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December 27, 2011


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I have one memory which may further enlighten your discussion.

I remember going with my father to the Indian School site. I was probably 11 or 12, which would put this in the 1996-1997 era.

We went to the site because that was the city hazardous waste dump site. They dug a big pit on the southwest corner of the site, and we were handing off our cans of paint thinner and used motor oil for disposal in that hole.

I assume that all precautions were made to avoid leaching, so I'm not claiming this is an environmental tragedy. But I do think it properly characterizes the priorities of the city in that era; a centrally located open parcel acquisition (the Indian School property) was seen as a prime location for a hazardous waste landfill.

GoogleMaps collaborates my story - the southwest part of the park (NE Corner of Central and Indian School) still bears the scars of digging and dumping.

I bought a 2nd condo near Central Ave in early 2008, largely for proximity to the almost-completed light rail. the condo complex - over 200 units - went bankrupt in 2009, and was perhaps 40% occupied. Now, judging by the cars parked here, it is at least 90% occupied. The business owners along Central I have talked to appear relieved the worst is over.
The central corridor/light rail does reduce car use. One friend in the same condo complex had eliminated one car from the household, and he takes light rail to work. I do not have a car, but bike or walk around Central Ave. The most necessary things (Safeway, The Suns and D-Backs, Charlie's, Clarendon) are easily accessible by bike or light rail. For my part, I think the Central Ave corridor has certainly improved. And despite the overly corporate feel of CityScape, there are plenty of other, much more engaging businesses and hangouts up and down Central Ave!

Well, at least there were no indian kids there for those news choppers to crash on.


What you recall must have been a household hazardous waste collection event rather than on-site disposal of such wastes. There's never been a City landfill in that area (the original ones were located along the Salt River, in former gravel pits). Before the federal hazardous waste regulations kicked in in the early 1980s, some materials today defined as hazardous wastes were disposed of in "regular" City landfills. The most notable example of that is the former 19th Avenue Landfill, which accepted both solid waste and what today would be hazardous waste prior to 1980. And there is today an exemption for household hazardous wastes (as compared to industrial wastes) that allows them to be disposed of in a solid waste landfill. But there's no way the City would have organized household hazardous waste disposal at the Indian School Park in the manner you recall.

I would like to believe CDT is right.
But given past history I wouldnt say never.
"God is Red"
said Vine Deloria

just not in Phoenix

I gotta tell U cruising central on a recumbent is not quite what i remember from my American Graffiti Days

"bring back cruising."

No thanks. Rather, bring in Critical Mass.

car free,

Are we talking about sociodynamics or the bike thing??

morecleanair, please cover your eyes on this one.

Did any of the rest of you notice the non-violent protest that took place over the weekend?

The county announced that the holiday weekend was a no-burn weekend. As far as I could tell, every single family in the valley with a fireplace, burned a fire in it all weekend long. Driving across the valley on Christmas Eve and Christmas night was like driving in a heavy fog.

The serfs are getting cranky.

Even when I was a kid there was a steady stream of proposals that were breathlessly hyped on the front pages of the Republic. Where the Viad Building stands, a developer proposed a high-rise hotel called the Oasis. There was a 30-story highrise proposed for the SWC of 1st Avenue and Monroe. Gordon Hall, the bad boy of Phoenix high rollers proposed what would be the tallest building in Phoenix on tiny parcel at the NWC of Thomas & Central. Another developer proposed a 55-story building at Glenrosa & Central on a lot that has remained stubbornly vacant for 50 years (it's last use was as a trailer park). Even more improbably, a developer named Gregory Peloquin proposed the tallest building in Phoenix at Highland & Central, the so-called Brophy Tower. It actually "sold" (i.e., took deposits) from quite a few condo buyers. It was a weathervane during the last boom, from its spectacular updraft to the final reckoning.

What these all had in common was lots of blue sky and a real-estate industry dependent on manufacturing buzz if only to overshadow the shaky financials behind these projects. In a city like Phoenix, which was virtually a real-estate hustle from its founding, this kept the players moving in lockstep against bureaucratic inertia and the dreaded specter of NIMBYism. Phoenix celebrated newness, potential, unbridled animal spirits, and anything-goes zoning.

The 114 story "Phoenix Tower", the would-be tallest building in America, was proposed in 1988 for 2nd St & Portland. Its "developer" was a part-time resident of Paradise Valley, one George Schriqui. He made all sorts of demands, including his projects own off-and-on ramps to the yet-uncompleted 1-10 through downtown. City officials were eagerly jumping though hoops trying to keep the mysterious confidence man happy. The FAA was uncooperative about the flight hazard, however, and there was no obvious demand for the kind of square footage he'd dump on a very soft market. After several months of dreaming big, the project collapsed as the "developer" could never provide details on its financing.

Central Avenue, as anyone knows who talks to old codgers like myself, was once exciting, fresh, and amazing. In early 1960, Newsweek put a picture of Central Avenue on its cover with the title Miracle in the Desert. The same week, Time Magazine had a substantial story about Phoenix. And as anyone knows who reads this blog, Central Avenue is an epic wash-out both as real-estate grandeur and a civic aspiration.

In fairness, we did what all cities did when converting raw bullshit into gilt-edged invitations to Progress. Wilshire Boulevard is older and more substantial than Central Avenue, but much of mid-Wilshire is seedy and enervated. Unlike that fabled street, however, Central Avenue doesn't dogleg through Beverly Hills or push toward the Pacific. I love Sunnyslope as much as anyone, but as a climax it's a dry well.

