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January 02, 2013


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Phoenix, winter resort sprawl of choice for the severely intolerant. The reputation solidly established over two decades of efforts of right wing politicians from Evan Mecham to Joe Arpaio to racist Jan "Bruja" Brewer.

An intolerant reputation that is well deserved and a viewpoint held by a clear majority of Phoenicians.

When we watch Portlandia, my wife keeps asking,"they're not really like that are they?"

I tell her, "yes they are dear, yes, they are."

Azreb, i suggest Wala Wala Wa. It has almost 200 wine manufactures and a great junior college. I believe Wala Wala is on tract to replace its lost grain farming revenue with weed. Wala Wala the W & W town.
from my phone in Sedona.

During the peak of the last boom, it finally appeared central Phoenix was getting its share of love. There were a couple of new condo towers downtown, many more proposals, light-rail under construction, and best of all, ASU swinging its big bat. Looking back, its easy to see how it masked the underlying disease of a city with a weak heart and swollen limbs. The proof was as simple as looking outside - the shrinkage of real-world retail, the uncrowded sidewalks, the vast and growing number of empty lots with signs promising high-rise potential. And everywhere suddenly: the poor.

Phoenix would be world-class if cancer were a boon rather than curse. But it isn't and that's the problem. During our heyday in the 1960s, Central Avenue was the street. Things were getting better, not worse, including the local economy. The dazzling upswing began flattening out in the 80s until we're at this juncture where there's no upward arc at all. Phoenix's fast sprint became, finally, a lurch and stagger.

I'm not happy about this but there was never any city here destined to become world-class. There was a potential for a Sonoran kind of Portland, which Tucson actually seemed poised to undertake before their local plutocracy crushed that dream. Phoenix never dreamed at all except the way a junkie dreams of getting another fix: more cars, people and shopping. Squint your eyes and downtown is better than LA's! Close your eyes and we're the best city in the world!

We're a city of real-estate grifters and sun-baked dunderheads. We're the aspirational equivalent of an all-you-can eat buffet where the help is Mexican. People move here which is all the proof you need we're better than those "world-class" cities with uppity minorities and Democrats.

I was in Chicago a couple of weeks ago and it was cold. But there were people on the sidewalks despite the whipping winds. And the average age appeared much closer to 30 than 60, maybe because there are so many universities. And mass transit was widely used and not simply by the underclass. The arts scene was spectacular and there are more than a few people we know on Facebook caring about it. Chicago has metastatic sprawl just like Phoenix but the people you want to know and talk to live in the city. Schaumburg is the joke, not the Loop.

Phoenix is a big welcome sign with a crooked frame and fading colors. We're not going to grow our way of a mess created by growth for its own sake. And every dumb decision we made in the past - really, millions upon millions of them - is like a dead weight preventing any useful correction. We're living a failed destiny, outliers on the edge of a world passing us by.

Jon, Unless Obama declares AZ a wilderness the kooks will keep on until they own the Grand Canyon and the Gov's kids will have job selling carnival tickets.
from my tent in red rock country

Phoenix as a Mega city?? The american lung assoc now lists Phoenix as the second most dangerous city to take a breath in.

Again Soleri with the facts! Abbey was right The Phoenix is going to return to ashes (dust). I do wonder if to be a great city like Chicago you also have ro be the nations murder capitol. 600 last year. Only Juarez bested that!

Technological Junkies need "Technological Fixes".
Ha, all the kings scientists cant put planet humpty dumpty back together. The aborigines had more resources than currently exist. But they did not use these storages but lived in a world propelled by solar energy.

44 years ago this month, I eagerly accepted a corporate transfer to Phoenix from Minneapolis. Now, the population has almost quintupled . . feeding the Brown Cloud and the Bad Ozone. And the Latino influx seems to have added a permanent underclass that can't be assimilated in our lifetime . . if ever. Water also remains an unsolved set of issues. So, I'm not thinking about "world class" as much as I'm concerned about basic quality of life. Is this myopia?

"Is this myopia?"
No, just too much LDS and not enough LSD
move to Oregon

We have been Phoenix exiles since 1990 when we packed up and moved to New York. Thinking back on the city of my birth, I once described it as a live-in theme park.

Well said. Now, what if anything can we do about Phoenix?

Jon, Phoenix does not/cannot aspire to be good city. As you have documented over the years, the city center lost its soul and history to developers, politicians and revitalization decades ago.

Bob, click on the link where I write about solutions.

