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January 03, 2011


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I feel like apologizing for posting so much on this site. I'm a cranky old man living in cyberspace on the planet Talton.

I fell in love with Tucson back in 1969 as a freshman at UofA. It was the first city I loved as an adult and a convincing counter-argument to Phoenix. It exuded a soulfulness that Phoenix had emphatically killed in itself. Where Phoenix was righteously bland, Tucson was blissfully exotic. And where Phoenix aspired to be a pissy white man in a leisure suit, Tucson was tied-dyed and stoned. Of course, in 1969, most young people were stoned. And we hated Nixon, Vietnam, and bad music with passionate righteousness.

There was a lot of self-inflicted blindness, too. Tucson's urban form was still basic sprawl. Most people were not hippies, even if they were nominal Democrats. Speedway Blvd was, arguably, the ugliest street in America. And a lot more UofA students were studying business than anthropology.

Tucson's environmental consciousness stemmed partly from the beauty all around it. The upper Sonoran desert may be Earth's most spectacular ecosystem, incredibly lush even in dryer years. At 2300 feet, Tucson's altitude is about the same as Cave Creek's and catches moisture lower altitudes can't. Even today, Tucson has yet to establish its own urban heat island so summer storms are much more apt to hit to the city. Phoenix set its urban heat island around 1970 and has gotten hellaciously hotter as a result.

The slow-growth movement in Tucson was strong and successful in the beginning. Ron Asta was elected to the Board of Supervisors and he galvanized the city with the idea of avoiding Phoenix's fate (he later, quite foolishly, shoplifted some merchandise and ended his political career). A crucial mistake during that period was the decision to simply freeze Tucson's city limits in hopes of stopping sprawl. Developers, however, simply worked their own deals outside normal channels and as result, we have Phoenix-style suburbs with names like Oro Valley. I'm not sure there was any way Tucson could have avoided this unhappy fate given how money always seems to find a way. Don Diamond and Jim Click may have been loathed but they were destined to win.

Downtown Tucson was still vibrant 40 years ago. There were department stores like Levy's, Steinfeld's, and Jacome's (By this time, all downtown Phoenix had was Korrick's and a Penney's, soon to close). But there were signs it was unraveling even then. Part of Tucson's historic barrio was torn down for a Mesa-worthy convention center. A depressingly ugly parking garage was built next to St Augustine's Cathedral. And then there was that arson fire at the Pioneer Hotel which caused a real and symbolic death knell downtown.

I left in 1974 because I knew Tucson was doomed. I eventually returned to Phoenix, content to know that there was really nothing left to lose here. I was wrong, of course, because Phoenix found a way to magnify its own curse. It turbo-charged its growth machine and nailed itself to a cross of stuccoed sticks and red tile.

Tucson may as well be a suburb of Phoenix now. It certainly looks the part even though there are still pockets of enchantment near downtown and the university. And I can tear up recalling the magic of Sabino Canyon or an insanely beautiful sunset behind Mt Wasson or the erotic madness of Tanque Verde wash during a thunderstorm. When I visit nowadays, I make an effort not to look too much. It's just too painful.

Here's a reminder of the 1970s Linda Ronstadt on SNL, singing with Phoebe Snow: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ov3OCrNiZ_4&feature=player_embedded

Good stuff, Jon and Soleri.

I am an emotional guy. So, I was very, very , very upset when the Dixie Chicks stood up to the idiocy of frat boy george bush. I was even more upset when Linda Ronstadt stood up to georgie in Las Vegas and was booed off stage. History will show that the Dixie Chicks and Linda were in the right. Old Tucson, Sabino Canyon, Mt. Lemon are/were heaven on earth.

Anything associated with U of Hey is just questionable.

Hey, University of Arizona grad, what do you think about....(insert topic)?

U of A grad response..."HUH?, basketball, what? HUH? What?".

As a native Phoenician, I have to confess that I've always had an affection for our southern neighbor. I used to say, years ago, that Tucson had kept its western heritage while Phoenix gave its away. The scales are more balanced now, unfortunately, but I still enjoy visiting Tucson.

And as for Linda Ronstadt, well, I suspect most Arizona boys had a crush on her. It was worth buying her albums just to look at the cover photos. Remember the roller skates? Rowr...

