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October 05, 2018


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When is a city to big to fail?

Apologies that this column went up before it was complete. It's done now.

Phoenix is hamstrung by this perpetual chicken vs egg problem where a relatively weak employment base in its core doesn't need transit to connect suburbs to its Potemkin downtown. What we see instead is the decentralization of employment hubs to the suburbs. Dallas, of course, has a very strong employment base downtown so its light rail system works as designed.

Phoenix is defined and circumscribed by a tragedy of time. It was a small city in 1950 that by 1970 had leapfrogged its former footprint in order to simply create another more auto-friendly downtown on North Central. From that point forward, there was no way to reconcile the one with the other. A fortune in public/private investment was poured into old downtown subsequently but the promised reinvention couldn't compensate for the original fissure. By 1990, high-end office projects were headed east down Camelback Road to Scottsdale.

LA was able to rescue its downtown partly because it had wealthy stewards like Eli Broad, and partly on account of its more benign climate. Most importantly, LA is a world city with thousands of "creative class" types craving an urban experience. You see aspects of this phenomenon in downtown Phoenix, too, albeit on a much reduced scale. LA is connecting its vibrant west side to downtown via the red line subway, and it already has a subway going to North Hollywood, and light rail in several directions. The centripetal energy that seemed to sap LA's urbanism now appears spent.

Will Phoenix ever arrive at this point? I tend to doubt it because it's simply too damn hot. Getting people out of their cars will always be difficult in an extreme climate. Worse,the political climate is still too extreme to ever allow future growth to be channeled toward downtown. Phoenix is a satellite of LA now and its immediate destiny is to be that of a second-tier city with cheaper houses and less traffic congestion. Its long-term destiny remains grim, needless to say.

I live near PV Mall and I can tell you that it is circling the drain -- numerous empty storefronts, sparse traffic, and anchored by dinosaurs Sears, JC Penney, and Dillards. The parking lot is mostly empty on most days, and its cracked, decaying asphalt tells you all you need to know.

One former retail space is now inhabited by a goofy golf course with black lights. I am not making this up.

Retail has passed on to Amazon and Kierland and the Scottsdale Quarter (with fashionable outlets such as Apple and Design Beyond Reach).

Why the heck would you want light rail to terminate at PV Mall? It's a corpse.

However, the impending shutdown of the mall by the Macerich Company, when it decides to throw in the towel (soon) presents an opportunity. It is a large slice of real estate. What could go there to replace the mall? Could it be something that exploits a rail connection to Downtown? Imaginative thinking needed! A creative solution could not only benefit both trans-Phoenix Mountains Phoenix but Downtown. You could make money on this.

Oops. Forgot that this is Phoenix we are talking about.

On the whispering desert wind among the sifting sand , listen you can once again hear the voices of "those who are gone".


Yes, the vanished ones, a.k.a. the Hohokam.

And their canals and vast cities.

Sic transit gloria mundi deserti.

I know as I have been at this
"Way Station" forever.

Jon, stop dreaming this small town is going to be big time- it never was as big as it seems because retirees do not really count as a dynamic part of a population.

All of Arizona is weighed down with this reality- the folks who came for the sun don't spin out ideas for Intel, and they have moved on...

Even back in the day, Silicon Valley was much more dynamic, because it was where the future was being created- and our desert is where they stuck the fabs when land went sky high and the workforce costs became uneconomical. After all, has Albuquerque boomed as part of the Silicon Desert- even with Los Alamos right up the road?

Reality dictates Phoenix is just a big Sun City, with the slums generating the service workers. Landscapers, masons, etc. Care homes are a booming growth industry- with large houses now being bought to split into a large elderly group home- many with hospital beds discretely tucked into those master suites...amazing what is going on.

Now, why in the world would the creative class show up here? There is no money here. Without the sillycon valley startup mosh pit of money, we are a desert.

Money, it all comes down to money. LA had the ports, oil, manufacturing, etc. We forget how much industrialization used to exist in LA, and it was 20x what existed in the Valley.

So, given that head start, Phoenix is simply a retirement suburb, with the major employer now retail and healthcare.

And to think it will mythically reinvent itself is to ignore where the money comes from today- and where it is going tomorrow.

Face it, we are still in the hangover phase from the prior boom, and now we are unprepared for another downturn.


If you look at the building permits, it becomes obvious.

Phoenix has never been a mass transit town. I used the bus system extensively until I finished high school (Phoenix Union) in 1963, taking the #3 East Van Buren bus twice a day to and from school. The bus system ran frequent buses during the student-transport times but the rest of the time it was once an hour. You transferred buses downtown but due to the scheduling of most lines, it could take you several hours each way. So, people didn't think of using the bus because it was so inconvenient, and waiting in 110 degree sun for a bus didn't make the buses attractive, either, although the bus company bought new, comfortable air conditioned buses. The result was that often there was a car for each working adult in a household. This way of life went on for a long, long time. I wonder if it will take a generation or two for people to seriously consider public transit when car transit is so ingrained.

Mi amiga, Gloria graduated ftom Phoenix Union in 53 and probably rode the bus with you.

The Phoenix greek OstRacist with a possible Russian bent has posted new chit on the previous blog.

Oops a 10 year difference

Just read in Az republic that drought is being caused primarily by global warming instead of lack of precipitation. Hummmmm

The problem with light rail in Phoenix is that it lacks any elevated sections that would allow the train to travel at a high rate of speed (upto 55 mph). But, this is a symptom of a much larger issue.

Other major cities have already built out their freeway network, particularly the loop along their metropolitan periphery. Phoenix is only now finishing up its freeway system. This allowed other counties in other states to focus more on transit funding than Maricopa County.

There is a large discrepancy in the transit tax rates between metro areas. Dallas collects a whopping 1% sales tax dedicated solely to transit whereas Maricopa County dedicates a small fraction of its 0.5% sales tax towards transit.

Perhaps in the future, Maricopa County will dedicate a larger percentage of its transportation sales tax towards transit when it comes time to renew its sales tax.

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