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June 18, 2015


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And the streets were perfect for parades, especially the fabulous JC's Rodeo of Rodeos Parade every year...even schools were dismissed so that children and teens could witness the parade and participate in the excitement downtown!

Great book Jon. Lots of nail biting, heart stoppages (not advisable at my age). Twists and turns (not good for my back). Just an outstanding book. It may kill me, but hey, what a way to go.

Thanks, Ruben! I'll send extra copies to the wake.

Bad news, I'm afraid. I learned from Facebook that our sometime commenter Krazy Bill has passed away. RIP.

Horton Plaza's success spurred Phoenix to hire its architect, Jon Jerde, to design something called Square One. It would have been that block between Central and 1st St, Adams and Washington. It would have taken out the last remnants of real-world retail downtown (Woolworth's, Lerner Shops, Hanny's, Switzer's) for "world-class boutiques" like, I'm guessing, a Gilbert Ortega gallery. It never happened, of course. But Arizona Center and the Mercado did and accomplished the same thing. Downtown is as inert today as it was in 1985.

There are so many moving parts to a city that you can't possibly engineer a replica. If it doesn't breathe on its own, chances are urban planners won't find a substitute. Phoenix killed its downtown not out of malice but from the sheer joy of driving everywhere. Park Central, Chris-Town, Thomas Mall, and the Colonnade were clean, bright, and fun. There wasn't anything sketchy about them. That they successful because people had money, houses, kids, and cars. Downtown catered to the losers, and then after a while, not even them.

Everything pretty much died by 1980. The thinking was that Phoenix would require a wholesale reinvention. As in Vietnam, it became necessary to burn the village in order to save it. Square One was the first major transplant surgery discussed and we were excited to think Phoenix might click again. Later, when the sports' palaces became the dominant urban strategy, we were satisfied that downtown was "world-class" and postcard perfect.

Park Central, Chris-Town, Thomas Mall, Colonnade are pretty much gone, at least as middle-class shopping experiences. Our secret was exposed. It wasn't driving we loved so much as just getting away from minorities who also drove. Central Phoenix was gutted except for the Biltmore Fashion Park. Real middle-class shopping fled to the suburbs.

Phoenix's great decline mirrors the national phenomenon of middle-class shrinkage. We're poorer today so if we do shop, it will be at a power center like the present Chris-Town incarnation. Socio-economic segregation does have political utility, of course. Once you think in terms of "us" and "them", it's a short hop to all-Republican rule at state level.

The cities that really click today are the ones that had significant assets in place. You go to Chicago and marvel at the architecture and great public spaces. San Diego has pleasant temperatures, an ocean breeze, and a nice if not great downtown. Portland has lots of downtown retail, including grocery stores, discount stores, and the high-end sector. Seattle sizzles, New York stomps, and Boston is magisterial. These cities are successful because they never gave up their real urban texture for a suburban fantasy. Phoenix, by contrast, has no urban texture. At all.

The future that matters will be in the cities, not the 'burbs. No one who is curious about life and travels a great deal would want to visit Scottsdale anymore than they would Bellevue, Vallejo, Naugatuck, or Napersville.

I don't blame Phoenix for its bad choices. In the 1960s, it really did seem we were on an upward trajectory that would take us to greatness. In retrospect, we were suffering from the hubris of our period. We're America! We can do anything!

Except create a great civilization for the majority of of its citizens.

Ruben, I agree Jon’s best Mapstone to date. However I did express to Jon my sadness over his killing off the Apache Kid. And I would like to think you would find it distraughtening to see another of your ancestor’s bite the red clay dust. I like all the Maricopa County History in Jon’s Mapstone series. And I have enjoyed all his other efforts also. Specifically I liked Pain Nurse, particularly the sexual clarity. And my open question is will the aging Mapstone leave us with a Mapstone JR? Kinda like my desire to see a sequel to Edward Abbey’s Black Sun.

Downhill Malls:

Cal. !

I haven"t finished the book !

You're killing me !


"Great book Jon" Gee Ruben I thought you had finished. and how could you have started this great mystery and have set it down to do anything else before you were finished? Don't U read on the commode? Do U have indoor plumbing in that pine forest.?

Would you have one of your "relations" visit our friend in AJ ?
Tell them to make it look like he had a run in with a javelina.

I'll pay them in uncut Cuban zerconia diamonds.

Can't fence them diamonds Petro but I can get you a semi load of Rum and Cubanos U can drive to Pinetop. And i hear the grass is greener there than in sand land.