Question. Does each technological fix increase or decrease the possible number of fixes?
Maybe we are like the heroin addict. Never able to get that high of the first rush. But keep fixing till we die.


My cynicism certainly rivals yours and if we traded points of contention with Phoenix in a drinking game, then, though I'm sure you would ultimately win via your deeper history, we would both be under the table.

But at some point it just seems like the Phoenix-bashing here no longer serves an instructive purpose. The people you can reach with that message have been reached and now it just seems like a pile-on without new insights.

I would like to kindly request that we either move on from the dead horse, or alternatively start building up the few that remain in Arizona's Alamo battling against the odds for a better future.


I'm just a realist, and until reality penetrates and dominates the conversations in Phoenix, progress is impossible. Many new people move in every year with no sense of the issues or history. This blog's readership keeps growing from Arizona and across the country. In addition, Phoenix offers lessons in urbanism for everybody. If I really wanted to do "bashing," I wouldn't consistently support every effort at civic betterment.

Soleri's back, cal is channeling his inner Timothy Leary, and azrebel watches Portlandia... I think maybe the apocalypse did happen!

And all light-rail references must be followed by (WBIYB)!

Ray Stern has a article on Phoenix's solar energy fail in New Times. As a side note, my neighbor had a solar energy system put on his roof about 4 to 5 months ago and is still waiting on APS approval before he can switch.

Cal. Are you using a cell phone near a vortex?

You better be careful.

Tent life with cal. Leaving Sedona New Age vortex for Camp Verde and the Satanic power base.
From my solar powered cell phone with no NSA tracking chip.

Watching Portlandia for the first episode, when they had the declarative music video about what is Portland("it's like the '90s never left"), I did have the epiphany that Phoenix's downtown art scene, at least some of the visible scene, was not only wanting desperately to be Portland, but 1990s Portland!

Fortunately and probably like any town, that's now relegated to the counter-culture scenes, and they can be quite amusing and sometimes even downright fun, but fortunately there's also some serious artists working and growing our town.

Meanwhile, people are doing things here they would have a hard time starting in a town full up of been there, done that. A dear friend was sad that her friend moved to Seattle, and now happy that her friend is moving back, the reason being, that the things she felt she was needed for in Phoenix already have an established infrastructure in Seattle. She is moving back because she feels she can make a difference here, and is frankly just another cog in the wheel in Seattle.

There is something to be said for finding the good and new things you can do here in Phoenix, simply because we haven't gotten all the benefits of a Portland or Seattle by some freakonomics society. Tazmine worked on projects from local referrals and created housing opportunities from the kind of housing stock you might have an initial difficulty finding in Portland or Seattle. People tend to forget that this is a very welcoming atmosphere for innovators, perhaps not as much from the City who's always last to understand("more over-priced condos!") but certainly from the folks trying to create and maintain the fine-grain and historic. We lose lots, but we don't rest either, and when we do rest it's in celebration.

The discussion should include why people come to Phoenix. Life changes, including divorces, have brought tons of people to PHX over the years, and maybe just as many leave for the same reason. There is something elemental to why people see that name Phoenix and think they can begin again. The weather is important, but the name evokes change in many traveler's hearts. Perhaps the real analysis is to ask why did you come here, why do you stay?

I wish Taz well in all things, and also wish well the folks I meet regularly, like artist Rebecca Green, who is now exploring the wonders of AZ as she settles in from a move from Flint Michigan to, no, not Portland, not Seattle, not LA, not San Francisco. She moved to Phoenix and within weeks was featured in Phoenix New Times and is currently creating an amazing mural on The Lodge Studio on Grand Avenue and 13th Ave. I cherish that she came here, and the 99 others listed, and all the unsung heroes, too.


Honestly, people. Taz' column was about much more than Phoenix v. Portland. It was about life choices, too, and we owe each other respect enough not to go to the lowest common denominator here. It's not either/or.

Nice post steve. Might u drink at the same watering holes as phxsunfan? regarding Green and other visionaries i find it interesting one would move from motor city to 1300 Grand in Phoenix. I think for visions living in the outskirts of Moab, Utah would provide great insights. Even Jerome , for me pushes my psyche more than 2013 Phoenix, a nice town in 1950.

Azreb, should I buy a TV to watch Portlandia?

believe Taz made the best choice of her life, to date.
I congratulate her.

Steve, I appreciate your comment. I have some friends myself who are vested in the downtown artist revival, and you couldn't ask for a better bunch of local boosters.

cal lash, I had not watched a Portlandia episode before AzReb mentioned it, so I did a search. There are lots of them on you tube; I picked ‘Feminist Bookstore’. It’s fun. http://youtu.be/Ohk-Ey01c9k

Steve Weiss, I appreciate your comment too.

