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June 16, 2011


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Park Central may be the most important single parcel of land outside of downtown in the entire city. It’s at the geographic center of the 2nd largest employment center in Phoenix and at a major transit intersection (Thomas is the busiest bus route in the city) It has height entitlements for twin 600 foot high rises - it’s the poster child for the “anything goes” libertarian approach to urban planning. It’s served by 2 of the closest spaced light rail stations in the City.

Curious. Say you owned this property and had the pocketbook (and civic commitment) of oh, say, Paul Allen. What would you do?

Reflecting on Phoenix area malls evokes some heart pangs for me because I spent 20 years as a retailer and saw the sameness unfolding. My daughter and her friends also rode their bikes safely to Town & Country. Russ Lyon Sr. was a nice guy who loved heading his dance band in the midwest. His sons Dennis and Rusty loved doing the financial gavotte with the developers. We have yet to see the sequential result, as many of these stucco lookalike monsters will undergo some sort of reinvention.

Jon indicates that the malls and their downside is perhaps well-understood. My question would be, BY WHOM? The latest retail prince is the former Apple Store guru/Target mavin named Johnson who'se been hired to breathe life into Penneys. Memo: most mall retailing is yesterday's news . . slowly dying and its once-vaunted anchors like JCP have occupancy costs and expenses that make them less and less competetive. Good luck Mr. Johnson!

Curious. Say you owned this property and had the pocketbook (and civic commitment) of oh, say, Paul Allen. What would you do?

Plant Saguaros!

Thousands of saguaros would have been saved if Phoenicians would have committed to making an urban place worth caring about, instead of throwing place away and moving ever further out. Saguaros wouldn't naturally do well in the flatland of the old city anyway.

Glad you're back from West Texas, Cal. One riot, one Ranger.

Crusied along at 114 between Van Horn and the turn off to Fredricksberg.
I slowed down to 84 mph about 10 miles out from turn off and got stopped shortly thereafter . Got a warning only. I am sure it was because the speed limit is 80 MPH. Could not been that flat badge that says retired when I got my drivers license out.

I spent a couple of years in Denver in the mid '70s. Back then, the main shopping was downtown. The sidewalks were crowded and so were the stores. Cherry Creek at that time was a bit like the Fifth Avenue shops in Scottsdale, with many specialty stores hugging the two-lane streets. On Speer Blvd was the looming hulk of an old Sears store.

When I returned a decade later, all of downtown's department stores had closed and Cherry Creek was completely reinvented as a turbo-charged shopping mecca. Denver had gone through an energy boom (from which it was just beginnng to crash) and the result was a Dallas-like aura of ostentatious wealth. I was impressed and disappointed at the same time.

Park Central was unlikely ever to come close to Cherry Creek's extraordinary renaissance. The mall lost the cachet of the Goldwater's store in the '80s (replaced by Robinsons May) and the necessary upgrades to keep the mall competitive never happened. Still, it was popular until the early 90s when the plug was pulled by two of its major anchors (Diamond's stayed but soon became an outlet store). Its death as a shopping mall has been a huge drag for central Phoenix.

What Phoenix had going for it 30 years ago was a perpetual real-estate boom but not much else, certainly not something like shale oil that fueled Denver's boom in the late '70s and early '80s. Instead, there was that perplexing mix of boosterism and millenialism. Phoenix was destined to be the greatest city ever! Looking back to the 1980s, that fantasy seemed to have a few shards of evidence to assay. Today, none.

Chris-Town in the '80s had a Bullock's and The Broadway (along with the stalwart Penney's and Montgomery Ward's). Today, it's a low-end power center, charmless and inert. And Town & Country in the early 90s had the most interesting mix of retail in all of Phoenix, from Pizzeria Bianco, Jutenhoops, the Unicef Store, AMC Theaters, Bookstar, Dos Estrellas Coffeehouse, and even a hemp store. It hasn't fallen off the cliff like Chris-Town, but it's clearly struggling. There have been rumors that a Nordstrom Off The Rack store might move into the old Smitty's/Linen 'n Things space. Or maybe even a Whole Foods. Fingers crossed and all that.

The depressing saga of retail in central Phoenix has been that as the population got older, the demographics became less advantageous to better stores. This points out the problem with assuming ceaseless churn is the same thing as progress. Lots of things were happening in Phoenix but you could say the same thing about a once-great athlete riddled with cancer. Gluttonous growth exerts its own hypnotic trance over otherwise sober people. What they didn't see was the increasing degradation of civic value in central Phoenix. And because they didn't see it (or assumed all those empty lots would be filled with taller and taller buildings), Phoenix didn't plan adequately for a future of of new and more difficult circumstances. Growth was always the story here and when it stopped, there was no Plan B to take its place. Even today it's amazing how unchastened the leadership of this "city" remains. The boom will return. Maybe in a couple years. Just wait, just wait. Because we have no choice, we wait and mourn.

