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March 14, 2016

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The Phoenix attitude back to the late '50s was one of triumphalism. This was a city that was going places, that was not declining like old cities back east, that got things done and loved showing off its sparkly new stuff. It couldn't wait to demolish the old buildings that didn't announce the Big Bright Tomorrow that was Phoenix's destiny and calling card.

Better cities began to see the problem with inactive streets and sidewalks resulting from modernist monoliths. But the old guard in Phoenix was not chastened or alarmed. It's only when Terry Goddard became mayor that people really started wondering if the sterile downtown they created was worth the price we had paid. But by then it was really too late. Civic Plaza, dead on all fronts, occupied six crucial block in the postage stamp-sized downtown. Government and bank buildings with their gigantic parking garages rendered more blocks into dead zones. Finally, the sports' venues took out virtually everything else. There were a couple of blocks on Adams and Monroe that still had some activity, but for the most part, downtown was embalmed.

Phoenix is not unique in its disrespect for urban vitality and architectural gems. In the '60s the American Dream was to own a house, drive a car, shop at a mall, and enjoy life as it was celebrated on TV sitcoms. This was America's triumph too: Brady Bunch civilization. We gave up vast treasures of wonderful old buildings and lively urban spaces for a cartoonscape that we called the Good Life.

I have a theory that some of our political dysfunction and rage is really about this: the loss of beauty, meaning, community, and common purpose. In 1950, America had wonderful cities, great public spaces, effective mass transit, and neighborhoods with close-by retail districts. It was a wonderful life. We gave it up for the cult of auto-mobility, soulless housing pods, and the Big Bright Tomorrow that is our waking nightmare.


I love the picture of Hanny's, with its admonition to "Buy War Bonds!" above the aesthetically stunning Woody. The Wagon probably belonged to some affluent professional from out in the country, like Palmcroft, or North Central. Anyway, that's how I like to imagine it.


The authors of the indispensable Winner Take All Economics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer - And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class have an op-ed piece in this morning's Times that makes a strong case for reality-based politics
http://www.nytimes.com/pages/opinion/index.html

In a very similar vein, Nick Kristof has a column that makes a similar case with a pointed look at the Sudan: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/17/opinion/big-government-looks-great-when-there-is-none.html?ref=opinion

Realism is not a popular taste but it sure beats the alternative.

Jon nice photos, I passed them along.
AND here is some more.
Swilling has an 'original' idea. - In the late 1860's a guy named Jack Swilling and a group of people moved to a flat area just north of the Salt River, planted corn, wheat, squash and pumpkins, and started a city. They called it Swilling's Mill, then Helling Mill, and then a few other names. They just couldn't find a good name. Anyway, it didn't make much difference because they didn't like the location anyway. So they moved down the road to this spot, where there happened to be old Indian ruins and the remains of pre-historic canals. The settlers built a few houses, a store and a saloon. They needed a name for the new settlement, again. One person said the place should be called Salina. One moron suggested Pumpkinville, pointing to the crop out in the field. Still no name. After a few fist fights and a round of booze, a guy named Duppa stood up and said it should be called Phoenix, probably because the town (all five mud huts of it) was obviously built on top of the ruins of an ancient Hohokam Indian village (which archeologists call "La Ciudad"). Anyway, somebody grabbed a pen and wrote down the word Phenix on the map. Close enough.
From what my grandfather told me, Duppa actually threw in a few lines from Shakespeare's famous poem, The Phoenix and the Turtle, at that historic moment, as follows:


http://www.sierraestrella.com/vanburen.html

My great Uncle knew Swilling from around Prescott, and encountered him once at a makeshift saloon Swilling had set up in the town of Gillett, and Swilling was running a card game ( Swilling was, among many things, an adept gambler). He had one of his children, a girl of about nine, standing near the table holding a large knife, which Swilling had instructed her to plunge into any of the dumb miners who took issue with being stripped of their earnings. Sometimes I wonder why nobody has ever made a movie about Jack Swilling, he was way more colorful and interesting than the Earps.

I think Soleri is spot-on with his idea about the origin of our political dysfunction and rage.
"[It] is really about this: the loss of beauty, meaning, community, and common purpose. In 1950, America had wonderful cities, great public spaces, effective mass transit, and neighborhoods with close-by retail districts. It was a wonderful life. We gave it up for the cult of auto-mobility, soulless housing pods, and the Big Bright Tomorrow that is our waking nightmare."
Always enjoy lurking the commentary here.

Oh, yes. Thanks to Jon for the heavy lifting of picture editing. These images are new to me and very illuminating.

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