What defines Central Avenue today is its Texas-like sense of open space. It's like looking at the Trump Hotel in Las Vegas, rising improbably from the desert waste into gold-plated kitsch, marooned in the legend of its Dogpatch Ozymandias, The Donald. Las Vegas, at least, is an international tourist destination. Phoenix is not. And our sadness is all the more obvious for being so conspicuous in its disconsolate past tense.

Central Ave. - Phoenix, AZ
Fremont St. - Las Vegas, NV

Central Corridor - Phoenix
The Strip - Las Vegas

Central and Fremont go in the dumper for about two decades.

Fremont Street rises like a Phoenix (pun intended)
Central Phx. stays in the dumper.

The Strip expodes with growth, (too much, actually)

Central Corridor stays in the dumper.

Both cities are built on illusion, but when the rubber hits the road, bet on human vice first if you wish to stand a chance at survival.

Las Vegas, NV -not an illusion, real vice.

Phoenix, AZ - an illusion of goodness, but under the surface, nothing but vice.

You nailed it, Warren Peace.

To answer: I suggest bicycle, pedestrian, rail, horse, etc. over any type of recreational motoring.

Warren said, "every single family in the valley with a fireplace, burned a fire in it all weekend long."

What the hell were they burning? Scraps of lumber from the foreclosed, abandoned home next door? Worthless stock and bond certificates? Discarded holiday wrapping? Sahuaros?

How much does it really cost to ship all those fake logs into the Arizona Home Depots just so they can be burned to send smoke up the chimneys of nuclear- and coal-powered McMansions?

Arizona really is full up with fools.

And our sadness is all the more obvious for being so conspicuous in its disconsolate past tense.

Unlike Sunnyslope, that was a great finish!

Here's something on topic yet also consistent with the "Phoenix Rising?" thread:

"Take the Mayo Hospital out of the equation, and 2011 turned out to be a year of little growth in northeast Phoenix, which at one time was the new frontier for expansion in the city."



"The state is expected to add about 48,000 jobs in 2011, but that still won’t bring the state to the pre-recession levels of 2007, McPheters said."


This was published days before the Arizona Republic article quoting McPheters. So, I don't know if he was misquoted or misunderstood in the article referencing "25,000 jobs at most in 2011", but this is in line with what I said.

Warren: The American Lung Assn. estimates that one in six valley residents is affected by the bad air . . that's over 700,000 people, sir! Small particle chimney emissions (PM 2.5) are among the worst as they can even impact heart patients. So when our gotrocks neighbors thumb their noses at the regs, they qualify for a spot in the "Ugly American" pantheon. Recently, I saw little kids in oxygen masks at Banner Childrens Hospital where the pediatric pulmonologist described this as a "silent epidemic".

"And our sadness is all the more obvious for being so conspicuous in its disconsolate past tense." -soleri

I nominate that as Rogue quote of the year. Honorable mention: "How does a right-thinking Christian go about asking Santa for Mitch McConnell’s head under the Christmas tree?" - Michael Thomas in 'Wall Street has destroyed the wonder that was America.'

I second Awinters nomination

it is a great quote, but are you sure you want the quote of the year to be the one that states we are a bunch of old farts crying in our soup over how much we miss the good ole days?

and we're obviously doing it in a public restaurant.

That's what old farts do.
but as a kid I enjoyed sitting on the small town park benches listening to the old farts lie to each other.
Now I is one!


Taz Loomans is one of my Facebook friends so I don't want to quibble over her featherdown analysis. Still....

"an environmental sustainable urbanism" -- I don't think that is possible anywhere and especially in a desert.

"secured $20 million in federal funding to incentivize affordable housing development along the Light Rail" -- in another two years, most of the housing along LR will be affordable, in the meantime the REIC will profit as will some do-gooder intellectuals.

The downtown Mesa extension is a good thing. Now let's see IF it will get done.

And I third the nomination for your quote!

What frustrates me about the Taz post is how, despite the best of intentions, it falls into the usual Phoenix defensiveness and subject-changing.

Infill along the LRT line isn't happening yet. What the REIC is pushing, with help from the likes of the Morrison Institute and others who know better, are dangerously unsustainable mega-projects such as Superstition Vistas.

Ignore Ross at your peril.

Agreed Jon, I don't think we should ignore Ross. I think we should heed his warnings. But my point is that all is not lost. There are some good things happening now,and I do believe we can write a new chapter for Phoenix. Otherwise, why live here, why try to change the city, have an impact, or do anything of value here? As I said in the article, I refuse for Phoenix to be written off. Yes, we've made some onerous mistakes, and unfortunately the momentum still appears to be going in the old direction. But call me a hopeless romantic, I believe that change can and will happen from the bottom up. That Superstition Vistas, even if built, will be such a failure that it'll be the end of exurban master planned communities. That Downtown Mesa will finally be revitalized because of the Light Rail, and will be such a success that it might swing the pendulum the other way. But you're right, the most effective way forward isn't to ignore Ross, but to get mad, not at him, but at what we've allowed to happen thus far. And get mad enough to actually change direction.

Thanks for weighing in, Taz. That Phoenix is not written off is the entire point of Rogue Columnist.

It is the foolish bird that soils it's own nest.

Valley of the Sun - How many billions of tons of waste buried in local landfills?

Valley of the Sun - How many billions of gallons of toxic chemicals dumped into our soil and aquafiers?

Valley of the Sun - How many billions of doses of deady drugs flushed into our water system?

Valley of the Sun - How many billions of tons of fertilizer, auto emissions and toxic fumes dumped into our air, soil, water and lungs??

Maybe y'all haven't written off Phoenix, so then maybe you should get your butts back here to the valley and not post your comments from afar?? Ya think??

Come back and live in this crap hole and maybe we'll listen to your enlightened comments.