Cal, I understand your inclination for wanting to plant cacti (Saguaro), but like Jon wrote, they take some expensive tending to in order to grow well in the flat areas of Central Phoenix: The Saguaros around and in Sky Harbor are well cared for.

I truly believe that if retail, or to be more specific, a department store was designed properly in downtown it would be a success. There is enough of a population (with money) to support a high-end department store within the Central City.

PhxPlanner, as for Park Central, if I had Allen's money I would bulldoze the entire property, build the tallest skyscrapers west of the Mississippi (with no parking on the property), ensured the footprints of the buildings met a wide sidewalk with no setback like Viad, and incorporate some high-rise condos and an upscale hotel on site. I would ensure plenty of trees were planted at the edge of the sidewalks. I'd repave a narrow Earll Dr. from Central to 3rd Ave as well.

I would also hire an architect who could design an neo-Art Deco building with modern materials (think Chrysler Building for inspiration). Too much is popping into my mind at once so I'll leave it at that...

"Say you owned [Park Central] and had the pocketbook (and civic commitment) of oh, say, Paul Allen. What would you do?"

Knowing the inevitable destination of many millions inhabiting shabby boxes sprawled across an increasingly hot desert at great distance from food sources in an age of diminishing energy supplies and ever more fragile and taxing infrastructure, while drinking in unfettered overdraft in the midst of an historic, possibly endless drought as toxic plumes inexorably seep underground to match the toxic cloud above, and knowing too well the civic history of the region even beyond the endemic visual evidence of persistent failing; for the good of the nation, the world, and for my own health and well-being . . . I'd go to Seattle. Or, I'd follow the lead of my fellow plutocrats and simply hang around to witness the unwinding, comfortable in the knowledge that my personal wealth would rescue me.

"Abandon all hope, ye who enter here."

110 degrees and an air pollution advisory. But a dry heat just like a tandori oven. Few green trees or other developments to absorb the summer onslaught. How many days until November?

In the 1970's Portland, Seattle and Denver were down and out. Decaying cities. Dallas's time would come when the real estate and oil bust of the 1980's occurred. Phoenix showed much promise into the 1980's.

What happened? All the cities to varying degrees reinvented themselves. Texas diversified away from oil and real estate as its mainstay. Denver took similar action. Portland and Seattle took steps to improve their communities.

Phoenix hit the skids with the recent financial crisis and real estate bust. Its response: 1)Bash immigrants and enhance a reputation of intolerance 2)Carry the banner of the far right and engage a president on national issues instead of focusing on steps to move the city forward and 3)Wait for the real estate market to return.

Negligent governance on par with the worst governments in the developing world.

I'll try Phx Planner's great question: "Say you owned this property and had the pocketbook (and civic commitment) of oh, say, Paul Allen. What would you do?"

I would bulldoze the whole thing and make it a park packed with shade trees, grass and absolutely no concrete. In exchange for this beauty (and essential cooling) in the heart of Midtown, I would want the land the city has banked by the biosciences center. There I would develop offices and labs and use my worldwide reach to bring in biotech and biosciences companies and non-profits. All on shady streets.

If I could pry loose the greedy dead hands of the private land-bankers, I would rebuild vintage one-story commercial buildings all along Roosevelt Row and subsidize local shops (facing the sidewalk, parking in back). Then I would assemble the best people in the world to build walkable neighborhoods of (real) bungalows and period revival houses in most of the vast empty land of the central corridor. No desert landscaping allowed. At the northwest corner of McDowell and Central, I would endow a sculpture park for PAM — the only requirement would be...no rocks, gravel, palo verdes. Again, it would have to mitigate the heat island and provide beauty consistent with the history of the historic districts and the central Phoenix oasis.

Once again, one goal would be to drive the building of offices, towers, dense residential...and retail...downtown.

Neglected to mention that Westcor was run by Rusty and Dennis Lyon, who were not exactly enlightened when it came to design . . either the people-friendly or the enviro-friendly type. Made a trainload of dinero, though, and like the other Big Dogs they can spend the hot months in the coolest of cool places.

Also neglected to mention that Phoenix has most always been the country's most over-stored major market in terms of retail sq. footage per capita. There was and is very little room for error even before the financial tsunami. I would look for the fallout to continue . . at least in the form of retrenchment for existing retailers with too much space. The nasty 90's have given way to the terrible 2000's.

I'm intrigued by the insanity of 'power centers' like Desert Ridge and Tempe Marketplace. They've placed the parking in the center with the stores around the edges. This is a very comfortable arrangement for the cars but it's downright hostile to the shoppers. You are basically forced to drive from one store to another unless you want to walk across a quarter mile of searing pavement, dodging cars the whole way since there's no sidewalk for pedestrians. There is absolutely no incentive to go window shopping like in a traditional downtown or an enclosed mall. Why do shoppers put up with this nonsense? Why do merchants locate in these hellholes? Is it because there's no place else to go?