So, people from Phoenix actually refer to themselves as Phoenicians, eh? That is simply fabulous.

Yes, Mr. McArthur. We do. All in all, it was the best choice.

"Phoenix residents" is more accurate, but wordy and pretentious-sounding in formal conversation. "Phoenixites" might have done, but the singular, "Phoenixite", sounds like a mineral. And "Phoenoid" is just silly.

There were rumblings about an acronym once, "S.T.A.A.M's" (Sandwiched 'Tween Anthem And Maricopa's) but it pissed off the people in Mesa, who felt that the M should represent their town and just who did these Maricopians think they were anyway, so the idea was quickly scuttled.

Nicknames just didn't resonate either. "The Unfortunate Thousands" sounds like a Lee Marvin film, and "At Least It Ain't Gila Bend" really speaks more to a place than residents of said place.

"Phoenicians" it is.

Don, we thought of calling ourselves Phoeces at first but it eventually came out number two.

AZRebel, how fondly I remember Phoenix preferring an insane asylum to a major university.

I agree soleri.

I went to UNLV.

Crazy huh?

Party school in AZ. ASU
Serious school in Vegas.

Go figure.

PHX's, that says it all. What?

Tucson Terry

AZrebel, you do know that ASU is ranked higher than UNLV in every category. The UofEh cannot even compare to many of the individual colleges at ASU:
General Undergraduate rankings:
University of Arizona - ranked 120th

Arizona State University - ranked 143

Hofstra - ranked 139 (picked because I thought this school was prestigious and it is very expensive)

You would have had better luck at:

University of Nevada @ Reno - ranked 191

UNLA is not ranked but is a "Tier 2" school...LOL!

But then so is Oral Roberts which I thought was a ranked university and it is also very expensive:

However, there is one thing that the UofA and ASU do share; their rankings nationally are held "back" due to the Arizona constitution which mandates that the universities must accept any qualified Arizona high school graduate into their institutions that applies for admission.

Nonetheless, ASU has managed to take this mandate and turn it into a very successful path for many students who would otherwise not have access to a university education.

As for Tucson, it is an ugly city. The surrounding deserts and high mountains (which include a ski area) are absolutely gorgeous! Soleri, I do believe that Speedway was voted once as the "ugliest street in America"...

Ah, here it is: "Speedway was called “the ugliest street in America” by Life magazine."


Next? ... "Tucson 101: Phoenix"


I don't like to rely on other people's rating systems, especially US Bad News & World Retorts.

I use my system.

Here is a sample of my rankings:

1. Stanford

5. Notre Dame

10. Northwestern

20. TCU

150. ASU

151. UNLV

200. Scottsdale Community College

300. DeVry

400. Western International U. (online)

1,000,004. U of A

The on'y reason U of A moved up to 1,000,004 is because the finally got rid of Lute the chicken heart. He wouldn't play UNLV because he didn't want another "L" in his record.

Azrebel, I'm completely immune to the lure of Lute, Wildcat v Sun Devil rivalry, Bear Down anything, college football, and even academic competition. I think the last time UofA could really be seen as superior to ASU was the late 50s when the latter was still Arizona State College. Both were top-notch party schools although I think UofA had the superior Greek system, plenty of desert keggers, easier access to Mexico (meaning better weed), and many more out-of-state students, which meant more sex.

One thing we didn't touch on was Tucson's 4th Avenue, which unlike Mill Avenue has maintained its funky spirit through the dispiriting decades since Jim Morrison's morbid elevation. A city that has a street like this cannot be considered a complete failure. Tucson gave up 6th Street to the neighborhood-eating UofA, and lost Speedway's few charms to that monster as well. But 4th Avenue remains and serves as a reminder when Tucson had more than its share of character.

I'm not exactly sure why, but that neighborhood has resisted gentrification. In Phoenix, I'm all in favor of yuppies rescuing neighborhoods like Coronado. Indeed, bring more! But in Tucson, I'm happy when they stick to the Sam Hughes district.

Tucson's yuppies also have Armory Park which is on the wrong side of the tracks but remarkably protected from Phoenix-style blight. And there are many others scattered through the central city in hay bale adobes with large cisterns capturing the rainwater.

