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November 03, 2014


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A trip down memory lane. Thank you.

I spent the early 1970s in Tucson (UofA) and then left for Denver for a few years. I returned to Phoenix in 1977. There was still a real downtown then despite the steady attrition of retail to new shopping centers. Hanny's and Switzer's were still open, as were Newberry's and Woolworth's. Just think: there were more places to shop then than there is now despite the assurances that downtown Phoenix is "world-class" (see: Marty Shultz).

Still, the past was on life-support and by the early 1980s it was almost all gone. Even Denver, which had excellent bones and big-city urban fabric nearly lost its real-world downtown. Tucson had a vibrant downtown up until the mid 70s but struggles today even with its great new streetcar. This question always looms in my mind: why did this country kill its soul for the sake driving everywhere and EZ parking? All you car-loving patriots, answer me that.

Freeways were the worst thing to happen to America, acts of such sweeping civic devastation that it destroyed the primary reason to live in actual community. We killed the America Dream in pursuit of its evil twin, autocentric sprawl. The damage is systemic and, for most of the country, irremediable.

Tucson and Denver opened my heart much as Phoenix had closed it. Yes, those cities were on their own suicide missions but I saw enough of the past to realize how glorious it had been. The joy I felt was not merely some quirk of my feverish imagination. Today, the back-to-the-city movement is one of the most salient developments in our woebegone nation. People are hungry for beauty, connection, and one another. Good cities are economically more vibrant, valued, and environmentally responsible. Yes, they are too expensive because there are far too few of them.

Only in America would we think driving to the edge of sprawl to find nature somehow redeems a noble impulse in us. No, driving is the reason nature is now so remote and strange. Cities are as rational as sprawl is insane. Good cities mean more wilderness. More boomburbs mean wilderness reduced and stressed.

The Phoenix bird is self-immolating from its own hubris and blindness. Metrocenter is the emblem of its despair. We did this and continue to do this because we're told that consumption is the only way to measure our self-worth. Political toxicity is a function of this nightmare. Extremism in defense of a delusion is no vice! Chasing this chimera comes as a very price, unfortunately. You won't find happiness in a McMansion anymore than you will with an electronic community of racist birdbrains.

The 1970s showed us a past worth preserving just as it was inexorably destroying it. Phoenix might be this nation's best example of this pain-wracked irony. In 1975, the Fox Theater, perhaps the most glorious public space in Phoenix, was torn down for a bus depot. The new historic-preservation movement was active in better cities like Denver, Portland, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle. Phoenix was still flying high above the clouds then, determined to find the promised land in a place without the visual reminders of its once-fertile ashes.

372 miles west.

As mentioned in the article, Phoenix did have a high crime rate in the 70's. The cops did wear helmets. Back in the 60's and 70's the cops were tough, but they were also pretty cool.
I was a wild and reckless biker and had a lot of interaction with them. We were stopped a lot. The thing that is different is that they were not afraid like a lot of them are now. You could go back and forth, argue, joke or even be verbally abusive. They were tougher in a way. It was more laid back in the 70's and you could get away with a lot more. Never once had a cop pull a gun on me. There was just a lot more freedom back then in Phoenix.

There are new comments on the previous post, fyi.

Election open thread on the previous post...

Side note: two new comments, here:


(Why Republican control of the Senate likely means a continuance of political gridlock and not much conservative agenda success; and a comment to INPHX about the local bully, soleri.)

Uruguay is looking really good.
Is bulling a robot a civil rights violation?

WKG I have posted on suicide regarding your comment on Emil
and on the state of the Nation

This will never happen in Arizona.
Washington State has become the first state ever to close the background check loophole by popular vote.

@Soleri: re “All you car-loving patriots, answer me that.” I wouldn’t call me car-loving, but I couldn’t imagine living without one. The only thing worse than be car-dependent is being transit-dependent.

First, a little personal history: I have lived in Washington (’48-63), Cocoa, Florida (’63-66). Gainesville, Florida (‘66-71), Tokyo (‘71-74), Atlanta (‘74-90), and Birmingham (‘90-Present). The only cities I am somewhat familiar with are Atlanta, Birmingham and Orlando.

