanites. Downtown reassumed its historic central role in the Super Bowl.
Thanks to the Resistance, Roosevelt Row is coming into its own, finally, not without angst. The opening of the historic DeSoto dealership as the DeSoto Central Market is a major victory.
Midtown has the finest historic districts, real neighborhoods with history and walkability, close to light rail and the Phoenix Art Museum, Heard Museum, and churches, as well as the Gold Spot and Kenilworth School. Character, authenticity, shade, Honey Bears...what's not to love?
It boasts great old and new restaurants (Durant's, Macayo, Switch, Oven & Vine, Fez, etc.), and aspirations to revivify the zombie towers (Banner is moving into one of the prime ones). Completing condos or apartments on the north side of Portland would complement a redone and improved deck park. And don't forget the empire of Mister Joe's Hospital and Medical Center.
Still, it's a struggle below the red line. A Circle K closed at Virginia and Central — now the land has sat ugly and blighted for at least two years. The same with the former McDonald's, a shell amid blocks of blight. Even the FBI moved away. Park Central remains a tragedy two decades after it closed as a mall.
Bottom line: Downtown and the entire Central Corridor are far weaker than they should be in attracting private capital, and this in the "back to the city" moment, where downtowns in the most competitive cities are attracting the talent and leaving the suburbs to rot.
That's too bad, because this is the best place to recover a real city.
Not much will change until the redlining ends. Me, I'll be happy south of Camelback, although I will gingerly enjoy Changing Hands and the Newton. Too many affluent white people make me nervous. Some of them might be suburban developer or private equity thugs. I don't mean to stereotype, but...