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November 21, 2015


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I understand the value of the urban model in terms of concentrating creativity for maximum potential good. We probably never would've had the Renaissance without the great cities of Europe-which weren't exactly huge by our standards-and without urban centers we might well be going to witch doctors for our healthcare and having the village scholar read to us by candlelight, but I just no longer see a path forward for the industrial megalopolitan model that emerged in the twentieth century. As we move into the post-industrial age, which we really are, for good or bad, we have to figure out how to keep that vitality among the creative classes. I kind of doubt the hyper socio-economic self-sorting we're seeing now in the bay area is the way forward.

I read somewhere that in the 1930's, high schoolers in Mesa went to Phoenix on field trips, many for the first time: it was over an hour's drive through miles of farms and orchards. I don't see anything wrong with that, and I think society would be better served if the separate entities contracted back to that model. Los Angeles was the same way once, it was a long drive or trolley ride from Pasadena to downtown L.A., and there were miles of farms with roadside stands along the way. A late friend of mine grew up in what's now the "Silicon Valley" in the 1930's and she described it in exactly the same terms. Chandler should definitely have public transportation to Phoenix, but it shouldn't exist as a bedroom community to Phoenix, anymore than Prescott Valley should. I'm most likely wrong, stupid, and crazy, but that's the direction I'd like to go.

All Pollack wants is to make sure a light rail proposal goes to the ballot:

From the article; focus on the last sentence:

"That wording alone has stirred the ire of a prominent commercial property owner and at least one state legislator, who warn that light rail along Arizona Avenue could hurt businesses and would be underutilized. They argue that any reference to light rail in the General Plan should make clear voters need to have the final say."

What a crazy idea.......

Pat, when I was born, Earth's population was two billion and the US population was 147 million. I remember Mesa being a small island in a sea of date and citrus groves. I remember Paradise Valley being pristine desert. That's all gone. Do I miss it? Yes. Can we time machine our way back to that period? No.

Cities are the best we can do. America is a very urban nation for the most part but its cities and suburbs are often uninspiring. Say, like metropolitan Phoenix. But when I was born, it was a lovely little place. It had streetcars, it had passenger rail service, it had two (!) bus systems. Today, it's a sprawling metroplex dependent on a one-man/one-car transportation system.

I moved to Portland because Phoenix is little more than a metastasized suburb in search of a nucleus. It's hard to get people out of their cars and for the most part the city doesn't even try. Portland, by contrast, does try although the reliance on cars is still too high for my tastes. Portland is already one of the most congested cities in the country in terms of traffic (Phoenix, much less so) and planners hope that people in the future come to love density, mass transit, bicycles, and walking. The downtown is already a genuine nucleus where the growing population doesn't need cars. Indeed, it's more convenient not to have a car.

Are Oregonians just smarter than Zonies? No. They're just as pigheaded, entitled, reactionary, and resentful. I read the Oregonian online and the comment sections make me think I'm still in Phoenix. People want to drive, live in character-free tract housing, shop in big-box stores, and not have anything to do with black people and the homeless. They want, impossibly, to widen the freeways and major arterials. And they resist with righteous fury the local transit authority's plan to extend light-rail into their habitats. You try to show them the empirical data that their property values will actually increase if a light-rail line is close by. Doesn't matter. Socialists!!! are cooking the books, just like with climate change and evolution.

I doubt Phoenix can effectively retrofit suburbia with mass transit. If I still lived there, I'd vote for that program but Phoenix doesn't have enough time to alter its paradigm. The best you can do is create like urban-like nodes in central Phoenix, Tempe, and the historic centers of Mesa and Glendale. Scottsdale is aspiring to be the Palm Springs of Arizona, which is nice but still suburban. The difference is that everyone will be rich and drive sexy cars.

The cities that really work, that are prosperous, vital, and dynamic have certain characteristics you can bank on. They have good density, the kind that makes good transit possible. They are cosmopolitan and connected. They have universities, young creatives, techies, and good media. They all have walkable neighborhoods and commercial districts. The bad cities are red-state backwaters with little urban buzz, vitality, and civic pride. Think Lubbock on steroids.

I spent most of my middle age screaming that Phoenix was killing itself with freeways, suburban housing pods, and reactionary politics. Your aspirations do not lie anymore than the mirror in front of you. Phoenix wanted to be a city that looked like Barry Goldwater but it turned out to be even worse than I thought. It's Jan Brewer. You don't fix that. You just hope the embalmer is also an excellent cosmetologist.