Like most boomers, I grew up in the burbs. I’ve never lived in a household that didn’t have a car (except Tokyo – I was as E3 in the Navy and couldn’t afford one). The burb/car lifestyle seems natural to me. Tried high-rise condo/downtown for a couple of years in Atlanta and hated it. My 20 minute commute rule has resulted in my living in mostly in-town neighborhoods. I have tried transit on occasion for commuting to work and found it to suck.

Regarding the burbs and freeways: In Washington at least, the burbs were well established before the development of freeways/interstates.I think this true for most of the Northeast. In the ‘50’s it would take us all day to travel from Washington to Boston to see my Mom’s folks.

I think most of us think of getting from here to there as a cost/convenience matter. It’s nothing ideological.

With regard to Phoenix: I have been unable (via goggle street view) to find an in town neighborhood I would want to live in.

@Cal: I have no problem with Emil attacking Soleri"s ideas; but I do have a problem with making it personal.

but wkg i Like it when Emil demonstrates human feelings and emotions. and i believe like with me it feels really good to push the send button.

@Cal: people can disagree without being disagreeable.

WKG I agree wit U.
but ur missing my Punto aqui!!!!

wkg, I recognize that cars are the default transportation mode in this country. I'm not evangelizing against them so much as wanting people to understand the cost they exact in terms of our built environment. Being from Phoenix, I knew that cost all too well even as I continued to drive myself. I cannot imagine living in Phoenix without a car although some intrepid souls actually do.

Your car or my car is not the problem. But when virtually everyone drives, what results are degraded communities, ugly drive-by architecture, unwalkable neighorhoods, loss of authentic character and local retail, and a slackening of vital civic impulses where citizens involve themselves in city life. Good cities show love. Bad cities show anomie and disconnection.

The most obvious example here would be Los Angeles. It had been a real city with excellent mass transit at one time. But by the 1950s, freeways sliced the city in multiple parts and the city's character suffered as a result. The city was no longer scaled to the pedestrian but to the car. It not only lost its charm, it suffocated itself, literally and figuratively, on car fumes. Today, the damage is so extensive that it's impossible to imagine a lovable city although it's still amazing in its pieces. Downtown is resurgent thanks to excellent bones and good transit nodes. But the city as a whole is fairly miserable. You can't retrofit a sprawl town. It's simply too expensive and the public would be too exhausted financially to even consider it.

Phoenix copied LA with predictable results. It, too, has some attractive pieces but the city feels unloved as a whole. Downtown is weak as is the central city. Retrofitting this blob with adequate transit is next to impossible although some marginal improvements may occur. Phoenix ignored a cautionary tale about freeways and sprawl and ended up in worse shape than LA itself.

There are good cities in this country, but most people don't live in them but around them. They shop in malls and stand-alone boxes like Wal-Mart. They drive to work through streets that are horrifyingly ugly or so bland as to be inert. This is America. This is our civilization. Outrage about this state of affairs would be appropriate. Instead, we focus on ginned-up culture war "issues" that distract us from our real need - communities we love and, in return, love us.

James Howard Kunstler would be the best person to read on this subject, particularly The Geography of Nowhere. Kunstler is not to everyone's taste, not even mine. He's a kind of Old Testament Jeremiah railing against the sins of autocentric development and its soul-killing artifacts. You, I believe, would get this better than most people. You might not sell your car but you'd understand the tragedy of American civilization in compelling detail.

Since Metrocenter is part of this post, here's some news: it's about to become an open-air mall:


Here's the rest of the story behind the subscription wall:

Turning the aging mall into a vibrant mixed-use urban center, the concept for developing Metrocenter adds residential, the northwestern terminus of the Metro light rail line and an open-air shopping district. The Carlyle Development Group’s concept for reinvigorating the mall would keep it within reach of its market.
When Carlyle Development Group acquired Metrocenter in 2012, the company's first move was to apply lipstick to the aging and half-empty mall. Simply sprucing up one of the Valley's elder shopping centers was not the endgame for the New York-based development company. That goal is close to being unveiled.