Plenty of "You Hate Arizona" defensiveness about Homey on Facebook. Sigh.

Jon, glad i dont do face book or twitter. A friend said they heard U on PBS.

Thanks Suzanne, but i dont do youtube or watch videos or shows or movies on my laptop. just do this blog, current written news and e-mails. With my reading of books made out of paper an cloth thats all i can manage and not that well. like onefinger cell phone typing

"Watering Holes" in the desert are like growing a "cool" Phoenix. Pools of idealism or as this desert rat sees it, a mirage.

Here's my favorite head-exploding reaction from Facebook:

Talton generally has some good points, but his vitriolic tone does infinitely more harm than good. When has trying to attract flies with vinegar instead of honey ever worked?

I'm not really interested in the ravings of someone who's a quitter. Listening to Talton ramble on petulantly is like taking advice on how to play Dodgeball from the kid who got knocked out in the first minute.

Those, like Talton, who seem to think Phoenix can't become a world class City are frankly wrong. Maybe it won't be in their lifetimes, but it was their generation who fucked Phoenix up so badly in the first place- so really, I don't want to hear it. My generation will have to spend our lives fixing what happened in the 60s-90s and many of us are OK with that and know its a long road ahead.

But that road is worth going down, because if Phoenix can urbanize and become a sustainable, rich, exciting City in the middle of a harsh desert, then it can be done anywhere. The Sonoran Desert is the most beautiful desert in the world and in my lifetime, it'll have a City that lives up to its splendor.

For these reasons and more, Phoenix is by far the most interesting American City in the 21st Century. Anyone with a real love for making Cities great out to be decamping from Seattle, Portland, Austin, NYC, et cetera and getting on the first plane to Sky Harbor.

To be fair, there were many more affirmative comments.

The Techno fix!

Good post. Taz's move should be viewed as (another) canary in the coal mine. A guy I know who works for the county has been saying for some time now that Phx has very little time left to get its act together or the Millenials will abandon/ignore the city wholesale. Smart guy. Taz isn't a Millenial but is a progressive thinker/leader that embodies the new generation's values. Her leaving is a big blow to Phx

Azreb, left u a note on 2012 Hottest blog

Thousands of years of animal and human sustainability in the Americas ended about 1400 with the invasion of greed and religion.

Azreb and Mylo, more on 2012 Hottest blog

I see the notes cal.

Sorry, I thought by 2012 Hottest you were referring to that hansdome hunk of a Front page editor.

Pretty harsh Facebook post, but I have to wonder why our collective generation is the one that f'd things up in Phoenix. I never developed farmland or desert. No one ever asked me my opinion about it. No one gave me veto power over it. I never even worked as a construction worker. And yet the same mentality is still at work. Is their generation to blame then?

The Fiesta Bowl (post John Junker) is a micro-example of big league (if not world class) vision by Jack Stewart, who then owned the Camelback Inn when he got the idea of staging a major college football event that would compete for coverage with the bowls and give Phoenix some much needed national publicity. That was 1970 when he invited me to a meeting, showed the whirly-gig graphic and asked for the local retailers' support. First Fiesta Bowl was in 1971 and Jack's most excellent idea remains his legacy.

I believed Phoenix was wonderful too until I moved to New York and found out how it was done in the big leagues.

Soleri wrote: "There was a potential for a Sonoran kind of Portland, which Tucson actually seemed poised to undertake before their local plutocracy crushed that dream."

Please elaborate if you are so inclined. Last time I was in Tucson I was astonished at the revitalization of Congress St. and much of the rest of downtown; I remembered it being pretty moribund as recently as ten years ago. There may be no hope for the exurbs, but it seems like gentrification is spreading out from the core, if fitfully (look at Dunbar Spring now). If I recall correctly, the now-profitable bohemianization of Portland was driven by the low cost of living through the '90s, but it's not cheap any more -- the fate of Greenwich Villages everywhere.

I used to love Austin. This is what happened to it: http://nplusonemag.com/austin-at-large . Places can be doomed by their own success, at least if you define "success" in the terms of globalized capital. Me, I know I can never win at that game, so my ambition is limited to finding a warm place to die relatively unmolested.