Although Park Central may have killed downtown Phoenix retail, it would be seen as the epitome of forward thinking if we could magically resurrect it. There was El Rancho grocery store in the mall! Lavish planters and fountains made for pleasant shopping on summer evenings. You could buy a lawn mower at JC Penney. Cameras, books, and sporting goods were sold by local merchants. As late as 1990 I enjoyed shopping at Robinson's, where old Goldwater's employees soldiered on, catering to their clientele from the business community. If you were looking at a shirt, some old guy would come up and discretely suggest the perfect tie to go with it. It was such a pleasant contrast to the suburban malls that market exclusively to an adolescent demographic. I've always thought there should be a market for retailing to the workers in the central city. I guess not.

Some interesting developments for downtown and midtown...these are no Paul Allens but they are doing their part for the city:

NRG is installing (at no cost to the city?) a solar powered air conditioned light rail station downtown. http://www.bizjournals.com/phoenix/news/2011/06/16/air-conditioning-coming-to-downtown.html

Dense private "student housing" near ASU Downtown.

Mayor Gordon makes a statement purchase.

And the UofA, City of Phoenix, and St. Joseph's Hospital announced that construction of the UofA Cancer Center (a research and treatment facility) will begin by year's end.

Forgot to mention that the Cancer Center will be on the downtown Bio-med Campus.

The action is at Ranch Market at 16st and Roosevelt. Nice eloquent information but being the ever present pessimist, "it's the desert" and it's the water
and in the end the desert wins. I would be willing to bet Russel Pearce has got a few acres with a deep well someplace in Utah.

Jon I like your ideas but instead of making a new park in midtown, I'd spend some money on making Hance Park and Steele Park inviting and beautiful. I would expand both; Hance a little south into Evans-Churchill and eliminate parking at Steele while expanding all the way to Central and Indian School. No palo verdes, no rocks, permeable concrete sidewalks, etc.

I'd also build a Roosevelt Trolley/Streetcar that would circle the northern half of downtown (Roosevelt to 7th Ave, to Fillmore, 7th St and back up to Roosevelt). Since I would be building transit for the city and investing in the parks, I would ask for the right to develop the traffic engineering aspect/right-of-way of the 7's. A secondary effect of the trolley would be to eliminate a lane of traffic in each direction on the 7's where the trolley would have a dedicated lane with a strip along side for a bike lane. There would be minimal left turn lanes and no right turn lanes for the 7's downtown; this is to reinforce the notion that downtown is for transit, pedestrians, bikes, and human scaled development.

I want it all, SUNSfan, so your ideas, too. Trollies are working well around the country, and key to the big redevelopment in Seattle of South Lake Union, adjacent to downtown. Steele is greatly diminished by the shameful land deal made in the '80s (?) to give the best parcels to Barron Collier, which is banking them, empty, forever. The federal government should have donated the entire Indian School site to the city of Phoenix (the old campus was quite lovely with trees and grass).

Wow, you all are acting like a bunch of dreamy eyed teen aged girls.

"if you had the pocketbook of Paul Allen?"

Paul Allen would buy the property at a foreclosure sale, bulldoze the site and build a tax funded stadium for the new (pick a sport team)

Did you catch the tax-funded part?

I commend you for your dreams, however, it's Phoenix, AZ, it's 105, you ain't Paul Allen and Jan Brewer/Pearce is still governor.

So time to wake up and smell the coffee.

S-H-A-D-E: that's the magic word to me and it applies to so many aspects of making retail more friendly and protecting our homes from the sun. Architects and "designers" typically don't understand about living in the desert, but it could be made both more habitable and energy-efficient with stuff like deep overhangs and the right kind of trees. Think of all the poor souls with south facing properties and windows on the west side. Reference: look at the new malls and try to find shade. Ditto for even some of the older homes. Reference: Apple's store in Scottsdale quarter is a veritable hotbox designed by some yahoo from the Northern CA temperate zone.

I understand the Paul Allen game, but the real one wouldn't simply throw untold millions of dollars in cash at Park Central without a real-world payoff (as Azrebel mordantly notes). Rather, I suspect the future of Park Central will be determined by St Joseph's Hospital/Catholic Healthcare West, which is an economic juggernaut for that area. Could they be cajoled into some New Urbanist project that would make sense on its own terms without reference to our compulsive need to play urban therapist to our wounded city?

A mental game I have played is imagining myself winning Powerball and then applying my fortune to some urban projects that might galvanize others like it, or at least create some real urban tissue in our dystopian car town. So, in one scenario, I have $300 million in which I acquire vacant lots on Central south of Roosevelt. I construct apartment buildings on them, all hugging the street with ground-floor retail. These buildings wouldn't be skyscrapers (the last thing Phoenix needs is tall buildings. We need density, which is entirely different).

Other projects would include the rehabilitation of the old Circles/car dealer building, the Westward Ho if we can wrest away that contract with HUD, and maybe even completing the Hotel Monroe project. The inertness of downtown Phoenix will not be solved with lollapalooza, pie-in-the-sky mega-projects. You need many smaller projects in order to breathe life into the dead tissue of downtown.

