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December 14, 2015


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I agree with much of this, Jon. I think in looking at the changes and new vibrancy in central and downtown Phoenix we're missing an incredible wave of new development, density and the kind of employment intensity that you referred to in your post in Tempe - both near the 101 and Elliott and near Tempe Town Lake. It's not just the much-ballyhooed and very striking new buildings going up for State Farm, it's Amazon, Northern Trust, ViaSat, Zenefits. In north Tempe you have The Grand, a huge spec office complex adjacent to light rail. There are fully 1,200 hotel rooms in various development stages in Tempe right now, along with a staggering 6,800 residential units, both high-rise multifamily and moderate- and high-density infill projects ranging from 3-20 units. Tempe (along with south Scottsdale) is home to the highest commercial rents in the Phoenix market, yet the vacancy rate is far lower than Phoenix's CBD. Tempe is building exactly the kind of vibrant, 24-hour "real city" people keep talking about, and I don't think it's getting the attention it deserves. ( for the full list of Tempe development by planning or building safety stage)

Jon and Andrew you are both correct. The two towns get uglier everyday. Particularly the John Galt steel and glass rising into the Sky Harbor flight pattern, in Tempe.
And Central Avenue in Phoenix from Madison to Van Buren is a big dark canyon even at high noon in August. Mans effort to become a high rise temple dwelling god will fail as the desert always wins. And no form of public transportation will ever take away that rush I get from RED LINING the tack on my car as I rush through a cool summer nite.

And I'm hoping Gahan Wilson will pen us a goolish cartoon of the horror of high density entrapment.

Phoenix still has to figure out what to do with the Sheraton. Their hands are tied on much of anything else in that area until they solve that problem.

A botanical desert garden would be good.

I follow Phoenix online, so I'm aware of all the new construction along Roosevelt and on Central. Good for Phoenix even if it's mostly suburban-style apartment complexes with little to no retail space. Light rail may yet pay visible dividends if the center city gets crowded enough, and ASU is the best investment government has made downtown. It's still a long way from real vibrancy with too many sleepy sidewalks and too few businesses. But it's much better than 2008 when condo towers were going into foreclosure. Phoenix had just experienced its best boom/bust cycle in decades but downtown was still a ghost town.

Tempe almost appears to be the primary CBD of metropolitan Phoenix now. Town Lake was as fortuitous a decision as any Arizona city ever made. It gave a spectacular focal point to a city with the one walkable commercial district in the region. Downtown Phoenix will never be able to compete with this absent some miracle I cannot foresee.

What Phoenix can do is mend as much of its urban fabric as it can. There are potential nodes here and there, along with giant gaps where nothing will ever click. The old historic neighborhoods, even the smaller ones, are vital to this endeavor. These assets are not exactly substantial but Phoenix has to leverage them to create the sense of "there" that is otherwise missing. One of the best things Phoenix could do but probably won't is rescue the Westward Ho from its sad current use. Together with ASU and the nearby Roosevelt neighborhood, it could create a vibe that is sadly lacking in most of downtown.

I'm fond of saying that old buildings are the scaffolding of transformation. Their character is indispensable to any vital downtown. It's why the Hotel San Carlos is much greater contributor to a lively downtown than that godawful Sheraton. The little that Phoenix has must be put to use (and is, according to the reports I read about the DeSoto market and the restoration of the old First Phoenix Baptist Church). These victories are not minor. Any city that hopes to sing needs a choir with magical voices, i.e., old buildings.

What do people want? Each another, which is why cities will always be where smart, creative people go. Suburbs are where Republicans go to feel safe and smug, which is why they seem like mausoleums. Every great city, every place worth visiting and living in, is a challenge and a triumph. They are the seed carriers of civilization, ideas, and cultural churn. Maybe Phoenix is finally waking up to something is abandoned decades ago. If so, save me a place it its victory march.

Dear Soleri there are more than a few Democrats living in Sun City. And there are a number of Republicans living in Willow. And had not your ancestors crawled out of the sea onto the sand you would not be enjoying the noisy and neurotic spasms of the never sleeping cesspools called Cities. We're I in Oregon I would avoid Portland and hunker down in the great forests and on one of the hundreds of rivers that flow to the sea.
"SOMETIMES A GREAT NOTION". BY Ken Kesey, I recommend the second edition with an intro by Chuck Bowden.