Not to deflect more criticism (or to be criticized of doing so) but Phoenix or "The Valley of the Sun" is hardly the worst offender of what is listed above.

What river in 1969 caught fire due to a mix of toxic chemicals? Our industry has made a mess of communities across the nation and world. It seems Taz Loomans was only pointing out the obvious and simply stating that this and other problems are not Phoenix's alone.

I have brought a couple groups of relatives/friends from Seattle to my little condo near Central Ave. And their actual experience of Phoenix has been much more favorable than their preconceived idea of what Phoenix would be like.
I don't have an answer as to how the Phoenix addiction to mega-projects will be cured. But there are local owners who are clearly investing in the downtown core (e.g. Lux, and Copper Star coffee shops). The change may not come overnight, but I wouldn't rule it out!

A friend from Ohio told me that the most devastating fire on the Cuyahoga River occurred in 1952 in Downtown Cleveland. However, the river has caught fire more than 12 times killing many people.

Pat L.-That's the problem.Phoenix is so beautiful,it has over 3 million people loving it to death, with no idea of how illusive the mirage is. Everything you see when you visit here is dependent on a complicated delivery system of water,electricity,and petroleum. And as the population grows, so do the problems of delivering the things that make life here possible.The laws of thermodynamics and entrophy almost guarantee an eventual breakdown of at least one of those systems,if not all of them.

Cal-two old farts were sitting in a bar, when one of them pointed across the bar and said, "In 10 years,you and I will look like those two old drunks over there." His friend replied, "That's a mirror,stupid!"

Thanks Mike but I am so old I heard that one a loooooong time ago.
Mike you know what Gringo Menudo is?

Bu the way the latest issue of Arizona Highways has an article on the real Hayduke who is alive and well in Montana.
So Helen grab your wrench and lets go.

If you all have not read "Good News" by Ed Abbey, I'll ruin it for you and tell you in the end, Phoenix goes up in ball of fire.

Think I'll close the nite off with a few passages from The Inferno.

Most people who live in metropolitan Phoenix know little or nothing about my part of town, the old city, the historic districts, etc. When the airport shuttle used to pick me up in Willo, it would be packed with people from the outer 'burbs, all wowed by the trees, shade and real neighborhood. I feel especially sorry for Spring Training visitors from Seattle who only see Peoria, sprawl and, maybe, Snottsdale. And, yes, the central core has some life, although nothing one would expect in a city this size.

So we all have our lovable part of the city. We can spend much time defending Phoenix, cheering it, explaining away the "negative" or rationalizing its challenges. But that's not really the point. For one thing, almost all media and "opinion leaders" already do this.

We're here for the serious conversation, the truth-and-bone examination and debate. Phoenix faces unusual if not unique problems, especially taken as a whole: Economic, environmental, social, political, urban form, sustainability, etc. They can be addressed. So far, I don't see that happening. I see the powers doubling down on digging the hole deeper.

Indeed RC! In fact I still live here because its home and its all right despite all that goes on. Good people here, like everywhere else too.

And Taz, you are a hopeless romantic! Hope you're still young (rather than an old fart like a few of us posters).

The problem is most detractors and authors who define Phoenix's problem fail to focus the conversation on the real issues the city faces that are unique; therefore, it is easy to defend Phoenix or offer deflection. This city isn't the least sustainable, nor is it the most polluted, nor the most congested (traffic), nor the most sprawling.

What is most troubling about Phoenix is how fast the city has grown in comparison to other places of equivalent size (population). Though downtown Phoenix was vibrant before the 60's, it was very small. On top of that, many of the older buildings in the small footprint of downtown were destroyed long ago. This blog, thanks to Jon, is the best at highlighting this issue.

Phoenix's small downtown, moderate Central City population density and uninspiring modern architect cannot be easily defended. This is the most pressing issue for the city because it will go a long way in addressing the issue of poor urban form and offering an alternative to sprawl. An alternative that is actually attractive to a majority of people. It will also help attract quality employers and the talent necessary to remake the "Central Corridor".

Phoenix's later developers decided to spread thin the city's stock of highrises. They created a much larger footprint that, with the help of light rail, can become a bustling urban corridor. As we've discussed before, if ValTrans was approved in the late 80's Phoenix would have had its head start...That was postponed until 2008 and now the city has a "backbone" in which to focus attention and resources. It nicely defines where energy should be directed.

The politics of the state could hamper the city's effort, but with savvy leadership it will be overcome. The city’s electorate wisely avoided a Gullett mayoral reign which would have given the State Legislature (and “sprawl barons”) undue influence over municipal affairs.

PSF, do you think we dodged a bullet by NOT electing Wes Gullet? We're a "city" with 40% the density of Los Angeles, our model for autocentric sprawl. "Savvy leadership" doesn't simply wish this away. This is who we are now - a largely soulless car town that will find itself in coming decades competing not against LA, or Seattle, or Denver but Las Vegas, Oklahoma City, and Tucson.

All the things we "should" do pro-actively we may eventually undertake reactively. Still, we don't have to deploy pixie dust in service of wishful thinking. We live in a reactionary, anti-urban state that will frustrate our best efforts to apply urbanist bandaids to the gaping wounds of sprawl. If you're not a pessimist, you're not thinking clearly.

"This city isn't the least sustainable, nor is it the most polluted, nor the most congested (traffic), nor the most sprawling."

Perhaps, but the math is probabilistic: unsustainability x pollution x congestion x unparalleled sprawl x intellectual deficit x absence of a soul = FAILED STATE.

Just a thought. Phoenix is the Detroit of the Southwest and Central Avenue is its Woodward Ave. Officials in Detroit still "love sprawl", light rail on Woodward has been canceled, it's rundown in all kinds of places even two blocks from the central artery. No one knows what to do with it. Buildings torn down, more 'free space'. Urban farming.