Pollack is just protecting the 100 plus properties he owns or manages in the East Valley.Since light rail is proven to inspire development along the route,this cannot be helpful to his interests which are spread out in the checkerboard development model of our cities.Our only hope to check global warming is to get people out of their cars and into mass transit.

Perhaps that is the plan- to let the highway infrastructure deteriorate to the point that people have no choice but to turn to mass transit.

Soleri, I believe Phoenix is an example of what happens when a city continuously dilutes its urbanism by swallowing communities with suburban and rural values: it's not really a city anymore, it's a group of people squatting beside water and electric lines. There's nothing to attract the creative class, and there's not much to distinguish it from the next place other than size. There's really no need for satellite communities to try and play Connecticut to white collar commuters, because there's no New York City. Portland at least has created their greenbelt, their buffer zone against eating those places which need to stay rural: one of the saddest developments of the twentieth century was the passing of the old farm to market roads, the direct link between urban and rural. We're already witnessing the end of the industrial age and the rise of robotic assembly: soon there won't be any need for the millions of workers it once required for mass production. It's really not fair to encourage those people, many of whom never developed an urban sensibility after generations of urban life, to hang around waiting for a nice, middle-class lifestyle that's never going to happen (everyone who ever grew up in Phoenix knew people who were convinced they were cowboys or "country fellers," when in fact they belong nowhere and exist only as a stupid reaction to urbanism. There will always be cities, because we need centers of learning and culture as much as we need water and air, but the time of the megalopolis is past, thank God. The physical size of a city only matters if you want to drive around at night listening to Miles Davis (try that in the country, you'll get nothing). The go to city in my area, Durango, only has about twenty-five thousand people, but it has a four year liberal arts college, a stunning downtown riverwalk, an excellent public shuttle system, the mall is dead and downtown is hopping. That makes it a more robust, enjoyable urban center than Phoenix, even though its importance as a center of commerce is laughable compared to a regional financial behemoth like Phoenix. Other than the level of commerce and possibly the research done at ASU, Phoenix is inferior to Durango by every marker. As for it being unrealistic to think the cities are going to shrink back to clearly delineated entities bordered by farms, it really isn't if you accept that our megalopolis phenomenon only occurred after WW11, and was a fluke caused by our embrace of corporatism and the military-industrial complex.

Sorry about getting so far off topic: light-rail. Good for the city of Phoenix, expand it to its maximum potential in the city proper, screw the satellite cities and Intel, they can build their own international airports and railheads, they wanted to play big city. I think it would be hilarious to maintain safe, efficient public transportation to and from every medical center, sports and entertainment venue, lodging and retail cluster, park,cultural attraction, centers of higher education, golf courses, and employment centers right up to the city limits and just stop. Wonder how many sports franchises and captains of industry would still be interested in North Scottsdale or Chandler?

Pat, one of the games I play (or played, when I still had a car) was driving to some small town and asking myself if their downtown is better than Phoenix's. It was a game only because the answer was almost always yes. Occasionally, I'll find one like Kalispell, Montana that was surprisingly inert. But for the most part, Phoenix has not only the worst downtown of any major city in North America, it's signficantly less vital as city center than that of most small cities and towns as well. Decades of "synergy" and billions of dollars have produced something Pocatello would laugh at.

That said, the American poor have to live someplace, and Owsley County, Kentucky can't take them all. http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2013-08-14/food-stamp-cut-backed-by-republicans-with-voters-on-rolls What is disturbing to consider is that Meth Lab America has the same small-town values the RNC uses to paint actual cities as Sodom and Gomorrah. David Koch, a high-hat socialite, lives in Manhattan where he deploys his billions to bamboozle America's cultural conservatives into making themselves poorer so he can be even richer. I'm painfully aware of the irony. In the lexicon of American politics, it's people like myself who are the "elitists".

I see Portland displacing its poor and hipsters to wretched suburbs like Gresham but those places still function as part of an urban agglomeration. Further on, the suburbs become exurbs and equation alters yet again as wealthier citizens stake their piece of Eden in 5,000 sf McMansions.

You can rent a studio apartment in downtown Portland for around $1200 a month but you'll have to walk through homeless encampments to get to it. No one is happy with this arrangement but we're all feeling our way to a new equilibrium in a nation that blames the poor more than the 1% for its economic dysfunction.

If the poor want to segregate themselves racially, you can't go wrong in Appalachia. But I'm not sure that will work for the nation as a whole. The new reality is the former middle class living in cheap apartments in degraded neighborhoods, hustling for work in the "gig" economy. You need to live in city, preferably one with a real economy, in order to do this.