I'll confess I've wondered why some of Phoenix's more monied legends haven't attempted even some modest projects of this nature. When you're Jerry Colangelo rich (rich in large part due to taxpayers), why not spread a bit of it around the downtown you fussed over for years? This is the problem with wealth today. It's why we think there ought to be a Paul Allen type to give back to the hometown. The truth is that most of them don't care and certainly aren't real stewards of the community. They're citizens of of the world, and that world has less to do with geography than its own elite status. The truth is that you would be judged mad to care about a place like Phoenix. Money doesn't care about us. It cares about itself.

Very true Soleri which is why PhxPlanner probably threw in the "(and civic commitment)" disclaimer. Part of the problem with downtown investment is the lack of a true downtown champion who could argue for more investment in the core. I think Stanton could be that person. But no one is really arguing for downtown who has a position of influence.

Downtown carries the city's lowest vacancy rates for homes, apartments (rentals and ownership), offices, and hotels yet no monied local will put up some cash for more apartment buildings. Most of us Phoenicians are programmed to believe that only suburbs work or that some out-of-town urbanist will have to come lay an egg so other chickens will follow.

As for density vs. height (skyscrapers) I think a happy medium, like most things in life, is needed. Think of a city like Seattle; great downtown employment density because of the skyscrapers. I've always envisioned Phoenix growing dense, but not necessarily very tall downtown with midtown much taller/more skyscraper focused.

hmmm, I don't know if my "chicken/egg" thing reads as I intended, LOL!

Coincidence that I came across this thread while browsing through Flickr yesterday....


Rwarrin, that's hilarious. I remember we dubbed it Man's Eternal Quest (For Better Malls) when it first appeared circa 1970. It stood in the corner between Coffee Dan's and the Walgreen's until the mid '80s.

I wish I knew more about the Coffee Dan's chain. It was a famous speakeasy in San Francisco, and then became prominent for its outsized signage in southern Californian outlets. When I was a kid, we went it quite a bit. There was also one in the El Con shopping mall in Tucson. If you ordered the fried chicken, they'd bring a finger bowl afterwards. I remember being perplexed why a waitress brought a bowl of clear soup after she cleared my order!

PSF, I want to disagree, if ever so slightly, that downtown has lacked for champions. We've poured a huge amount of money into the place. Our mayors, from Terry Goddard forward, have been relentless in their focus here. And to a certain extent, their efforts have paid off if you ignore the near total lack of any organic urbanism. That's why the lollapalooza projects should engender a bit more skepticism than they have. Everytime we think some new element will stir the monster to life, we fool ourselves into wishful thinking. As old as I am, I can recall being your age and seeing sparks pop from downtown's forehead as new electrodes were applied. But nothing really changed.

Tall buildings, particularly those lining Central Avenue, were the "solution" in the '60s and '70s. Now that this era has passed, I think it's probably time to look back and take inventory. When Park Central was vibrant, skyscrapers gave the area its Wilshire Blvd cachet. That cachet is now seriously senescent. Downtown is legitimately the focus for new development because the lack of real heart dooms any central Phoenix recovery, too.

Car-based urbanism is probably a contradiction in terms, but it's fascinating to see how far you can take it. This photo thread of Los Angeles shows a best-case scenario, one we shouldn't hope for in this era of rising energy costs. http://forum.skyscraperpage.com/showthread.php?t=191574

As Paolo Soleri nears his death in the Arizona wilderness he is still dreaming his utopian society.
All that $$ you all want to spend; I would invest in buying up wilderness and reducing the world population.
I fail to understand mans need to recreate himself, name his kids JR, name his company after himself and try loading his cave up with benign objects. I prefer my wine and sex in a fresh stream on a lonely mountain void of manmade objects as opposed to a box with a few windows that allow one to see the brown cloud that hovers over the once pristine Sonoran desert.
In Dubai fools build sand piles and then put towering snow skiing palaces on top of the quicksand. New York is just a few diesel engine failures from going under in human waste. And New Orleans is just one more hurricane away from being part of the Mississippi river.
I refer my fellow bloggers here to Jared Diamond who being a lot smarter than I, lays out the collapse of society.

And one more forest fire away from Hell.

azreb, despite my aversion to coffee, I agree with you that it's fun to dream, but one should walk through life with eyes wide open.

Jon, I concur with your green dreams. Yet, my Arizona permaculture friends have achieved little traction after many years of valiant work. Elect Brad Lancaster as Governor for Life and Arizona might have a chance.


Cal - have a look sometime at the National Geographic documentary video of Diamond's "Collapse"(maybe you have already seen it?)

It's more theatric and strays from much of the book's science - but you may find it entertaining. It begins with a scientific survey team examining the ruins of a collapsed American society hundreds of years into the future.

Guess which collapsed city they choose to examine? I think you'll find the imagery entertaining.