It painfully stretched itself out and therefore can't be coherently healed. Little spots of hope and stretches of nothingness mingle with aging grandiose monuments. That's what is probably in store for Phoenix following its overshoot. A leopard skin of decay.

From the Rust belt to the Bust belt and Burn belt. At least Phoenix will be spared the urban farming fad.

"PSF, do you think we dodged a bullet by NOT electing Wes Gullet?" -Soleri

Of course; he Gullet was the candidate of the rich sprawl barons and the Legislature. He was declared the victor by you and Jon and other posters on this blog before the ballots were even counted and one reason for my wording; he was NOT elected. Real leadership is more than wishful thinking, it is what fosters change and Phoenix (especially the Central City) has been "cutting against the grain" compared to much of the rest of the state.

Unlike Detroit, the city is still growing along Central Ave and as a whole. This is happening at a much slower clip which will allow the city to "catch its breath". If Phoenix becomes the next Detroit it will be due to climate change, which wouldn't (again) be a Phoenix of Arizona problem and cannot be solved locally: our country will have issues from California to Florida. Remember SoCal gets just as much water from the Colorado and L.A. is a fake, green environment made possible by cheap water.

I failed Algebra but SC equation makes sense to me. And SC 's earlier one word mission statement was spot on. SHRINKAGE.

Phxsunfan you and i called the election (both of them) right but I believe had Gullet started earlier it would have really gone down to the wire. Also I hold out no hope for the current NRA state legislature. They will attempt to gun down as many urbanization projects as possible.
Their goal is, NO rules (except theirs), No Taxes,Polygamy is legalized, white is right and 10 percent of all your and my money goes to Salt Lake.

And Oh yea, we are on one big LSD trip as we elect an LDS president.
I wonder if they allow motor homes in Norway?

And about density: it is true that Phoenix's footprint is a sprawling hulk. Covering over 500 sq miles of land. Yet much of that is undeveloped park and preserve land. More is undeveloped desert, especially in the northern half of the city. Phoenix is working to turn even more open desert in the norther reaches into more preserved land. If this is taken into account, L.A. is hardly 60% more dense than Phoenix, it would be more like 25%. L.A. is still the epitome of sprawl.

It has "urban clusters" or "downtowns" that are Biltmores and Esplandes on steroids connected by freeways on steroids and traffic likewise, on steroids. When it takes 2 hours to get from one "downtown" to another that is not great urban planning. In this sense, Seattle is much more representative of how a city should grow and what can be done in the Central City.

Seattle is even less dense than L.A., yet it has a better connected downtown and neighborhoods that are easily navigated by foot and transit. That is something the Central City, Maryvale, and even East Phoenix should emulate. Connecting Desert Ridge (and the like) in this manner is a lost cause beyond express bus service for the foreseeable future.

Phoenix and Detroit is an interesting thought exercise.

Phoenix was never the headquarters and centerpiece of the most important industry of the modern world, with all the good jobs and wealth that generated.

Phoenix didn't have Detroit's incredibly destructive race issue, including riots, high violent crime and white flight. This is not to say Phoenix doesn't have a major underclass -- it does, with big implications for the future -- or suburban apartheid.

Phoenix wasn't a mainspring of "Fordism," massive manufacturing operations with large, unionized workforces that epitomized mid-20th century American power but were most vulnerable to changes from 1979 on that hollowed out the economy, especially blue-collar jobs providing upward mobility, especially for minorities.

Phoenix lacks Detroit's good bones in architecture. On the other hand, it doesn't have the travesty of grand buildings that couldn't be rehabbed, especially the Michigan Central Station.

Detroit remains a major corporate center (and much of downtown Detroit leaves Phoenix looking like Buttcrack, Georgia, by comparison). Phoenix never became one.

Detroit has suffered for years from corrupt city government. Phoenix hasn't.

For all this, the cities may be classic examples of failure after their moment in history. Phoenix's years of grief are just beginning. In both cases, managing contraction to a higher-quality future is the only solution.

"For all this, the cities may be classic examples of failure after their moment in history. Phoenix's years of grief are just beginning. In both cases, managing contraction to a higher-quality future is the only solution." -Rogue Columnist

To an extent. If Phoenix will suffer from years of Detroit-like grief, it has yet to really begin. There isn't an exodus from the city as it has still grown; but having slowed to a snails pace comparatively speaking (when measured against boom times). Jobs are still more likely to be found in Phoenix than any other region in Arizona, and this isn't likely to end and reverse any time soon. Contraction likely will and should occur due to rising energy costs and a spike in the cost of services and infrastructure.

As an example, many exurban communities (Surprise, Sun City, "San Tan", etc) have recently been hit with massive water rate hikes. I see this trend continuing for those communities and one reason living closer to central Phoenix will be attractive to newcomers and even ex-suburbanites.

"managing contraction to a higher-quality future is the only solution."

Is that the same thing as SHRINKAGE?

Density(persons per square mile, 2010):

Phoenix: 2,797.8
LA: 8,092.3
Seattle: 7,250.9
Denver: 3,922.6
Detroit: 5,144.3
Philadelphia: 11,379.5
Oklahoma City: 956.4

I can understand if LA is not one's thing. The metropolitan area is indeed everything that's wrong with sprawl. The city is quite amazing and worthy of appreciation, even if it's not one's thing. Phoenix a "Little LA"? If only. LA has so many assets Phoenix will never have. Among them:

— Center of the world entertainment industry.
— World-class universities (USC, UCLA, Caltech, Pepperdine, etc).
— Biggest American ports.
— World trade center focused on Asia, with the financial and brainpower that goes along with it.
— Huge immigrant economy in all sorts of sectors, embracing immigrants.
— World-class cultural assets (The Getty, LA County Museum of Art, Huntington, Asia Pacific, etc. etc.).
— Amazing architecture, including LA Union Station, busier with trains now than in decades.
— Top magnet for talent and capital, including one of the hippest cities in the world. It can lose its major bank headquarters and aerospace cluster and barely break stride.