Cal, Sun City is mostly Republican and Willo is mostly Democratic. Democrats are your friends. They want to preserve wilderness, stop sprawl, check global warming, and support clean energy. Republicans? Emphatically, no. Imagine 7 billion Earthlings driving Cadillacs in the desert and throwing their beer cans out the window. You would like that? Ed Abbey imagined himself to be a visionary but he was more a thug than a problem solver. Sometimes it helps to join the people who actually favor wilderness, wild animals, open spaces, and tightly-knit cities. Because those people are consistent.

Ed and I had thuggery in common. Tossing beer cans out the window creates jobs. I still miss the Caddy I had that was Nina Pulliams before I got it. Most the Democrats that I know talk a good line an a lot about the environment but live like "Republicans." I have a number of acquaintances in Willow and none are Democrats. I can think of a number of small tightly knit Towns can U Please identify some "tightly-knit large Cities besides Taiwan."
And the current Republican party is not consistently insane?

Tempe benefited from some visionary leadership, relatively progressive politics, being landlocked, not having the immense carrying costs of Phoenix, and especially the economic engine of ASU relative to its size.

In recent years the Real Estate Industrial Complex has been on Tempe's side in developing the offices and bringing in key tenants along Town Lake. (If Phoenix had done a lake in the Central Corridor, the playerz would have shunned it).

So far, so not bad for Tempe. Still, much of the new office space will not be convenient to transit until and unless a streetcar connects it to light rail. Tempe was also hit by losing the headquarters of US Airways, a major blow.

Tempe is almost entirely blandly suburban south of University. The same big, wide, deadly "streets" as everywhere in Phoenix. Its public library -- a good friend to me -- and museum are not downtown but in the auto zone at Rural and Southern. East of Rural are the newer car-based developments, especially Tempe Marketplace, that made most retail impossible on Mill and in downtown. I understand the real-world, sales tax reasons this was done. But it undermined the urban fabric of downtown and leached away most retail. The streetcar as planned will go nowhere near Tempe Marketplace.

Downtown Tempe has had many ups and downs, but it won't ever be the regional downtown. It is not the county seat. It is not the state capital or the center of the metropolitan area. It lacks the density, delights, history, authenticity and major assets of a big-city downtown.

So it's a better "boutique downtown" than any in the metro area. But we shouldn't think it can make up for what's lacking in downtown Phoenix. It can't (and neither can any suburb; most operate in opposition to Phoenix).

Every American metro against which metro Phoenix competes for talent and capital has malls, freeways, tract houses, and even boutique suburban downtowns, even their versions of Scottsdale and championship golf. But the winners in our increasingly stark winner-loser nation have something more: real big-city downtowns with all the trimmings. What's lacking in a real downtown in Phoenix is a hindrance to the entire region.

No one shops at the new stores on Mill. Except Starbucks. Free Wi-Fi. They go to the 4 surrounding malls. I go to Tempe for the 1950's Harkins Valley Art theatre and across the street the hole in the wall book store that's been there forever and owned by a couple in their nineties. The bad part of the damed up stagnate water is the failure to develop, as promised, a Riparian area on down stream. I would like to hear what ex mayor Neal has to say.

Cal, one of the advantages of the current - some might say unprecedented - polarization is that it's very simple to know who your friends are. There's a name for them: liberals. They're not perfect. Like all humans, they're hypocritical on their best days and insane on their bad ones. But they tend to esteem science, nature, expertise, education, and so on. 7 billion people have to live somewhere, and rather than living on the planet like it was Yavapai County, dense cities provide the better environmental option. It's half the reason, I suspect, this blog exists.

Portland is one of the very few places in North America that consciously chose to limit its sprawl. As I like to say, it's the anti-Phoenix. It's not perfect, but it is a lovely city where you can drink great beer and very good wines, smoke excellent weed, and eat some incredible local fare from preserved farmland. What's not to like? Well, from my point of view, there are too-many people driving SUVs. If I disappear from this blog completely, there's a good chance one ate me for lunch. But I'd rather be here than in some exurb with wacked-out gun nuts for neighbors.

You know who your enemies are. There's a name for them: Republicans.

President Cruz thanks all liberals who supported him in the general election by nominating Bernie Sanders. It doesn't get any better. Bombs away, it's a new day.