Here's the link to NGC's Collapse:


L.A. looks decent in that photo thread. The photographer must have his camera attached to his hip to have caught L.A. when the smog parts; I find L.A. with buildings in the smog more appropriate because that is what a visitor is likely to experience. It is too bad they don't have a better transportation system. But like my family who are Angelinos tell me: "Who'd want to be stuck in a subway tunnel or high off the ground when an earthquake strikes?"

soleri may have hit on a REALISTIC solution to the Park Central question.

The Catholic Healthcare solution.

It brings into play the real world dynamic that exists in Phoenix today.

We tap into unlimited funds from the Vatican by proposing the following plan.


The south end will consist of medical research buildings. The center of the property will be an unnatural grasslands park with tropical foliage and large unnatural lakes supplied with water reclaimed from the 52nd street superfund site.

The northwest corner will be home to the Brewer/Pearce/Kavanaugh shooting range.

The Miracle Mile deli and Starbucks store will occupy the east end of the property.

The old metal sculpture with upraised hands will be placed at the northeast corner with a basin full of holy water. A tablet at the base of the statue will read "Thou shall not abort, confiscate guns, raise taxes or speak the name of the Lord and Palin in vain.

The bottom line is, you work with what you have to work with. You adapt.

God bless Arizona and God bless the United States of America.

One problem, St. Joe's isn't a real Catholic hospital anymore after it performed that abortion. I think it better that way in the end...

Azrebel your age is showing. The last real catholic was Michelangelo and even he had his doubts. But then so did sister Teresa. In the center of your grassland park the Mormons can re-enact the Mountain Meadows Massacre and the Catholics can re-enact the inquisition.
Oh, you say they are still doing that?
Sancho Panza hanging out in Why.


Did I forget to mention St. Joe's falling back into the good graces of the church with the construction of the Bishop O'Brien Wing of the hospital dedicated to housing visiting alter boys?

The parking lot outside this new wing will double as home to the Bishop O'Brien driving school.

Another Win-Win development for Phoenix.

cal, the re-enactments you mention would be held at the Brigham Young stage and ATM center adjacent to the shooting range. Thank you for asking.

LOL, you guys are hilarious, but keep your right wing wet-dreams out of Central Phoenix please. ;-)

We already have enough to contend with when the Legislature migrates in from the hinterlands/suburbs...

One final addition to the NEW Phoenix Pro-Life park. An artificial Christmas tree in the southeast corner in honor of the forests we used to have in AZ.

Link to National Geographic documentary video of Diamond's "Collapse"(maybe you have already seen it?). I could only get two of the segments on my computer and I don’t have cable. My girl friend and I watch PBS twice a week on the ole black and white with a coat hanger for an antenna.
For a Russian Kung Fu Riesling at the Portland bar I might share how it was being the PI for Obrien and the catholic insurance company. And we can talk about good old but dead Jim Reed, also.

That's a Kung Fu GIRL Riesling.

A little OT for this posting, but always on topic for this blog: Is it really true that the usual voter turnout for the Phoenix mayoral race is around 10% ?

That is a level of apathy that is difficult to comprehend. That is a disconnect that is threatening to a democracy.

We, on this blog are an endangered species.

Like the postcard Jon...

And notice there is one instance in the parking lot of someone who doesn't respect or understand the idea of "The Commons". If that person is still alive today, I suspect he dangles teabags from his cowboy hat and carps a lot about "big gubmint" taking away his freedom.

We've always had jerks.
Just more of them today...

Azrebel, I think that's half the story of our degraded politics. The other half is the accelerating erosion of civic institutions in our lives. Even for people like ourselves, the networking that's vital for those institutions is disappearing. The substitute civic life we do have - local TV news, talk radio, maybe some commentators like EJ Montini and Laurie Roberts - is thin gruel by comparison.

I'm not naive about democracy in the raw. We're better off being dressed in something that cloaks our passions and self-interests. The story of Phoenix is, in large part, about this loss. And it's hardly unique to us, either. But we're here in this blog telling our story over and over because the loss is really painful. I don't even think it's anyone's fault. The social anomie of a boomtown leads directly to political apathy. The fire ants of democracy - think of the hard right and their culture war - actually serve a useful purpose in reminding us what the consequences are of polities without the necessary buffers of civic institutions, good media, and most of all, knowing your neighbors and merchants. Phoenix has huge problems going forward and there's a fairly simple explanation how and why. We don't assess our lives with others in mind any longer. Everything that follows is a small but irreducible catastrophe.


I give you the Apache name of "He who sees with the eyes of an eagle".

Last night I attended the final concert of the Seattle Symphony under the baton of Maestro Gerard Schwarz. It was a transcendent performance: A Philip Glass piece commissioned specifically for this event and Mahler's "Resurrection" symphony. Benaroya Hall, the acoustically perfect symphony hall, was packed and standing ovations brought Schwarz back four times at the end.

This said much about the city: The stewards with money, the first-class musicians, the 25-year reign of a world renowned conductor, the former mayor who had helped transform a blighted block into one of America's great symphony halls — all to the good of building a great city, a world-class city and the premier orchestra that represents it.