Tucson is better than Tempe as a college town even though it's sadly lacking as its own city distinct from Phoenix's oppressive gravitational pull. The pink stucco people are gradually turning it Republican (I give it another 10 years when Pima County turns solidly GOP).

AZRebel, LOL! I cannot argue with one's personal ranking system although I will bicker about your TCU ranking!

I've lived in Texas, unfortunately, while in the military and have had the "pleasure" of meeting many TCU alums...all I have to say is: "AY DIOS MIO! SANTO DE DIOS!"

But I'm thinking this may be an "athletic" ranking of some sort more than an academic one.

I went to ASU but don't have a dog in this fight. 4th Avenue in Tucson has more character than anything in Tempe, and even Mill in the "good old days" (I was there).

What most strikes me, however, is how relatively weak these college business districts are considering the size of the schools. This is certainly brought home to me every time I go to the University District in Seattle, which has so many more businesses. Tempe and Tucson have about what they do in Oxford, Ohio, at little Miami University.

I don't write this to "make Phoenix (or Tucson) feel bad. But merely to note another manifestation of the lack of business intensity outside of real estate.

Soleri, I'm rather surprised by your response. I've yet to meet a UofA grad whose hate for ASU is like no other. I'd of sworn it was Armageddon after ASU won the Territorial Cup (football in case you didn't know) this year; I attended the game and was in Tucson afterward and was called many names for wearing Maroon and Gold!

The only thing I really disagree with is your assessment of Tucson as a better college town. I think it is actually one of the worst and cannot compared to the easily felt liberal Tempe bend and atmosphere.

It is true that Tucson is becoming more red while Phoenix/Tempe are heading the opposite direction. What's more is despite Tempe sharing a border with Phoenix, it feels distinctly different than the "big city." But under more scrutiny Tempe's U District, Ash/Maple, etc neighborhoods have a commonality with central Phoenix hoods...

Jon, I have to agree about the business districts outside of these universities. In Tempe, the problem is much more obvious; Scottsdale Rd leads to one of the nation's premier shopping meccas around Fashion Square.

Mill Ave could have, and may still evolve, into something much greater even with Tempe Marketplace in the mix.

Another problem is that ASU offers such a huge supply of retailers on campus that sometimes it is not necessary to go into the retail district for essentials and certain shopping needs.

phxSUNSfan (it would be MUCH easier to call you Francisco, btw), it's a gift of aging that I no longer care who wins or loses a game.

When I went to UofA, Tucson was obviously better than Tempe as a college town. Today, that edge has been dulled and nicked, to say the least. Still, Tucson has some noticeable advantages. Downtown is just a few minutes away and there's an art and music scene there. 4th Avenue is just an underpass away from that, where the scene continues up to University Ave. From this point, the street character becomes badly gentrified. As I mentioned above, 6th Street is mostly gone. There's still some fairly good 50s retail in the Campbell & Grant area, however.

But poor Tempe has even less than this since Mill Avenue was yuppified. Losing Changing Hands Books and Gentle Strength Coop changed the character of downtown Tempe demonstrably to the worse. Even most of the bland, middle-of-the-road fare like the Centerpoint theaters, Pizza Uno, Borders, Z Gallerie, etc are gone. They gutted Mill Avenue to create this? University Drive is now pitted from too many tear-downs where condo towers were supposed to go. And apart from that, you have a few funky eateries here and there, particularly on Apache Blvd, but there's no real college town left in Tempe.

I understand downtown Tempe is still the most "successful" of any Arizona city. While I don't doubt it there's still an inescapable sadness about the place. 20 years ago, downtown Tempe was much more interesting. True, there were no high-rises or brew pubs, but the character it did possess felt home grown. Yes, today it's very nice. And I hardly care.

I hesitate to intrude on the comments and don't mean to be a pedant, but...my point about university business districts needs to be made with a bit more precision to further the serious conversations we have on this blog.

The business district known as the U District in Seattle is not only much more full of retail, restaurants, etc. than Tempe or Tucson. It is also within a mile or so of the University Village "lifestyle center" with all the big chains, and the Wallingford shopping district. It is as close or closer to downtown Seattle, with its two department stores and hundreds of specialty shops, than ASU is to Fashion Square mall. It is also as close to the Capitol Hill business district and, if one is inclined (and few are), relatively close to the Northgate Mall.