Well, Gene McCarthy, if the Democrats can never again run "unconventional" candidates for President, just because Republicans keep running existential threats instead of normal human beings, then the Republic is probably done for anyway.
As for Ed Abbey, I always thought of him as a mediocre writer who peopled his fiction with poorly developed, non-believable characters, and who was really just having one big tantrum at finding people already living in Ed's personal paradise. I think of him as an easterner who lived in an air-conditioned house in the desert, who made a good living complaining about other easterners living in air-conditioned houses in the desert. I think Stegner is the finer example of a regional writer. Don't get pissed, Cal, it's just an opinion, and I'm wrong quite consistently. I get your shock and grief about what happened to the Sonoran desert, but there was always going to be an oasis at that particular place in the desert, and it had the potential to be a great city with a unique environment, but the industrial-strength capitalism on steroids that arose after WWII, combined with the advent of AC, caused it to sprawl insanely instead of finding some reasonable place for a city limit. The ravages of the post-war boom can conceivably still be mitigated to a degree, but there's no agreement or collective will to do it.

Good post Jon. I work in the Central corridor and it's been nice to see, for example, three new apartment projects all going up concurrently within a stone's throw of each other along McDowell on either side of Central. It's true that it's still semi-urban complexes rather than high-rises, but it beats the old Quality Inn and a vacant lot any day.

I'm not a big fan of the Tempe town retention pond, partially because it serves no effective purpose (as opposed to dams upstream that help store water supplies, provide fishing and recreation, etc.) and it's largely concrete-sided with precious little greenery or other riparian entertainments. I guess that fits in with the steel and glass aesthetic of the office park that has sprung up along its shores.

Still, I just don't understand how so much concrete and so little nature came about from creating a man-made lake for purely aesthetic and economic reasons. It's a real shame, given the pond abuts the much nicer setting of the zoo and botanical garden and the Papagos.

Downtown Phoenix will always have to drag a gigaton weight up the mountain it needs to climb. It desperately needs a focal point that tells us why it's important. Most cities have rivers, lakes, harbors, sounds, or bays. Phoenix has a dry river bed a mile south of downtown.

The downtown that probably comes closest to Phoenix's in this way is LA's, yet it's enjoying a remarkable renaissance. The key difference here lies in its old building stock. Los Angeles may be a model for Phoenix's dystopian sprawl and autocentric nightmare but its old downtown was a gem, and by the grace of some unknowable God, it wasn't clear-cut for parking lots when the 1960's arrived. Its genes were encased in amber and has now birthed the epicenter of LA's latest reinvention.

I often wonder why modern architecture cannot design buildings that enhance the blessings of human interaction. There are some new buildings I love but even they cannot solve this vexing problem. It's almost as if they exist only to show off in a morgue of well-preserved corpses. In downtown Phoenix, they come with their own dead zones to ward off any stray sign of life that might approach. The tallest building downtown sports a own concrete moat, and across the street, its implacably tomblike parking garage. It says to any visitor who might haplessly find himself downtown, abandon hope, all ye who enter here.

Metropolitan Phoenix has some okay places like downtown Tempe and Scottsdale's Old Town. It will probably never have a real downtown, however. It is, by far, the greatest curse of our automobile age that Phoenix came of age too late for the golden-age of city building. Its downtown is stranded perpetually in the logic of modernism, too new to be interesting but not new enough to be alive.

Pat my library is stocked with Wally Stegner. Whom I find an intellectual snobbish bore. I will take the thuggery Ed Abbey as he and I have much more in common than anti dirt elitest intellectuals. And I also prefer Wendell Berry and John Van Dyke when it comes to the Desert. AND THEN THERE IS the Sand County Almanac. All you every need to read about the environment.
More later gotta go to work.

Pat before i wind up my Honda Fit heres a book i just finished by an east coast intellectual.
" ALL the Wild that Remains", by David Gessner. A comparison of Abbey and Stegner. Abbey did much more to get people caring and involved (Earth First) in the condition of the planet than the pompus Stegner. BE happy to loan it to you just please leave the many paper clips in place.

I completely agree with all that Soleri wrote. I would add that Dallas, Houston, Denver and Charlotte (cities of which I have the most acquaintance) lack natural focal points but still have real downtowns. And for many years, the San Diego bigs didn't see SD Bay as an asset for downtown -- they were betting on suburban plays in Mission Bay and Mission Valley.

The difference is massive amounts of investment that come from major commercial ventures, plus moneyed stewards who love the city and pay for it to be something worthy of loving, visionaries who can hold out and teach, and a political will and consensus.

Abbey was one of Stegner's students, Cal. I've read everything by Abbey that I cared to, years and years ago. I really don't care for most "environmental" writing, because how many times do I need to hear a thousand metaphors, similes, and allegories packed into an entire chapter about how "The hawk circles lazily above the waterhole?"
I was being stupid when I said of urban sprawl that there's no agreement or collective will to stop it, and of course, that's wrong, as illustrated by the thousands of good citizens who are working to preserve and improve the central core. What I should've said was that there's not enough agreement or collective will among the political class to stop sprawl, and the only way to do anything right now is to make the core of the city more appealing.