Soleri and civilization: A perceived separation and domination over the natural environment.
Civil is a good word. Civil War, what does that mean.
Civilization is a word I have great difficulty with. Rather I prefer Hunter/Gatherer. Keep moving so as not to flounder in your secretions.

Cal, in Arizona, you have a civilization built for sociopaths. It's destroying Arizona for no better reason than philistines think everyone should live in stucooed chalets with SUVs in their garages and big box shopping near a freeway off-ramp. A great civilization would leave as much of the natural world pristine since that's the basic predicate of life itself. Republicans disagree! That's why they discount virtually all sciences except the ones they confabulate in business schools.

Unless you can come up with a way to soften the impact of 7 billion hairless apes on this fragile planet, I'll take a great civilization, one that understands the fragility of life itself, over the free-for-all we have now. The planet is not dying but the conditions that permit human survival are. Bad civilizations don't care. Great civilizations do. That's the distinction to keep in mind.

This idea of "losing your retail" and never "getting it back" is an interesting one.

I would argue that retail is undergoing yet another transformation. Within our lifetimes there will be quiet, efficient, electric drones delivering items to us on demand. Urban and suburban skies will be filled with smart drones that don't drone at all.

That's a different vision and organization for sure. It's a sea change in terms of goods delivery. Science fiction come to life.

This will affect the landscape and surburban retail marts.

What remains and will always remain will be both the need for the cathedral, the bazaar, and the library. People will always want to browse aisles, picks things up, mix with other humans, and even "revere" with other humans.

On the suburban scale I see life clustering around organic, big-boxed supermarkets like Whole Foods. They'll be pubs, martial arts and yoga parlors, shake, coffee, beer, and sandwich shops.

All this especially so if the idea of the "public library" as an essential anchor is updated. Some of this is already happening with libraries converting themselves into "skills labs" where people go to learn things like 3-D printing.

As something to put on the public agenda, I'd like to see all candidates to office be asked: How do you view the future of public libraries? Ultimately how this is answered will have a profound effect on our pubic health. Will we take the public library to the next level? Or jettison it as an old time tax nuisance?

Side question: Where is the nearest library in regards to Mr. Talton's images?

The next step will be to fund public libraries with user fees instead of tax revenues.

Koreyel, Cocoon!
Human contact with other living organisms and the external world will go away. we will spend time in cocoons experiencing whatever our mind conjures up. Well until the machines turn us off.

Koreyel: there'll never be a viable drone delivery system in the U.S. as long as there are jerks like me who want to use them for sport shooting.

You guyz.

@Pat: what sort of weapon? I'd like to use a shot gun, but my neighbors and the cops might not be to keen on this. Think a pump-up type of air rifle can take one down? A laser type of weapon would be fun, but must be careful about collateral damage. Of course, they will have to come down to the ground to deliver, so maybe a killer bot. Or fight fire with fire and develop a drone stalking drone! In any case - great fun.

With a few rare exceptions, I think the evolution of downtown Phoenix is typical of what happened just about everywhere. Routine shopping is mostly a matter of convenience. Most in-town areas lost their retail because they lost their populations, particularly working and middle class sectors. A few cities bucked the trend – mostly in the West.

City populations in 1950 vs. 2010:


Philly-------1950 ----2,072

St Louis----1950----857
St Louis----2010----319

New York managed to hold its own:
NYC--------1950------7,892 k

The west fared a little better:

San Fran--- 1950-----775
San Fran--- 2010-----805


I cannot speak to the Western cities, but in Eastern and Midwestern cities middle and working class people left them because they hated them; and still do. Despite Soleri’s distaste for such places, Chicago needs Naperville and Naperville needs Chicago. They are not at war with each other.

Re: “Phoenix, by contrast, has no urban texture. At all.” (Soleri) And never did. And never will without some fundamental changes to the zoning, building codes, street layout etc. As Soleri said “If it doesn't breathe on its own, chances are urban planners won't find a substitute.” The best thing the city can do is get out of the way.

Here’s an idea. How about legalizing the construction of brand new old buildings? This would be a two or three story box with a reasonably attractive front façade. Build out to the sidewalk required; no other real requirements. Sell as loft space (totally unfinished). Within reason, can be used for anything (i.e. residential, commercial, retail, art loft, etc.)

The Roman Catholic City may be also shrinking but Jesuit pope Francis certainly seems to be making amends for his Argentina blindness. Of course to many of my Republican Catholic acquaintances, the pope has no business medling in Politics. Go Pope Francis. I know, what's an agnostic like me know?

WKG, agree on differing urban-suburban values and experiences east of the Mississppi with those of newer Western US cities. This blog is mostly a discussion of Western US metropolitan areas.