Durango is one of those very lucky places that is both blessed and isolated by geology. Well-to-do California exiles love it, and if you have a taste for the apocalyptic, you can even see yourself riding out the collapse of civil society there. The poor, the formerly middle class, and minorities are priced out, which makes it even nicer. I think about these slices of paradise all the time, just like James Howard Kunstler who lives in one called Saratoga Springs, NY. Still, I think it's a sideshow. It's not just the economy that is globalized, it's suffering as well. We either engage this problem or it will swallow us in our sleep.

Dear Soleri,
My family has been involved in saving historic buildings in downtown Phoenix ( as well as downtown Tucson) for decades, and it has been an uphill battle ( though there have been solid improvements in both these downtowns recently). I must congratulate you on your poetic way of describing the frustration we share about how such a large metropolitan area like Phoenix can have such a weak city center Your words below will always stay with me as poetic and unfortunately mostly true-" Phoenix is killing itself with freeways, suburban housing pods, and reactionary politics. Phoenix wanted to be a city that looked like Barry Goldwater but it turned out to be even worse than I thought. It's Jan Brewer. You don't fix that. You just hope the embalmer is also an excellent cosmetologist."

Predictably, your post includes the following:

"One of the biggest points of controversy is transit. Those with suburban values, especially "conservative" ideologues, have made a fetish of opposing any mode of travel that is not based on the automobile. Armed with seemingly economically invincible talking points regarding costs and often backed by Koch brothers money, they have defeated numerous transit measures nationally. They also speak in code to suburban whites, that transit will bring Those People to apartheid suburbia."


Frankly, the remainder of your post invalidates the point you try to make above. It's almost as if you feel obligated to reinforce your liberal bonafides by including some veiled reference to supposed "racism" or some put-down of the Koch Brothers in every blog. You're a better writer than that, Jon!

Mesa, which welcomed light rail, is frequently cited as one of the most "conservative" cities in America. And Dallas--which you cite in the blog--as well as Salt Lake City (which you don't cite but has had an LRT experience analogous to that of the Metroplex) are hardly hot beds of liberalism.

Transit is--finally!--being recognized as a largely non-partisan issue. Yes, the Scottsdales and Chandlers are out there, but they are outliers and will ultimately pay the price for not having gotten "on board."

Meanwhile, alienating--intentionally or otherwise--a part of your audience with increasingly irrelevant partisan comments is counterproductive both to the popularity of your blog and the cause of urban transit.

James, thank you. You are doing the Lord's work in a mostly ungrateful city. If downtown had actual texture and urban fabric, it would look much more like the Hotel San Carlos and less like Arizona Center. I want downtown Phoenix to succeed but it can't do so by simply plopping arenas and convention centers where an actual city is supposed to be. The meager bones of old Phoenix just couldn't midwife a vital transformation. Modern architecture itself is notoriously incapable of designing good fabric buildings. Why is that? I talk to architects all the time and they give me some runaround about Mies van der Rohe or Louis Kahn and their beautiful creations in Chicago and Dacca. Phoenix exhibits this failure so painfully that I sometimes think it ought to be on a UNESCO World Anti-Heritage List.

Carry on the good fight. There aren't many heroes in Phoenix, but you and your family belong to the top rank.

Conservatives and Light rail.
Mesa also has pragmatic forwarded thinking practical business folks like the former mayor that should have been governor.I believe there is a slight chance that Chandler may adapt some lite rail.
But will the very white Conservative Town of Gilbert?
And here is hoping The Salt River Gila tribe can cancel the freeway across their land.Thus causing ADOPT to call for a tunnel through South Mountain Park into Conservative Ahwatukee.

Chandler has been way ahead of its time compared to the rest of the EV. While Gilbert was racing to build itself out, Chandler cultivated jobs along the 101 and Price Road Corridor. While Gilbert fought Chandler tooth-and-nail for development dollars along Gilbert Road, Chandler and Tempe worked together to bring a host of tech and education companies on their shared border. Chandler has always had more population color than the rest of the EV, and with the global workforce in south Chandler, it's one of the few places in the Valley that can make an argument as a multi-cultural region. That said, north Chandler remains an almost-Mesa wasteland of strip malls and red-tile roofs -- complete with membership in the Mesa school districts. I imagine a mighty political battle in the very near future, and it won't just be for light rail.

I think large swaths of Chandler in 2040 will resemble 2015 Maryvale. If any of Pollack’s strip centers still have intact windows, his children will be leasing them to immigrant refugees at $0.05 per square foot. His children will beg for light rail but that window will have passed 20 years ago as the tax base to pay for it will be long gone.