One major renovation — a reinvigoration of the entire property — may involve removing portions of the enclosed mall and replacing it with an open district similar to San Tan Village and Kierland Commons. The plan is to create a setting that will embrace the local market.

Metrocenter is succeeding in serving the changing demographics of its region, and the result is a 73 percent occupancy

rate. The stores are a mix of national retailers and locally owned businesses. In addition, Carlyle made space available to community service groups to provide services to shoppers. Today, the mall is a mix of food courts and Macy's, the Maricopa County Humane Society and Dillard's.

Now the vacant J.C. Penney store is about to come down, and this fall a Walmart Superstore will go up. The addition of the Valley's largest retailer will be the first step in transforming the mall.

"This is our current concept, but it's the direction we're heading," said Warren Fink, COO of Carlyle. "We're seeing our planned-unit development approval this fall coinciding with the Walmart construction."

Carlyle's efforts may be the first thrust into the future of enclosed shopping malls. Just as Scottsdale Fashion Square is expanding its shopping footage and adding a major Harkins theater upgrade as a new anchor, Metrocenter sees its future as a mixed-use urban center for its area.

"We want to bring the new outdoor shopping and living experience to a scale that serves our customers," said Fink. "The redevelopment district helps us find ways to do that. We're working with the city on refining the concept."

Phoenix recently approved a redevelopment area for Metrocenter and its surrounding commercial and residential areas. Carlyle and other owners are jumping on the opportunity, Fink said.

The current concept shows the addition of midrise offices, multifamily residential and medical office buildings. Fink said owners of adjoining Class B and C office properties are planning upgrades to make them more attractive for leasing.

The real plum for Metrocenter is the second phase of the Metro light rail extension, which will end at a new transit center adjoining the mall. The northwest extension from 19th and Dunlap avenues to 25th Avenue and Mountain View Road is under study.

Although the extension is scheduled for completion in 2026, Mayor Greg Stanton said he hopes Phoenix's citizen transportation committee will find funding to move the project up to the immediate future.

Some new comments analyzing the Republican agenda in the wake of their Senate win, here:


Also, bad news for Phoenix construction jobs in a new comment, here:


wkg wrote:

"I have no problem with Emil attacking Soleri"s ideas; but I do have a problem with making it personal."

Yes, people can, but soleri has a hard time of it, particularly when he has no substantive response. His habit of ad hominem has resulted in my loss of patience. Please direct your criticism of personal remarks towards soleri, where it belongs.

@Soleri: An excellent point – “The city was no longer scaled to the pedestrian but to the car. It not only lost its charm, it suffocated itself, literally and figuratively, on car fumes. Today, the damage is so extensive that it's impossible to imagine a lovable city although it's still amazing in its pieces.”

This has been my main problem with Phoenix: the streets are too wide and many of them are one way. Also, too much of it was built at pretty much the same time.

As I have said many times, I can’t find a single neighborhood in Phoenix I would want to live in – a metro of almost 5,000,000 people! If readers have a place in mind – please provide GPS co-ordinates.

Here’s my idea of what makes a good neighborhood. It should consist of mostly single family houses with a scattering of flats. It should be within comfortable walking distance of a commercial area. What’s comfortable depends on the terrain – something on the order of a half-mile to a mile. The commercial area should have a sports bar, a café, a bookstore, a ”meat-and-three” restaurant, an Italian joint with good take-out pizza, a Mexican joint, etc. The schools should be good enough that there are kids in the neighborhood. Get ready to fire away: it should be mostly white. A black person or an Hispanic would probably have the same view but with a different demographic. People of working age should be employed at something.

The lot sizes should be ¼ acre or larger. Any smaller and nature gets squeezed out. Oddly enough, animals like the same sort of stuff we like looking at.

WKG: You don't want to move to Arizona, the Apaches will get you.