It's a fading ethos in America, but still alive here, as much as Seattleites have mixed feelings about being a world-class city. It's something Phoenicians in the 1960s just assumed would happen. But just building houses won't cut it, much less sprawl, gated properties, the "me" culture and few real residents — as opposed to sweet season part-timers — with money and love of the city. The city.

So back to the fantasy world: In place of the sculpture garden at the blighted property on the corner of McDowell and Central, I would endow a magnificent symphony hall.

Urban malls like Park Center (having defiled the neighborhood it was named after) can be salvaged with incremental improvements. Don't know whether the will or capital will be there. It won't be a Galleria Vittorio Emanuele but still a useful enough neighborhood.

Fate won't be so kind to the exurban and overscaled models. They will have to be torn down. Or they will just sit there and disintegrate, to be rediscovered by later generations as ancient ruins of former cult sites. They will scratch their heads and wonder what religion was practiced there, what customs they observed. And why did they build more and more of them - and with less and less quality? Sounds a bit like the riddles of Göbekli Tepe where they successively built 20 temples 11,000 years ago.

This is an 'oldie' on the topic: http://www.ted.com/talks/ellen_dunham_jones_retrofitting_suburbia.html

Remembering our plans as my new wife-to-be and I were planning our wedding in 2009, we joked that we'd "registered" at Trader Joe's, TJ Maxx and The Dollar Store! Humor or not, that's just a little insight about how much retailing has changed for the savvy shopper with an eye toward value. By contrast, we merged our collections of china, sterling silver and crystal glassware . . . wondering how and why we (and our late spouses) ever felt the need for most of this stuff. Most of it came from the venerated old cathedrals of retailing like Dayton's in Minneapolis or Sibley Lindsey and Kerr in Rochester . . both absorbed by the Macy-fication.

To me, the message is that consumption patterns have changed in some very radical ways . . which partially explains why mall retailing is in such trouble. During the upcoming Survival of the Fittest era, there will be got-rocks customers to support the upscale malls, but the hollowed-out middle class is left to find the best values where we can.

My brother and I used to ride our bikes several miles to get to Park Central Mall, virtually the only mall in Phoenix in those days and considered the height of glamour (like Mountain Shadows, where all the proms were held!)

My favorite memory of Park Central is of a visit there by me and a few of my punk teen friends. There was a small "Santa's Chalet" in the center of the mall with a Santa's helper dressed in green in it waiting for Santa to get back from his coffee break.

There was a lock hasp on the outside of the door, and a friend snuck into a sport shop. bagged a lock, and we locked Santa's helper inside and moved a ways away to enjoy the fun. The police were called, and someone finally arrived with a crowbar and managed to jimmy to hasp off and free the unfortunate elf.

Phoenix is not unique (once again!) in having a declining audience for its symphony. It shows several things, one of which is the aging of its civic-minded population. It was an emblem of middle-class virtue to go to the symphony even if you confused Schumann with Schubert. To go today, is to see how starkly diminished that cohort is. There are more younger people going but seldom enough to fill Symphony Hall more than halfway.

Which is a shame because the Symphony has never been better. Their programming has improved dramatically, as had their soloists. Even here, however, there is danger. Do you risk offending season subscribers with something challenging like the Corigliano violin concerto? But if you don't, doesn't the orchestra simply lose relevance and artistic edge?

Talton has made the point that every city self-selects now for its reigning demographic. Phoenix selects for fun-in-the-sun, margaritas-by-the-pool burghers in bermuda shorts. It means a public square even more attenuated and neglected since our demographic really doesn't care for art, beauty, or ideas. It means no good independent bookstores, or indie cinemas, or urban cafes hosting well-known troubadours. Phoenix is emphatically not Seattle.

The irony is that high-culture Phoenix has gotten much better. Theater is nearly first-rate. The stolid Arizona Opera now hires some first-tier singers for its productions. Ballet Arizona is a gem. The Phoenix Art Museum regularly brings in exciting exhibits. As far as new digs for the Symphony across the street from the museum, let's start talking. But we need a spark plug, a kind of Gustavo Dudamel/Frank Gehry excitement quotient that might rescue Phoenix from its safe-but-mediocre instincts. This city desperately needs to take a chance at Central & McDowell. It needs to say we're not just sunburned goobers obsessed with illegal aliens. It has to reach deep if it can help us climb out of this hole we dug.

Hear, hear, Soleri!! And, I live in Tucson.

“Fading Ethos”??, Welcome to the return of poverty. Fewer and fewer will find the time and resources to attend a “transcendent performance.”

There is a coming of the:
“Bolting of the Chateau doors as the opulent class is becoming a separate caste of society that reproduces itself through the transmission of networks of wealth, privilege and power.” “The hyper rich think of themselves as the new aristocracy.” Herve Kempf from How The Rich are Destroying the Earth.