Isn't Chandler fenced in by federal lands/reservation, and other cities, like Scottsdale and Tempe? If they're gonna keep boosting, will they grow up, down, or start eyeballing all that juicy land being wasted on "space?"

Soleri: yep, Durango does have that Santa Fe problem now, where the original residents were priced out, and the original residents include lots of the old (really, really old) Mexican American families. Things change relatively fast in America, though, occasionally for the better: after all, Oregon was founded as a white homeland, and it was illegal to be black there until after the civil war. As you well know, you and Mr. Talton in Seattle are surrounded by some of the scariest rustics anywhere; I encountered quite a few of them, and they made Arizona extremists seem almost benign by comparison; until the shipyards needed them for WWII, blacks weren't welcome in the U.S. part of the Pacific Northwest. Even Jimi Hendrix's grandparents lived in Vancouver, B.C., doing vaudeville, because Washington was such a dreadful place to be black. Seattle and Portland-and Denver-are all former KKK strongholds, with KKK mayors, and in the case of Oregon, even a KKK Governor. So, considering where the northwest was before WWII, it might be a little premature to feel like Portland and Seattle are even "safe" bastions of progressivism. As to the poor in Phoenix, they'll grow in the only direction they can, west along the Gila corridor. To his credit, one of the most idiotic faux hillbillies (his parents were from West Virginia)I ever knew in Phoenix realized he didn't have a future there ended up in the Wellton-Mohawk utopian paradise. I have no idea what he does or did for a living, I just know where he is because "Google." I grew up with another guy who's people were from the Ozarks and had come to Phoenix after WWII for the jobs, like virtually everyone else did in the fifties, who moved back along time ago and became a genuine hillbilly in his preferred environment. As far as getting midwesterners to repopulate the rust belt (that place where all of the fresh water is), that'll be harder, even though lots of them pine for it constantly. Oh...I owe, I owe, gotta go.

Soleri, this is a very clever phrase, made me smile. "You don't fix that. You just hope the embalmer is also an excellent cosmetologist."

I work next to the light rail and I do think it is a success, not in a zero-sum economic sense in terms of construction and maintenance costs vs. tickets sold, but in terms of overall civic value. That said, it's too slow to be a commuter option for suburbanites. I knew a man who tried commuting on it from Mesa and it was over an hour to ride the train or 30 minutes to drive so he ended up driving.

I strongly support heavy rail but fear the metro area is largely too built-out to find a way to shoehorn new lines into the geography of places like Scottsdale that, in theory, could have a lot of riders such as myself who work downtown/midtown. I do think connecting any lines to the airport is a big boon to ridership but even the most anti-rail person would consider taking the train when the alternative is airport parking.

Also, with the Casa Grande/Maricopa area quickly cresting past 100,000 residents, I do wonder why we shouldn't think about future commuter service along existing lines, at the least. I do think a west valley line out to Buckeye and up the 303 corridor could possibly make sense someday and as of now there is still plenty of land to make its construction possible.

I think ultimately perhaps it is our low density that forestalls such projects because the jobs are too spread out geographically and therefore not enough people might work within walking distance of the downtown station.

Pat, I read a history of Oregon when I moved here, and you're right - this state's history is pretty checkered. Today, Portland is a very liberal city (and the only reason Oregon is "blue") but it's also the whitest major city in America. This is more than a factoid since it explains how the city never devolved into a kind of racialized sinkhole with a depopulated core hemmed in by all-white suburbs. Today, housing values are highest in the city and lower in the 'burbs, a reversal from merely 10 years ago.

White liberals cause some to arch their eyebrows, smirk, and
sigh. I've known this reaction all my life, and perhaps you have too. I see the "Bernie" bumper stickers everywhere now, along with Black Lives Matter placards in front of very nice houses. On the other hand, propose an affordable housing project anywhere near an upscale neighborhood, and the alliance suddenly seems shaky. The perennial question is whether we're hypocrites or simply naive. I think it's more complicated (of course!) and think intention is as important as previous history. Being well-meaning if naive is not the worst thing in the world.

I tell some people that you're looking into 400 years of history when you talk to a black American. That's a long time and can seem like an abyss. It frightens me from time to time although I'm fairly resilient about such things. I've met some really solid black people in my life (including an immediate supervisor who was probably the finest person I've ever known). The loud ghetto kids in low-slung pants trouble me but not nearly as much as your standard base Republican spouting Aryan Jesus and brandishing hate.

Portland's mass transit is where the city really gets integrated and I've never had any problem here, unlike Phoenix. Cities have to work much harder than suburbs in making a case for a color-blind public square but it's worth it. It's very common seeing white and black people talking, and some even holding hands. Our shared history can be a crucible for good or evil. It's up to us to decide which.