It also has world-class social problems, especially inequality and a history of urban riots.

I've been through this before. So comparisons with LA are nearly useless. Exceptions: Learning from some LA urban solutions such as transit funding. Phoenix and the "Inland Empire" are more analogous, but even here SanBerdoo etc. have the benefit of closeness to LA.

It should also be noted that LA now has one of the most extensive light- and heavy-rail passenger systems in the country and it's building more, including the long-awaited "subway to the sea."

Even Hollywood Boulevard has come back.

Phoenicians should get out more.

True, L.A. has great amenities that can be attributed to its natural setting and industrial history. However, that does not overcome the fact that L.A. is a sprawling, polluted mess. It has "extensive" rail yet isn't nearly extensive enough to reach the 18 million that live in the region. And ridership is extremely low for a city of its size. Phoenix does better, or is in the same range of comparable cities in transit ridership...it outperforms San Deigo, San Antonio, etc. And has nearly identical patterns to Dallas, Houston (cities that are in much larger metros), and San Jose.

L.A. it is not NYC, though it is the only other metro area comparable to the enormity of that city. And unlike New York, 54% of L.A.'s commuters DO NOT utilize its rail system and it is nowhere near cities like San Fran, Philly, Chicago, Boston even D.C. in connectivity.

People choose to live there because of its historical hipness and everything you list: but sustainable it is not! The subway to the sea will end miles from Santa Monica: more like "subway halfway to the sea."


I would be curious if desert preserves in reality comprise more acreage than empty private land in the city of Phoenix.

The metro area **should** do all the things pSf recommends, especially focusing population and assets in the old city with a few additions, such as Maryvale, Tempe, Mesa. But it's not happening, and the people who make decisions about policies and capital deployment keep looking to the far fringes. The Sun Corridor. Superstition Vistas. It's nuts but it just keeps on. Meanwhile, even in a slow-to-depressed economy, the better-off burbs keep grabbing Phoenix assets, the Legislature keeps sabotaging urban solutions and help to fill in central Phoenix, etc. etc. The hole diggers just keep digging.

The task before us and Phoenix is enormous given the state of the Legislature. I'm not discounting the daunting task but I'm not throwing out the possibility of smart growth either. The Legislature can only sabotage so much before reality smacks them down...

Face up to folks,
Man is on the brink of extinction.
and "the dogs sat around the campfire and speculated on the possible existence of man."
Clifford Simak, City, 1946

Too bad Phoenix wasn't listed:

The A.T. Kearney Global Cities Index 2010


There's no credit for being the canary in the coalmine, and Phoenix just isn't a global city.

Throw all the quakes and smog you can at us, L.A. has about a billion times the number of great musicians that reside in Phoenix. No other dimension - with the possible exception of the quality of the parties - really matters.

As usual, great work Jon.

It's interesting to read the comments on this thread. It seems like we have the young, optimistic urbanists on one side (PSF, Taz Loomans)and the veteran urbanists - more pessimistic - on the other (Jon, Soleri et al)

I've only read the first chapter (which is available free) of Ross's book. To me, it didn't seem like there was much new information for those who have been interested in sustainable urbanism. Someone let me know if I'm off the mark here and I'll pick it up (fyi, PURL is trying to put together a debate between Ross and Grady Gammage in the near future).

Phoenix is, in fact, very sick. A sober diagnosis is necessary if it is ever to heal. Is the patient getting treatment? Yes. But, is the treatment sufficiently aggressive for the urgency of the problem? Should treatment be applied aggressively at all? These are debatable topics.

I agree with Taz that solutions must come from the "bottom up", (or, democratically), to be effective.
But, democracy usually only works to create positive change when a population is literate, civically engaged, and not an economic basketcase. Creating these conditions is the fundamental challenge for Phoenix.

This is where, I think, a constructive dialog between the young urbanists and the veterans could really help. What were the lessons learned - specifically? Why did we lose some battles (Val Trans, growth boundaries)? Why did we win others? (light rail) What tactics do we know won't work?

Good cities don't just happen. They are fought for. And you don't fight for something you don't love. And its hard to love something you don't understand, and doesn't love you back.

Phx Planner, the battles we lost came after the city itself was lost in metastatic sprawl. There were visionary proposals, to be sure - Val Trans and Rio Salado in the late '80s, growth boundaries in 2000 (too late, but still worthwhile), along with numerous colloquies and forums devoted to improving this place. But the logic of the growth machine was inexorable. It eventually replaced the more productive parts of our economy, such that to doubt its necessity and goodness was to marginalize your argument on the losing end.

I don't enjoy disagreeing with the optimists, but what I notice is their virtual eagerness to validate anything that suggests Phoenix is growing and improving. This can make their task easier in that they don't have to apply critical thought to either the growth itself or its lopsided frequency on the far edge of the metroplex. The little bit of construction occurring in central Phoenix can disguise this fact. Ignoring this fact results in more happy talk about the few crumbs falling on our plates. But the nature of our urban form has not changed nor the political paralysis facilitating more unsustainable growth on the edges.

Phoenix is not unique here although it has fared worst than most other cities. If Phoenix had a dynamic core, it would at least serve as a counterpoint to the main show in the suburbs (e.g., Denver). But our core is too weak to instruct. As in most other American cities, the abandonment of the central city has been a civic disaster with far-reaching economic and cultural consequences.