Cal, the Vatican does right on climate change. Republican Catholics are collectively the largest group of hypocrites I've known. What do your Republican Catholic acquaintances say about the Church's public and political stance on reproductive rights and marriage?

wkg, Chicago's population loss is about deindustrialization as it is white flight. But the core city is extraordinarily vibrant. When I was planning to leave Phoenix, it along with Portland was one of the cities I was considering. If my decision was based on urban values alone, I would have chosen Chicago.

My jibe about suburbs is meant to kick start a conversation about what is important in our brief lives on this planet. Suburbs, sometimes called bedroom communities, are less about civilization than living in a one-off relationship to it. Napersville is actually a very pleasant place. So is Scottsdale, which given Phoenix's weak urban pulse has some very attractive assets. But few will confuse those places for the monumental project called civilization. They're less about cultural churn than escaping it.

I agree our urban form should be based on time-tested principles and incorporated in the zoning code. The problem, as always, for cities like Phoenix is that cars fuck up everything. In downtown Phoenix, you notice the bias for car storage and egress over pedestrians even in new(er) construction. Both at the Collier Center and CityScape, traditional entrances and placed next to huge gaping maws to underground garages. It's not that architects don't know better. Clearly they - and urban planners - do. But cars exercise their own tyranny. Even in good cities like Portland, they injure public life in ways that would be unthinkable to our grandfathers.

But they are not going away. The best we can do is minimize their corrosive damage with better design and emphasis on transit rather than freeway construction. Portland, at least, is doing that much. Phoenix is marooned by its own bad choices and will never evolve into a vibrant city given its history and the weak civic values resulting from it.

jmav, the standard answer.
The condition of the environment ( or those 2 dirty words, Climate Change) is not a "moral issue".
Soleri years ago I found the visual apperance of Sun City's cleanliness and sterility appealing. And it was quieter. I have a serious aversion to noise and favor locations that scream silence. Fortunately I was too young to buy in.
I wonder what the amount of living space per person in Sun City West is to the rest of us? I find 320 square feet a perfect fit. And with the flick of a switch I can move deeper into the great Sonoran Desert.Whats left of it.

@Soleri: I think you made the right choice in moving to Portland. To my mind one-to-two million is the best size for a metro. I have a strong preference for low-rise cities. High-rise downtown is OK. I have no particular problem with downtown being dead outside of business hours.

I think what makes for great cities are great neighborhoods. Phoenix’s biggest problem from what I can tell. Sunnyslope used to be a great neighborhood. A neighborhood can be strictly working class and still be great. It’s hard for a neighborhood to be great without families and children – a real problem for many big cities.

In defense of suburbia: it has a degree of civic participation that would be the envy of most large cities. Things like turning out to vote, attending PTA meetings, going to high school football and basketball games, etc.

WKG-your list of suburban civic participation bodes well for households with children. Not so much for single households or those without children. A lot of the latter have experienced much isolation in suburban America. Somewhere I read that single households in the US were approaching 50% of all households.

wkg, I'll grant you the civic life of suburbia is evident around schools. That and NIMBYism appear to be their concerns, ones that conserve their special privileges as socio-economic islands.

Can there a civilization that is centered in suburbs? For much of America, I guess, it's possible. I know David Brooks has written paeans to this notion (Suburban Greatness), but it still seems counterintuitive to me.

The first thing I think about when it comes to suburbs is their lack of real public spaces except for shopping malls. Children are often isolated in their housing pods, cut off from access to the wider community by distance and anti-pedestrian roadways. The drive-everywhere built environment is not, by my thinking, "great". It really means isolation for those who don't drive, and if you do drive, it means shopping and socializing outside one's immediate neighborhood. It's one reason why New Urbanism became such a powerful idea a few years ago - zoning out multiple uses made suburbs not only boring but cartoon-scapes of sterility.

When I'm in a good city, I'm invigorated by its complexity. The ecosystem is not a monoculture. There are rich, poor, black, white, old, young, and every possible variation in human measurement. The built environment has parks, monuments, old buildings, good transit, and usually universities. Phoenix came to this realization late in the game that not having a university made its downtown less interesting and vital. In Tucson, the nearby university has been welcomed into downtown, transforming it unlike any other venture (convention center, plop art, jails, social housing, e.g.).

Some suburbs are better than others, and I'd suggest they are those that are older with established connectivity to big cities. Suburbs that isolate are, to my way of thinking, pretty horrible except for those people demanding minimum exposure to the black menace, hippies, and liberals. Gilbert-style suburbs are pretty lonely places no matter how many kids you have.

great read! awesome writer

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