The real tragedy here is that it took a freakin' newspaper article to bring this guy down.

Where were the internal auditors?


INPHX, is it possible to report a story without heavy breathing and innuendo? This is human nature - people acting like greedy pigs - and somehow you're surprised. Your favorite Republican presidential candidate from a few months ago, Carly Fiorina, bought herself a fleet of private jets as HP CEO, and then walked away with $20 million in cash after tanking the company's stock valuation, and laying off 30,000 workers. No problemo! But a local transit authority honcho does the same thing and suddenly he's the latest Satan in Ayn Randia (Arizona Division). Guess what? This is how the upper crust lives - and rules. Maybe your Lifestyles of the Rich and Connected ethic is okay when the plundering is not caught but let's just stipulate that it's probably par for the course. Just ask Chris Christie who spent years as US Attorney for New Jersey doing the same thing, and no one on your team even batted an eye. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/nyregion/in-christies-career-a-fondness-forluxe-benefits-when-others-pay-the-bills.html?_r=0
But at least the VA has a new competitor for Worst Government Program Ever - Valley Metro! Now, let's get to work making sure poor people start walking to work just like Jesus did.


So childishly predictable. Tit for tat.

We'll let the voters of New Jersey take care of Christie's problems; the Phoenix guy was appointed, not elected.

See the difference?

How man heads will roll at Valley Metro for letting the guy get away with it?


You don't care. You get your free ride anyway.

Pretty small-time "corruption." If true, the man should resign and face accountability.

The big-time corruption goes largely under the radar in Arizona: private prison racket, charter schools racket, Corporation Commission, and, of course, regulation and favorable treatment for connected players involving real estate and water.

I'd also love to see a full-scale proctology exam of the Arizona Commerce Authority.

INPHX, not that you'll care, but the US Attorney position is not an elective office. Christie was appointed by George W Bush. Of course, as governor, Christie played fast and loose with gifts from your party's base (the very rich), which went largely unreported, too. Did any of this cause people like you to lose faith in him? No. He was actually one of the GOP's leading candidates prior to Bridgegate.

Let's remember how Republicans are very selective in their outrage. You might almost say strategically so.

Hi, guys. How's everybody getting along? I gather that INPHX is a CPA. As written, it's a perfectly reasonable post. This should have been picked up internally and shut down at the first sign of abuse. I do not like fraud and abuse wasting my tax dollars, especially living high on the hog. I agree, however, that any one of MANY examples might have sufficed. There are industries that consist of getting money from public funds by private entities. Especially in the mil/ind/complex it's difficult to follow the money. Newt G. Built a little empire on this. Also, remember Blackwater? Again, down at the street level it's easier to see in public agencies which are not opaque to auditing, et al. They exist in the commons, from time to time minority types are involved. CONFIRMATION BIAS!!! but the big time tax revenue grifters have really good lawyers and PR, and take care to obscure their brand of swinishness from view. They cover themselves in the trappings of respectability. C Keating, anyone? It's easier to kick down than up.

Per my computer genius grandson in Austin.
"Ha, "Lubbock on steroids" doesn't sound pleasant. I like to envision a future that will appeal to everyone with light rail and small autonomous vehicles like the Google panda car http://www.theinquirer.net/IMG/030/308030/google-final-self-driving-car-vehicle-prototype.jpg

I can definitely see a future where autonomous miniature/efficient cars, that are owned by a business will be summonable with your phone very rapidly, and these things will take you all over. If humans aren't allowed to drive on the road then these things can run relatively slow, yet non-stop and get around town immensely faster then current stop-go traffic ever could. They could even be smart enough that pedestrians and bicycles could start taking back the road, because these cars would be guaranteed to avoid them. Cars do also have the benefit of being able to scale much better than a light rail ever could. Light Rails are great and can be much more efficient than cars ever could, but they should/would only be placed on heavily traveled routes through towns, and should/would only be erected at certain milestones.

It will just be a matter of the autonomous vehicle becoming too cheap and too safe to ignore, despite public sentiment for the suburban dream.

"A city man is at home anywhere, for all big cities are much alike. But a country man has a place where he belongs, where he always returns, and where, when the time comes, he is willing to die."

Cal, your comment reminded me of this song: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3cQNkIrg-Tk

And country boys know how many white and red corn cobs to take into the outhouse.

Saw my old 50 ford in that song.

re my grandsonson futuristic comments above; he is a computer designer for folks like DISNEY AND GMC as is his spouse but they love thier Austin,Texas.

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