The best cities have strong cores that still galvanize the region's energy and wealth. Phoenix, obviously, does not. And absent some powerful contrary force, this will remain the case. While we can point to light rail, Downtown ASU, and a few condo towers, we can't solve the the most perplexing riddle: what is it about downtown Phoenix that enchants and excites people? Why downtown? There are no convincing answers.

My pessimism here serves one purpose: it's better to tell the truth than disguise the issues with bullshit. We're a city failing to live up to our own hype, which we then try to turn around by attacking other cities (one of Bob Robb's perennial gambits).

Maybe rising oil prices will eventually attract thousands back to the inner city. We can hope, of course, but we're still not answering the harder question about a city that celebrates Cheap, Fast, and Easy to the detriment of sustainable and nurturing ends.

First of all-Cal,"shrinkage" is when younger men jump into cold water.For the rest of us-Well...............

I have to brag on my hometown since 1966.Tempe, luckily,became landlocked when Chandler pulled a middle of the night annexation of everything west of Dobson and Williams Field Rd.(before it was called Chandler Blvd.)that Phoenix didn't already have.Since then,Tempe has concentrated on developing their existing neighborhoods and assets instead of looking outward for land they could annex.While not perfect,they have done the best job of developing their transit system and keeping their quality of life from deteriorating.The apartment resident is catered to as well as the cutom home owner in a gated community.The best way to success for any city,state,or country is to make sure all classes of citizen share equally in the success.Robert Reisch does a great job of explaining the connection between income inequality and the national economy in his new book "Aftershock"

Happy New Year to RC and all the great posters on this website.

"Throw all the quakes and smog you can at us, L.A. has about a billion times the number of great musicians that reside in Phoenix." -Guitar Hero

Spoken like a true Angelino! Forget the smog and the environmental harm inflicted on the populous, give us a good party and all is forgiven. Smog??? Didn't you hear, it makes for the prettiest sunsets west of the Sonoran Desert! What a fool...with over 18 million people, I would hope there would be a few more "great musicians" available.

This is why transit will never work in L.A. and why shortsighted planning will rob it of any progressive transit plans. No one will take their "extensive" rail system if it ends in the middle of nowhere. Why trade in their cars? 2 hours on the freeway? Let me bluetooth my friends and apply my foundation! Global city, sure, with 18 million self serving souls, it better have something to show for.

Enough about that cesspool! Better cities are left off that list (and yes, I consider Seattle better than L.A. and it is nowhere to be found on Supreme Commander's link)! I understand pessimism that is pervasive here, especially Soleri's brand. It is deserved, but Phoenix offers hope. If it can succeed and lead the nation in renewable energy and new urban infill, it will be a far-reaching education.

How fast the nation forgets about California's proposition 187...it passed with great enthusiasm before being declared illegal by a federal court. Sounds familiar? Not everyone in Arizona supports Arpaio, or SB 1070. I'd even go so far and say that most Arizonans do not. Go figure, and people (like Ross) wonder why some of us Phoenicians become so defensive. Look in the mirror for once...

"What is it about downtown Phoenix that enchants and excites people?" -Soleri

The blank canvass and the possibility therein. No other city the size of Phoenix offers the opportunity to reinvent itself quite the same. If that doesn't excite you then your heart isn't in it, and maybe never was. What can we (re)create here? It can be marvelous or it can fail terribly. There is plenty of room for every idea and possibility to flourish! Have at it.

God, I wish pSf had a billion dollars.

Gringo menudo is oatmeal

"If it can succeed and lead the nation in renewable energy and [...]" - phxSUNSfan

You really, really need to read ...


The moment for Arizona to lead in renewable energy slipped by decades ago. Ever since, it's been doing everything it can possibly do to maintain the alternatives and the status quo.

Now, "leading in renewable energy" is only an insult piled upon a sea of very temporary, aging, increasingly inefficient McMansions and block commercial strucures with R-19 insulation in the ceiling.

PSF, downtown Phoenix is not a blank canvas. Yes, there are dozens of empty lots just waiting for a magic wand to transform them into something "world class". And it's this fantasy that blinds you to the reality that Phoenix does not magnetize anything close to the energy and resources to change, let alone jump to another level.

The dozens of parking garages, the dead weight of sterile government buildings, the telling lack of any natural focus like a river or harbor, and the spirit-crushing mediocrity of the existing building stock don't invite a few brush strokes of genius on a blank canvas. Yes, that canvas has countless empty spaces but they're empty because downtown is largely devoid of organic life. That's downtown now. It will take much more than words to change its destiny.

The problem with wholesale reinvention is that you ultimately need more than Sim City imagination. You need more than optimism. You need more than glossy brochures puffing exciting new boutiques and restaurants. You need to build on what's there. And the cumulative impact of countless previous decisions are not simply wished away. All the pixie dust in the world won't disappear an abomination like the Chase parking garage or transform Steve Cohn's hotel from something you might see in Amarillo. Bold predictions of greatness need to be anchored in something better than words. Because words are cheap little things that fall like dust on our fading civic furniture.

Once again, if you're in any way serious, you might want to read Jon Talton. He's been writing about these problems for well over a decade. He doesn't get respect from the booster cabal because it believes puffery is alchemy (Squint your eyes! It's really a great downtown! Better than LA's!). Talton's work is anathema to the think-and-make-it-so attitude that is essential to real-estate grifting.