I am pleased to hear that the quality of manmade music and art has greatly improved. However these productions pale by the sound of a waterfall in the screaming quietness of the mountains or the roar of pounding waves on a desolate beach. And no man to date with all his resources has created a piece of art that comes close to rivaling that art in which we live in and on, eearth.
Personally I quit going to opera, plays and symphony as I did not enjoy them. I can handle an art museum now and then, primarily as a social interaction with my girlfriend. Even on occasion I buy a piece and then give it away. As I do with books. My favorite book to purchase and pass on is Ed Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.

Per Author Henry Miller; “What we dread most, in facing the impending debacle, is that we shall be obliged to give up a gewgaws, our gadgets, all the little comforts which have made us so Uncomfortable.”

From the Planet Café, Baubles… we’re back to Africa. I am not sure you’re right about everything, but you’re a good guy. Come on, let’s drink another glass: this round is on me. To the health of the planet.”

I should add that Benaroya Hall is within walking distance of home, and a wonderful pre-concert cocktails-and-dinner was had at the Capital Grille a block away.

I don't see Sarah Palin getting much of the Catholic female vote. The gun talk alone would turn off the ladies.

Phoenix Symphony Hall is awful. It would be wonderful if we had a hall equivalent as great as PAM, Herberger, etc for the orchestra. But Symphony Hall is walking distance from home it just lacks the draw capable of attracting Phoenicians, especially newer transplants, and I suspect it has a lot to do with first impressions (outside appearance).

A couple of clarifications/amplifications:

When I use the term "urban mall," I mean an enclosed, multi-level building located in a dense downtown or shopping area, with no or little surface parking. Examples: Pacific Place in Seattle, San Francisco Centre, Horton Plaza in San Diego or Cherry Creek in Denver. Park Central was a classic suburban mall design.

As to moreclearair's point, retail has been distorted by 1) Wal-Mart's monopolistic tactics and strangle-hold on the supply chain; 2) No antitrust enforcement resulting in regional and local department stores being subsumed into one or two giant chains; 3) The rise of pathological capital markets that emphasize the "destruction," rather than the "creative" — thus the Robert Campeau disaster and others like it. Much led to the death of local department stores and retail but it wasn't merely the pure and inarguable "free market."

My mixup. I was blathering about location instead of design.
All hope is not lost on Park Central because paradoxically its decline puts it ahead of the curve. No longer a shopping mecca and on Central near light rail, it can rededicate space to productive use, starting with the Eastern parking lots. Is there enough demand?
Gargantuan malls like Metrocenter (adjacent to an interstate) are more difficult to redevelop and have lesser chances. They're good for asteroid target practice.

"But we need a spark plug, a kind of Gustavo Dudamel/Frank Gehry excitement quotient that might rescue Phoenix from its safe-but-mediocre instincts." - soleri

But, first, Arizona (and broader culture) needs a valid, long-term vision. Near-term ('quarterly') thinking ("spark plug", "excitement") merely echoes the myopic fun-in-the-sun mentality.

How do we move past a world of Strauss waltzes and find a way to create our own Beethovens?

"Wal-Mart's monopolistic tactics and strangle-hold on the supply chain"

Don't forget Amazon.com, etc.

It is possible for me to walk to an excellent symphony hall, enjoy a wonderful evening of music, and then enjoy a leisurely walk home while humming to the musical memories.

This is an entirely different experience from burning expensive gasoline through the herd of Phoenix rush-hour traffic into the post-apocalyptic terrain of downtown Phoenix, fighting for parking, hearing the indelible echoes of car horns and squeeling tires, dashing from the symphony hall, searching for my car, and driving home while a series of crotch rockets and extended cabs scream past.

The contrapuntal theme of Phoenix is cacaphony.



they all work.

I used to be a regular weelky customer/purchaser of Amazon.com until they threw Wikileaks under the bus. I have boycotted them since and will never use them again. I vote with my dollars and I will not support those unAmerican gutless bastards.

sorry, I meant weekly. anger sure messes up typing and spelling

A great piece could be written about the demise of "the great cathedrals of retailing" like Dayton's, Hudson's, Marshall Field, Lazarus, Strawbridge & Clothier and a list that goes on and on. These were often 3rd generation family-owned institutions that gradually morphed into corporate combines as they "went public". In their day, they were such grand places with their ever-changing display windows and often elegant interiors. (Here is where I got my start over 50 years ago.) This reflective nostalgia gives rise to the theme of "what was . . ISN'T". And it leaves me with the thought that Wal*Mart needs either re-invention or resuscitation. It has become a veritable dinosaur with the requisite small brain and large body.


the transition from family owned to going public has always been very noticable. Decline in service, decline in friendliness, decline in quality.

It is definitely a barometer of our times that even Walmart is worried about the drop in their sales at the end of each month as their core customer's money runs out before the next check comes in.

My latest column at the Seattle Times:


I don't think it is necessarily the running out of money before next payday that is driving customers away from Walmart. It is that customers are starting to realize what cheap shit they sell. While organic and local products sales are strong at Walmart, imports from China aren't selling well any longer; especially electronics and the shabby furniture.