Pat, Abbey took a class from Stegner and that didnt go well. So you are tired of environmental reading. I will send you a subscription to Adbuster. Your comments tell me you are way smarter than me. I had to look up metaphors, similes I thought you meant smiles and allegories. So I tire of genius elitist's, but I will keep reading your posts. And here's is to the depopulation of humans on this planet and the demise of Cities. Find another planet to despoil by building piles of human excrement in one place.

“I completely agree with everything Soleri wrote.”
And has Written?
I am trying to recall when youall disagreed?

“You know who your enemies are. There’s a name for them: Republicans.” Gee I think I now understand what it’s like to be Black. Oh sure I will just run down and after 50 years change my registration to Democrat and then I will turn white? But will my IQ automatically go past 99 to 180 so I can better understand the genius’ that post here.

Bigger “tight” cities do not necessarily make more open spaces or room for Sajuaros. Less people do that. Thank you Malthus but the fools just want to keep breeding and building more elaborate ant hills. Phoenix wants to be LA but that will only happen as both cities sprawl towards each other on more gigantic concrete freeways.(Only in Saudi Arabia do they build mile high buildings in the middle of a huge sand pile.) So they can swill more beer (never developed a taste for such) and smoke more weed (not until I am eighty and not doing work, Before the Law).

The problems with Phoenix began with the likes of Jack Swilling and Teddy Roosevelt. Until they got involved the banks of the Salt River were a nice place to pitch a tepee or cobble together an Adobe one story abode.

Speaking of Swilling, I picked up four copies of Jon’s well put together small book, “A Brief History of Phoenix” from him a few days ago. It is a nice and well put together book but it is a “brief” history of Phoenix. My friends enjoyed the photos as most of them like I grew up here. However over the years I had expected Jon to write at least a 1200 page book on the history of Phoenix or the Valley of the Sun. I have read a number of other books (see Jon’s Acknowledgements) in this area and found them lacking in detail and substance and in some occasions I think deliberate omissions. Not to say the least that some were in denial about water.

And while we are talking about books, I am opposed to banning or burning books. As to this blog I have before expressed my opposition to banning. And banning “Trolls,” I still don’t understand what that means. It seems a troll is someone that is disagreeable to others. But then I am not a genius, just an ole farm boy with no education and on a good day my IQ might reach a 100. In that light of banning and virulent name calling attacks, gone is an attorney-client and INPHX, definitely branded with a big T on his forehead and my Amigo the Apache Kid. All I guess have either been banned or choose to not post due to what they considered a prejudice of their thoughts.

Before I was a republican I was born into Scottish frugality or as a CONSERVATIVE. I still put my coffee grounds and my bio-gradable food stuffs in my flower gardens and I recycle most things that are recyclable. I am thinking about starting to can my own food, you know for that day. So I keep returning closer to the earth and its dirt. Shunning as much as possible the social swilling offered by cities. Preferring the company of birds, rabbits, javelinas and coyotes. Must have been in my jeans as some of my ancestors were reclusive.

But keep in mind I have one arm that doesn’t swing with my gait.
Hasta luego
Cal lash from the great Sonoran Desert, what’s left of it.

This book was the only one I was paid to write. I am not well off enough to spend three to five years researching and writing a 1,200-page Phoenix history on spec.

Had to look up "on spec" guess that's like on Hope? Oh well maybe when you become wealthy you can make it a trilogy. My native friends liked it and are buying more copies for thier native friends.

Wow, Cal, since you're a cop you should be able to deduce that I'm not a genius, unless you're being ironic, in which case, good one! I guess I used to think overpopulation was the driver of most of our woes, but now I think life is way more complex than that. I'm pretty sure it's more the way we live-as in our entire social and economic structure-that has to be immediately addressed. I sort of sense that you find lots of people bad, but wouldn't it be cool if you could leave a vibrant, modern city and be in farm country or wilderness in ten or even twenty minutes?
Speaking of books, have you ever read The Great Arizona Orphan Abduction, by Linda Gordon? It's been around for awhile, but I only recently read it. I bet you'd like it. I think it should be required reading for high schoolers, but I think they're still struggling through the history of ancient Egypt.