I noticed this difference when I lived in Phoenix and compared Tempe to many other business districts near major universities. Yes, Tempe shot itself in the foot with the marketplace, just more sprawl and sameness, and other missteps. But Mill just couldn't stand up to these other districts. I go back to a study by the Business Journals about business intensity (something like businesses started per 100,000) and metro Phoenix came in quite low. We have many people with good ideas, but they can't get capital. And wages are low, thus disposable income less. And... Answering this is critical to moving forward.

Thanks for the Tucson info.

I lunched on 4th Ave last visit and lingered because it felt like I was in Berkeley on that overcast day.

The Sabino Canyon and Mt Lemon sound like perfect places to cool off on a July evening. Very nice.

Any chance we could get Changing Hands to move back to Mill Ave?

Yes I agree that the U District in Seattle is much closer to downtown Seattle with its 2 department stores than Mill Ave is to Fashion Square, however, "close" is relative in metro Phoenix as we all know.

Being 4 miles away in Phoenix is extremely "close." Not to mention, in contrast to Soleri's opinion, that downtown Scottsdale may be the most lively and successful in Arizona sadly. I'd consider Phoenix and Tempe to be close (tied) and Flagstaff third.

Furthermore, downtown Seattle does offer great shopping but it is nothing compared to downtown Scottsdale. There is no Barney's New York, hundreds upon upon hundreds of boutiques, retailers, jewelers, galleries, restaurants, night clubs, and on and on. Scottsdale is the bane of downtown Phoenix admittedly.

Because this is so close to the university in Tempe, it monopolizes business from the university business district. Now throw in the marketplace and its a miracle that Mill Ave has survived and shows actual signs of life and expansion.

The other thing that the U District in Seattle has is density. Much greater density than even the densest area of Tempe. That means year round residents who can sustain year round businesses and a larger business district.

Soleri, I wouldn't include Uno and Z Gallery as unique, even middle of the road; but I would put the likes of Cafe Boa (even Monti's), La Bocca, My Big Fat, Rula Bula, Hackett, Knoll, etc etc on the list.

I didn't mean to only list Barney's for department stores in downtown Scottsdale; but it would probably be easier to list which department stores ARE NOT there; Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Ave...

There's a Barneys New York at Pacific Place in downtown Seattle.

PJ, there is a Barney's CO-OP in Pacific Place not the department store. The CO-OP is more a discount boutique like a Gap or Banana...The Barney's in Scottsdale is a full fledged, full priced, New York style/based multi-level department store.

I've visited Scottsdale and wasn't impressed, even with such a fancy mall. Different tastes.

There is more to Scottsdale then just the mall...there's the entire area around it with much more unique, local, homegrown businesses; Marshall Way, Stetson Drive, 5th Ave, Scottsdale Rd itself, Camelback, the Canal/Waterfront... The only thing I don't like, well two things, is that is it low slung (which isn't really a problem given that it is gaining in density) and that it isn't downtown Phoenix... ;-)

Oh, and that Scottsdale refuses to connect itself with mass transit despite the business elite of Scottsdale wanting to connect to downtown Phoenix via Camelback as a possible alignment and bring more Scottsdale residents into the city center.

The biggest complaint I hear from residents/friends in Scottsdale is the drive home...some end up on my couch, bed, or floor after a night out if they've had drinks.

"most horrible, most miserable place on earth . . . [all together]Scottsdale!"


"300. DeVry" - azrebel

How can any ranking system that includes ASU, UofA, and DeVry not include the Arizona-founded "drive-through U", the University of Phoenix?

With few exceptions, the American university system is a strong argument for autodidacticism.

My father arrived in Tucson in 1917, and lived there on and off until he joined the army during WW2, after which he moved to Phoenix. In the 1950's we used to visit my cousins there and they us in Phoenix. The thing that struck me the most then about Tucson was the difference in wildlife. No great flocks of redwing blackbirds and starlings attracted by agricultural water, but an incredible diversity of birds, butterflies, lizards and toads, and a coatimundi went through my cousin's back yard every morning. As for what to call Phoenicians, I usually just call them midwesterners.