Until we tell hard truths, we won't do the necessary work to salvage something worthwhile from this horror called Phoenix. We'll deploy words in the time-honored tradition of ad men dreaming up a new campaign to sell crap to the rubes. We'll settle for mediocrity because we're so eager to believe we're getting better than we blur distinctions and avoid unpleasantness. This is why Phoenix is the way it is. There were thousands before you paving this particular road to hell with their eloquent intentions. All you need is to believe!

That's the problem.

Well, at least, Phoenix has no snow.

For those of you who have visited Seattle Underground, you know, deep down in your hearts, that the best way to "remake" a city is to burn it to the ground, grade over it and start over again.

And plant sahuaros

Happy New Year to all! I read this wonderful series with a sense of foreboding that Phoenix and environs are in the cross-hairs when it comes to climate change. Republic's environmental writer Shaun McKinnon's research indicates that we're growing warmer and drier . . and our water supply issues are compounded by "fluid" Colorado River water rights where the tribes now hold sway.

How about forming a RC committe from this blog that attends, monitors and provides input to the city council?Bring in the New Year with a show of force?

A good read. Todays AZ Republic editorial by Gary Naban in My Turn


A few quick points:

1. Transit is succeeding in LA, including and notably rail transit. Transit is growing. Even as LA became freeway central after foolishly eliminating the Pacific Electric, the most extensive interurban (the light rail of its time) in the nation, it retained the most extensive bus system in the U.S. LA's transit leaps have been stunning since 1990, especially in heavy and light rail.

2. California's Prop 187 bears a surface resemblance to SB 1070. The aftermath does not. California's activists and Latino communities were energized to fight back after 187 passed, and this included top-notch legal efforts but also — critically — a leap in Hispanic voter participation. The result: Republicans haven't held major statewide office for nearly 20 years, except for Arnold, who was hardly a "real" Republican.

3. Tempe is a fascinating case study. Being landlocked should have been a blessing that forced it to turn away from the conventional economic development, such as it is, seen in metro Phoenix. But, no. Although it lacked room for more "master planned communities," Tempe focused on a new "lifestyle center" to the detriment of Mill Ave. (and before that, Arizona Mills); battling Chandler and Gilbert over "auto malls," and caving into the demand to build a brutal tower wildly out of proportion to the rest of downtown. Meanwhile, most of Tempe is suburban housing laid out on the conventional grid seen all over the metro area. Now calm down, I know Tempe residents love their town. But it's telling that it couldn't benefit from being landlocked to make a real shift.

Regarding overstretched ligaments of the urban fabric: the newworldeconomics guy posits a simple and, he admits, a bit simplistic rule for successful urbanism: "Really narrow streets".

Who knows whether it's cause or effect but the idea is intriguing. He is dismissive of New Urbanist's attempts to basically 'deliver better suburbs' - which is only partially their fault. Most people in the US don't get good urbanism because they have never lived it. Where are the developers who can deliver the real stuff instead of half-assed attempts like 'lifestyle centers'?

The guy wants to return to the gold standard (?!) but also wants a decent train system. Classic post: "This is the train map for Washington DC. As you can see, it is an irrelevant little fart of a train system."

The DC system is certainly not irrelevant - imagine DC without it. The progress that's visible can be encouraging but mightn't it be too late too catch up to the real urbanism in a conscious, organized way? If not there is always the disorganized way: 'favela chic'. Which has actually worked for the past thousands of years. I think the availability of resources [for grandiose projects] is more of a problem than an asset. More potential to wreak irreversible damage. If the presence of cars has been diminished and the daze has cleared people will be forced to get creative. That could yield better results than the master-planned rescue projects. Until then, happy new year and stoic suffering.

Note: 1/3 of the land belonging to the City of Phoenix is undeveloped desert. That's going to skew the population density statistics without giving any insight into how dense actual neighborhoods are. If you subtract 1/3 of the 475 miles or so of land area you get a density of 4,587 individuals per mile.

This is almost a parody of local-yokel "positive thinking," but done in complete seriousness:


And this:


Now, compare with:


"The moment for Arizona to lead in renewable energy slipped by decades ago." -Rate Crimes

As long as Arizona remains a sunny place, it will never be too late. Big projects have only begun and exporting solar generated power will be massive.

"Transit is succeeding in LA, including and notably rail transit. Transit is growing. Even as LA became freeway central after foolishly eliminating the Pacific Electric, the most extensive interurban (the light rail of its time) in the nation, it retained the most extensive bus system in the U.S. LA's transit leaps have been stunning since 1990, especially in heavy and light rail." -Rogue Columnist

Around 10% of commuters use transit in L.A., Phoenix is closing in on L.A. How is it that a place can have such an extensive system (the most extensive in the U.S.) yet attract so little ridership? It's the mentality of the Angelino. You won't get them out of their cars; at least ridership gains are being made in Phoenix while transit ridership is falling in L.A.

Here is an article from the L.A. Times explaining the trouble with the "Southland":

"They note that traffic congestion continues to rise in the region. Studies by the Texas Transportation Institute show that the time motorists spend in traffic has increased on average from 44 hours a year in 1982 to 70 hours in 2007. That has maintained the longstanding reputation of Los Angeles and Orange counties as the most congested in the nation."

Soleri we've heard the same pessimistic arguments before; that nothing can be done or created in Phoenix. Obviously, we differ in our opinions on the matter. Part of the attraction of living in Phoenix is seeing what changes have occurred within my short time here despite the challenges. It will be even better if Phoenix can overcome the damage done in the past and have a successful go at urban renewal. No magic wand, just real change and growth. While you have written it off, others have not.

On another matter:

Happy New Year, all! I hope you partied your asses off...

Jon, about Tempe...it is true that the city has made a few mistakes with suburban projects, but some of its most successful new housing stock are TOD near light rail stations and east of the old railroad tracks/south of Town Lake.