ToLeeRollUm, Baja

I know, right? The first and last time I went down there was spring of '08, motivated by some old Erle Stanley Gardner travelogue, but I didn't make it too far south of San Felipe and got stuck in the sand four times. I read a Bruce Berger where he makes La Paz sound really good but also maintains Baja was over once they put the surfaced highway in. The new Charles Portis anthology has a great tale of him bumming around down there ca. 1964. Unless you meant Baja Arizona. Whatever happened with the secessionist movement anyway?

How about Todos Santos. U can hang out at "Shut Up Franks" with other fugitives. Cold Beer and Great Green Chile Burgers. Too far try Kino Bay or a few mile more down the Sonoran desert road to San Carlos next to Guymas.

Baja AZ? A Tucson drunk lawyers dream. Easily forgotten after some good Inexpensive Mexican weed.
hasta luego
Chapo Calderon
Harvard Proffesor

I have mixed feelings about this post... I believe Taz is leaving because she needs a new chapter. To the best of my knowledge she hasn't lived in any other city as an adult, she has no children and is self-employed. Taz should spread her wings and see what else is out there. Why shouldn't she? People move all around all the time. It's good to experience different places, which is probably part of the reason that I'm happy to call Phoenix home and continue to fight the good fight.

It's like being able to sow your wild oats in your youth, then be content in mama mode in later years without feeling like you might miss something big on Sat. night.

I have been writing and speaking about all of these things for many years now with regard to sustainability. None of it is new. I also grew up in Minneapolis, lived in Chicago, Los Angeles, Maui, northern AZ and have spent tons of time in San Fran & NYC. I've traveled throughout the world a bunch - for both business and pleasure, but I am happy with my Phoenix home.

Having lived in all of these different places and great cities, I can say with experience that each one of them has pros and cons. Every place does. At the end of the day it's just about creating community - wherever you are - and I think I have a pretty badass community here. I'm settled and happy about it. Someday when my children are grown this may change, but Phoenix will remain my home base.

Maybe I like the fight, or the fact I can easily make change or see the fruits of my love projects here. Maybe I like that the activists are that much more feisty here or that it's the smallest big city I've ever lived in.

Though yes it's true you're more apt to find a larger percentage of progressive left-leaning people in urban cores, the truth of the matter is most humans in general have the same basic wants and needs at their core. We're all flawed. We're all consumers. We're all hypocritical when it comes to something.

I'd be lying if I said this place didn't piss me off on a regular basis. But I also feel it's that which drives me to be a better person, be less complacent, and work towards getting shit done. If I lived in a place where most people thought like me, I may end up eating steamed kale and sipping chai while watching my kids play with the latest app on their tablet and just chatting about ideas- instead of actually doing.

I think the most important question for anyone to be asking is: what are you doing to make your world a better place - every day - no matter where you live? For both now and future generations? If more people could answer that question (like I can) every city could be better - including Phoenix.

People come, people go. Life keeps moving...

I am doing my part by waving at Stacey as I pass her house and wave at her on her porch, typing away in pursuit of making Phoenix a better place.

good post Stacie!

You're a good neighbor, Cal! I have several projects up my sleeve I think you'll like. :)

Speaking as one in the trenches of downtown Phoenix planning and development, I certainly commiserate with Jon's bleak assessments and mourning for our past losses. However, I have to say that over the last 10 years I have seen a generational change in attitudes about downtown.

I'm sure that this change is not reflected in the larger populace of suburbia but is tangible in the central city. The change has been brought about largely because of the development of ASU downtown, the undeniable success of Roosevelt Row, and the completion of the first leg of light rail.

Those of us who are left have no illusions about the landscape in Phoenix (both physical and political) but are in the best position in my memory for shaping the future of downtown. And with the infusion of new, young, idealistic, and educated blood I really think great things are possible in the next economic cycle.

Bob and Stacie, the major problems I see.
Pollution, Water and Sprawl.
The inner core 2700 west to 4800 east and south Mountain to North mountain of Phoenix is in good shape water wise. (I helped inspect the entire water system after 911 and was impressed. Pollution is a nightmare for many, including myself and many people my age (72). While not a fan of any structure higher than one story, I guess the core has to go up. I ride my recumbent in the Downtown Canyons on early Sunday mornings and it is eerie.
Hopefully you will be able to allay the ending of Edward Abbeys novel "the Good News".

It's WallaWalla,WA, the city so nice, they named it twice!

You all may be interested in reading this document. My thoughts regarding sustainability in Phoenix can be found on page 7.

Beautifully put, Stacey. This world is getting smaller by the minute. Taz isn't dropping out of society; she's going to do great things in PDX. We'll continue to conspire and inspire each other!

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