I'm still around; I almost always read the posts here but I don't always feel compelled to post myself. I don't always have something to add (but I guess Soleri does).

On the issue, choice is almost always good for consumers. So, to the extent a generally market based economy provides choice based on the supply and demand for a product or service, that's a good thing. I'm glad there are living options downtown, midtown, Tempe, Old Town Scottsdale, north Scottsdale, Seattle, Portland, Detroit, Peoria,and Tulsa. The whole deal.

Some folks like the density, noise, and excitement of an urban area and some folks don't. There are numerous tradefoffs for each.

I did the whole urban deal in my late 20's / early 30's in the Lincoln Park area of Chicago. It's not for me today, but someday it might be again.

Not right, not wrong. Just choices.

Seven billion people is probably six billion too many for Earth's carrying capacity. That said, when the subject advances to culling the herd, Malthusians should lead by example. There is probably not going to be a humane way to put this many puppies to sleep absent a tangible promise of some heavenly reward. Overpopulation is not anyone's fault except - usually - the person with the wrong skin color and lower carbon footprint.

In this season of insanity (they blur together!), it's not just Muslims who haunt us. It's this specter of "others" eating us out of hearth and home. We're tribal by instinct, so carpetbombing the wogs impresses the True Believers in the conservative party's base. Make America great again and kill a whole bunch.

Barroom conversations can occur online or in Munich beer halls. What they seem to have in common is a deep aversion to reason and complexity. When the conversation darkens, everything starts to suck except what I like - open space, wild critters, and driving forever on lost highways. It's romantic and primal. At Its end is a hanging tree with a sign scrawled No Exit.


Great post--

Maybe in the wrong blog??

Great posts Cal! I rarely read this blog anymore given the far left echo chamber it's become and the excessive ad hominem attacks.

Jon, thank you for commenting on what has been apparent for some time. Those of us who are here see it daily, and it's both south and north of Camelback Road. I would give less credence to supposed Phoenix experts who preface their comments with "I follow Phoenix online." There is no substitute for seeing it with your own eyes.

Soleri writes:

"Portland is one of the very few places in North America that consciously chose to limit its sprawl. As I like to say, it's the anti-Phoenix. It's not perfect, but it is a lovely city where you can drink great beer and very good wines, smoke excellent weed, and eat some incredible local fare from preserved farmland. What's not to like?"

Choices are good. If those (great beer, weed, good wine, local food, sprawl limits) are your criteria, I'm glad you have that choice.

Wouldn't be mine.

But you knock yourself out.

INPHX, I don't doubt that your "choice" would be something other than Portland. The irony is that Phoenix offers little choice except yours while Portland's suburbs offer the same single-family housing and big-box shopping necessary to right-wing lifestyles. In the discussion with Cal/Ruben, I made the point that if you want to preserve as much of the natural world as possible, you would prefer the Portland model. If the environment doesn't engage you, either in reality or as an issue, then Phoenix is probably your correct choice. For some odd reason, this drives anti-choice Republicans crazy. I read op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal by people like Joel Kotkin, and you might think that Portland was some hotbed of high-rise gulags and and insufferable bicycling prigs. Yet you actually do get a real choice here. In Phoenix? Hardly. As they say, one size fits all.

I must say, there have been many moments in the past when I contemplated moving out of Phoenix. Luckily, with the ability to promote within my field in Phoenix and with the accompaniment of more friends from outside Arizona and Central Phoenix, the choice to stay was a much easier one. Downtown, and much of Central Phoenix, has been changing constantly in the last few years. This is a good thing. I've been joined recently by friends who, for many years after school, chose to remain in Tempe, South/Old Town Scottsdale or Chandler. They were too young for Chandler and too restless for Scottsdale. Tempe wears on older millennials because dealing with college students, especially the underage cohort, wears on you. Downtown Phoenix offers so much more to counterbalance the students and as such, the area feels more ... serious.

It seems as though my experience with friends, tech companies, small business, etc. choosing downtown/Central Phoenix to live, work and play is not anecdotal. While there have been many "stick and nail" developments in the mix, I don't find that troubling. For one, if the area continues this march towards full urbanity these units will need to come down relatively easily to be replaced with more permanent, high-density/high-rise development. I'm excited for all the changes Phoenix is undergoing. I'm happy with my choice to stay but I do want to see continued, intense development.

I forgot to mention there is a third place I go near downtown Tempe. The little hole in the wall with great Ethiopian cuisine. Cafe Lalibela at University and Hardy, SE corner.
Or you can now buy some of their food at Whole Foods.

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