It's all relative soleri. I read where the U of A bookstore leads the nation in the sale of Crayon boxes with the built in sharpeners.


Off subject but perhaps you could take a stab at this in a future post. Your comment:

"Much led to the death of local department stores and retail but it wasn't merely the pure and inarguable "free market."

I'd be interested in getting your thoughts on what you define as "local" (e.g. would you consider Wal-Mart a "local department store" if you wrote about Little Rock instead of Phoenix?

This may be too wonkish, but there debate within planning circles on this definition and is a relatively new and developing concept that practicioners are trying to encorporate into planning tools and methods. For example, once a company goes public, does that automatically take them off of the "local" list? perhaps headquarters geography? (in this case, the Cayman's would have probably the greatest supply in the world of local businesses)

Azrebel, as I recall, UofA students taught ASU students how to color BETWEEN the lines.

so true, sol, which is why I went to UNLV. Our learning tools were dice and cards. ( : - )

Phx Planner,

I'll add that to the idea list, but let me give some initial thoughts.

First, in terms of public companies I would differentiate between the store and the headquarters. By its very nature, Wal-Mart is in the "geography of nowhere," and not only not local but aggressively annihilative of the very concept. This is ironic considering Sam Walton's first five-and-dime was local and on a main street of the town. But, Bentonville benefits enormously from the talent and capital that are drawn to the headquarters. The same is true of Amazon.com and Seattle.

There's a difference with Nordstrom, in that it started as a single Seattle shoe store. Thus, in many fundamental ways -- look, feel, service, in the center of downtown -- the flagship Nordstrom is very much like the local department stores that once graced the downtowns of every American city. The same can't be said of the little token Macy's in downtown Cincinnati.

Starbucks is a local headquarters that is a major asset to Seattle. It gives the ambiance of "local" wherever it is. But it's not considered a local retailer even here. The real local coffee shops and their partisans hate it and Howard Schultz with a fervor.

On the other hand, every neighborhood business district in Seattle has a bookstore etc. that is local: Locally owned, one or two locations. In Arizona, Kimber Lanning's Local First Arizona is an advocate for truly local business (although a much smaller cohort than in Seattle or Portland).

After that, there are surely nuances that can be debated. For example, the old Rexall, rather like Ace Hardware, was a franchise. So the Rexall at Roosevelt and 3rd Avenue was local, even though it had the benefits of a "chain." Scale matters, too. Goldwater's was a chain in Arizona, but it was small and local. The same was true of AJ Bayless and Ryan-Evans and countless others in old Phoenix.

Going public is the end of real local, aside from the HQ benefit, and then until Wall Street destroys the company. America has lost so much by concentration, bigness, and the special monopolistic/anti-worker/sprawl-based pathology of Wal-Mart.

Don't mean to step on Jon's turf if he chooses to examine the retail landscape, but no way Wal*Mart could ever had been considered a "department store". Its roots were in Sam Walton's dull, prosaic variety store that sold fabric and patterns and crafts among other basic stuff. Target's genes came directly from Dayton's department stores and their cutting edge strategic planning process way back in the late 50's. The 5 Dayton brothers made their little brother Douglas the Target CEO. We thought they'd sentenced him to the professional equivalent of "cement shoes". Silly us! But I digress . . for decades, TGT and Dayton's had a collaborative link, sharing (among others) trend information, which was really Target's secret weapon in their "mass with class" differentiation. Didn't end until Macy's Pac Man machine bought Dayton's and Marshall Field, absorbing them into their culture of groupthink, Haggar pants and sanitized sameness. Bottom line: malls are yesterdays's news and a looming threat to the REIT's that support them.

Amen, morecleanair. Sorry I didn't get to that. The true department store was, and is in a few places, magical. I remember the first time I shopped at Wanamaker's in Philly Center City.

Last holiday season, there was some sort of "flash mob event" at Wanamakers downtown flagship, with literally the whole crowd singing part of the Messiah . . accompanied by their world class organ. Wish I hadn't erased the video! The financial wizards in their Armani suits and latter-day Gucci shoes have not quite exterminated the last vestiges of magical retail experiences . . .

That downtown Philly Wanamaker's is now a Macy's.

I visited Marshall Field's on State Street in Chicago before its "Macyfication", and what a treat that was. The only comparable department store experience I've had since then is the downtown Hudson Bay store in Vancouver.

I feel strongly that the 800 pound gorilla in this discussion is the suburban mall in downtown called Cityscape.Which by the way, ain't doin' so hot, a la Mercado, AZ Center, Collier Center.

I take exception to azrebel's remarks regarding the old sculpture at Park Central. The sculpture was created by Walt Emory. He would be so pissed even having those words in the same sentence. Walt died years ago of cancer. He was a physician that saved young men from the Vietnam war, finding legitimate reasons to have draft status of 4F. I loved his irreverence for most right wing/hawk b.s.

Strip malls were more disruptive of the urban fabric

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