WKG: I think there are some places in the metro area that might meet your standards, but you'd have to be more specific:
1: Would a few Mexicans be tolerable if they all go away after the houses are cleaned and the lawns are mowed?
2: Does the commercial area absolutely have to be posted against coloreds?
3: Are a few Jews going to be okay with you? Are they still Jews if they're Jews For Jesus?

wkg I have the perfect place for you based on your info and the following descriptions by Pat.
Sun City West. All white and Republican and they allow kids to visit in the day light.

Pretty much the reaction I was expecting. Sorry. I'm being realistic - not liveing in some fantasy world.

More specifics: most residents would be working to middle classs in terms of income/affluence. They would cut their grass and clean their own houses.

And I can't stress this enough - of all age groups. And of all races - but mostly white.

And the streets should be on a grid system; with most of them being narrow, slow and low capacity - as much for walking as driving.

There should be apartments builings abutting the commercial area.


Perhaps the more well traveled (or you) can help me out...is there anywhere that exists that fits the description of what you are looking for? I've never seen it, but there are a lot of places I have not been.

In Birmingham, there are at least five neighborhoods that - more or less - match the description. GPS provided on request. Let me stress that 95% of the metro is not this at all.

Atlanta has at least two that I am familiar with (Litte Five Points and Virginia Highlands)

Orland has at least one (Park Ave area of Winter Park)

I think any of the readers here would like to live in these neighborhoods.

WKG: And will you be wanting a long, lovely promenade, where the young gentleman can squire his belle on a soft summer's eve, far from the wretched coarseness of this brutal war of aggression? Maybe a contented old darky to skip along behind, holding the young lady's parasol? Sigh, my eyes do positively mist at the notion.

WKG, Is there any quiet desert near those neighborhoods y mention?
I am glad to hear you are prescient.
Excuse me but I ma not smart enough to understand youe race as I am confused with your remarks about white.
What your point?
Please expian in simple terms

WKG, you could find that in the historic districts downtown, close to McDowell and Central or McDowell and Seventh Avenue. Also on Seventh Avenue and Campbell. Also near 40th Street and Campbell. You can look up the GPS.

@Cal: no deserts within a thousand miles. Plenty of creeks though.

Nature in southeast different than Arizona. Aside from very large animals like deer, the neighborhoods above are up to there ass in nature. Wildlife just loves to eat the things we plant on purpose to look at. Extept for mowed grass which is a natural dead zone. The animals love to eat unmowed grass and their seed heads.

Lately two invaders from the west/southwest: armadillos and cyotes.

@Pat: except for costume parties, Rhett and Scarlett haven't been seen in these parts for 50 years.

@Rogue: thanks. I take another look. You recommended a neighborhood a while ago that I took a look at. Liked the houses but not the nearby commercial area.

WGK your world makes me sneeze. and I'm into brown not

Tempe just south of ASU..... everything you need!
I am half Jew! (maternal). ...... thus Jew!!!!!

@Cal: you wouldn't like it here now at all. Ragweed season. When they use the term "hay fever" it really very acurate. It just makes you feel lethargic.

@Everyone: where did this jewish thing come from? We have a substantial jewish population in Bham. To me they're just folks. I would estimate that 20% of the population here is Catholic. Again - just folks. It's no big deal. I grew up Catholic myself and had the pleasure of going to Catholic school for grades 1-6.

The cretins on this thread have not come close to your fantasy neighborhood - Lincoln Park, Chgo, IL. I wouldn't live there myself as being a native of the city I know better than to live anywhere close to it now - but for newbies and progs, the neighborhood is all you could ask for. Check it out wkg. BTW, I always loved visiting in Birmingham. Lovely people.

@Terry: I'll check it out - for curiosity's sake.Couldn't imagine in my wildest dreams living in Chicago. I love the people there. I couldn;t deal with a Chicago winter.

Dudas who U calling a Cretin?
Oh I forgot you are one of the elite U of A snobs. The town of good air and jerk professors.
I just buried my friend Chuck Bowden, a person that was onto the snobbery of Tucson elitism.

It's not just Phoenix, The Atlantic has done a lot of pieces about why many American cities declined do to changes in Federal Policies that benefit the coasts but not flyover country. One example they often use is St Louis. http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2015/11/cities-economic-fates-diverge/417372/

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