Those two enormous towers near Mill, West Sixth, are too big but like 44 Monroe and One Lexington, they are over 90% occupied. Good signs for one of Arizona's densest cities.


LA — 169,800 daily boardings
(boardings per mile: 2,752)
System length 62 miles

Phoenix — 40,800
(boardings per mile: 2,030)
System length 20 miles


LA — Metrolink: 512 miles, 55 stations, six lines. Daily ridership: 41,000
— Metro Red and Purple lines subway: 23 miles, 172,000 daily boardings.

Phoenix — None.


LA: Terminus for three Amtrak long-distance trains (Coast Starlight, Southwest Chief, Sunset Limited). Pacific Surfliner (Amtrak California) trains to San Diego and San Luis Obispo, busiest service outside the Northeast Corridor.

Phoenix: None.


LA: 1.3 million weekday boardings

Phoenix: 129,983 daily boardings

Also of note:


And US News' "best cities for public transportation":


If you give credence to the LA Times "critics say" article about LA's rail transit efforts, then you necessarily have to buy into the "Goldwater" Institute-type LRT hater in Phoenix. Both are wrong. LA has more assets and population near rail than Phoenix. Both cities have laid a foundation that can give people choices as gas prices rise and for the increasing number who hate wasting their lives in traffic.

The whole "optimism" v. "pessimism" thing bores me. I am interested in facts, compelling analysis and new ways of looking at our problems and solving them. Hope must be based on facts, history and knowledge of the real challenges facing us.

Here we go again. Ballet Arizona will have its HQ, studio and "black box theater" at 29th Street and Washington.


At least it's on LRT, but not near a station, and in a blighted and rough part of town. What the hell?? Why have a Central Corridor "cultural district" and allow this kind of thing to happen. #fail

Jon, I'm not sure your facts about L.A. ridership match your argument for L.A. being a great transit city. They have more rail than metro Phoenix, especially commuter rail which is greatly needed here in Arizona, but the numbers are dismal. L.A.'s light rail system is 20 years old, runs in corridors more dense compared to Phoenix, yet attracts nearly the same boardings per mile. This compared to a system that is 2 years old in Phoenix! Not a bragging point!

As for Ballet Arizona, they should have located in downtown or along Central Ave...but where? There is no building large enough to house their enterprise. This is an indication of a lack of space, not only for businesses require sq. footage, but even organizations like Ballet AZ. I heard rumors that they were looking into the Circles Building, but judging from how much space they are taking up in the "blighted and rough part of town," they would have quickly outgrown the place.

About this:
"LA: 1.3 million weekday boardings

Phoenix: 129,983 daily boardings"

I checked those statistics and the 1.3 million weekday boardings is for Los Angeles COUNTY. The 130,000 daily boardings figure is for the CITY of Phoenix alone...and includes averages for Sunday, Saturday, and holidays. There are nearly 10 million people in L.A. County...

Ok, pSf, I give up. Everything is looking up. LA sucks. I can just shut down this fucking blog and gain more free time.

hahahahahahaha !!!

Thanks Jon, that gave me a real good laugh.

YOu know you can't win an argument with our rose-colored glasses resident.

If he were about to be lynched he would be tickled that the sack they were going to put over his head matched the outfit he was wearing.

He does find the positive in any situation.

That he is delusional is beside the point. At least he is informed delusional, not like the uninformed zombies all around him.

He's young. Let him spend the next 30 years getting his Phoenix dreams handed to him in a trash bag, then he can do the same to the generation after him.

Jon, you could of just compared transit ridership in Phoenix to Seattle...there you would have won hands down! Hope you didn't get an ulcer. ;-)

"If he were about to be lynched he would be tickled that the sack they were going to put over his head matched the outfit he was wearing." AzRebel

Only if it were a Prada sack!

I should have made it clearer that I was not arguing that transit is superior in Phoenix but merely that L.A.'s system is woefully inadequate; much like Phoenix's.

L.A. should have a system that rivals Chicago, Montreal, or Toronto (in rail and ridership). Phoenix should have L.A.'s system...

OK, I'm glad I peeked in on this thread again (thanks AzRebel). Rogue made me split my sides with that last one.

If only light rail or the bus system could get me from central Phoenix to and from Falcon Field every workday. I'd buy some technology and read this blog during my commute!

eclec, do like I did. Call the Metro bus line.

I asked them: Hi, I have a friend who rides an express bus from Mesa to downtown Phoenix. ARE THERE ANY PLANS TO HAVE AN EXPRESS BUS TO THE SCOTTSDALE AIRPARK?????

They answered: Why yes, we have plans to have a new express bus from Mesa to the Central and Bethany Home area.

So I asked, but what would I do at Central and Bethany if I work at the Scottsdale Airpark????

Answer: SILENCE..................

So, you see eclec, you just have to know who to call.

Where the hell is "Falcon Field"? LOL, love it that they think the Snottsdale Airpark is in Central Phoenix...

I gotta side with psf here. LA's transit system is woefully inadequate. In a metropolis of this size a real rail system would have a million riders each day. Unfortunately, LA is decades behind and it shows. In some respects it can't be saved anymore. It has been ravaged by highways, ubiquitous parking, humongous road, and far flung settlements. Where are all those people driving to at 11 pm? LA is facing a steady, merciless decline towards Rodney King Redux and general slummery.
Playing catch up with light-rail -though commendable- will not cut it. Heavy rail is necessary for capacity, speed, and an adequate regional service level. That's the trap flatfooted cities/regions/states/countries get caught in: enormous amounts of capital and resources would have to be mobilized in a short time to correct past mistakes while those same resources (sanity one of them) are dwindling down.

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