I don't go to Scottsdale much except to the Camelview theaters. As abominations go, Scottsdale Fashion Square excels by every measure. I walked into Barney's after it opened, looked at a rack of $100+ T shirts and walked out. This is Dubai minus the international flavor.

I don't think of downtown Scottsdale as much more than the bad dream of an affluent tourist. The galleries on Marshall Way do showcase some very good art and the Fifth Avenue curio stores are nicely scaled. But apart from them, I have no idea where downtown really is. This is the problem in a place where commerce and ordinary life are strictly separated. The Scottsdale tourist economy is obviously very important but it's irrelevant to the lives of most citizens.

The contrast to downtown Tempe is telling since average citizens (and students) do go there. This doesn't mean Tempe is doing well. It's yuppie condo + hip chain retail strategy has not born edible fruit. I understand it; I even hope it eventually succeeds on this limited basis. But in truth, it's a planner's wet dream and not real fertility.

Talton's Seattle shopping districts are not exclusive or inert. This is the crucial distinction with Scottsdale's retail archipelago. Even more salient is the scale since you don't actually require a car in Seattle. In Scottsdale, you'd be stranded in its various circles of traffic hell.

I used to complain about Scottsdale stealing the money from Phoenix and then raising its drawbridge. Of course, that's less a matter of intention than Phoenix's drive-everywhere transportation system self-inflicting a grievous wound. People got in their cars and headed eaat. Surprise, surprise. The ultra-white, ultra-affluent Scottsdale is a Republican's idea of a nice city. It's Joel Kotkin's point of view reified as the highest human good. Excuse me for saying this but fuck Scottsdale.

Question: Has Tucson been significantly polluted by the Midwest White Right? And if not, does it really make much difference?

LOL, RateCrimes, I used to love South Park when I was a kid...I think this episode is hilarious (it's about San Fran but it also feels like Seattle):

Soleri I agree; Scottsdale is "ultra-white" even though I happen to have family there (Socttsdale includes a growing Hispanic population; now near 10%, it used to be 5%). I don't really hate Scottsdale or want to fuck it, but I do dislike the northern half of the city. The South, including downtown/Fashion Square has character, history and knows what it is for the most part.

Tucson has not been significantly polluted by the Midwest White Right; it just is aging and has been more "white" in general compared to Phoenix despite its Hispanic heritage and background.

The other thing I forgot to mention is that while soleri does describe an aspect of Fashion Square/downtown. Scottsdale there also exists an experience for those who spend less. If you dislike $100 Barney t-shirts or $600 jeans you can head over to A&E and pay $9 for a tshirt and $30 for jeans.

Mill Ave. cannibalized itself by thinking they could charge outrageous rents and still keep tenants, but without anywhere for customers to park.

Best time I had in Scottsdale Fashion Park was when Fantasia was released 20 years ago and we killed time before the next show by smoking a doob and wandering thru the construction. I still miss the old Fashion Square (I watched it being built way back when).

Some corrections:

Tucson has been inhabited for at least 4,000 years. Archaeological excavations have found evidence of a small agricultural settlement near modern Congress Street that dates to that period. Father Kino visited the village of Schook-shon in the late 1690s. Hugo O'Conor happened to place the Presidio at Tucson because it was already inhabited.

- Tucson was part of Mexico until March 1856, when the Mexican military marched out and the United States flag was raised.

- the Southern Pacific Railroad arrived in Tucson on March 20, 1880.

grande Tucson

Tucson is leather. Phoenix is Naugahyde. That’s what we used to say back in the 70s and 80s. Then I moved to Flagstaff. Great article.

I wonder what your observations will be today of Tucson. I lived in Phoenix for 30+ years and recently moved to Tucson as a prelude to retirement (thanks to remote work). Much of what you talk about in this article is still in place (and maybe more toxic today), but there are signs of Tucson moving in its own direction, albeit with an Arizona flavor. I was in Phoenix for many years of explosive growth, so I have seen what this does to a city. On the other hand, the growth in Tucson seems, shall we say, quaint by comparison. One thing that I don't understand about Tucson is the grudging acceptance of freeways and the utter rejection of effective mass transit. Maybe that will change with the new streetcar and the burgeoning urbanism Downtown and around the University.

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