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March 22, 2021


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Having grown up in the old, irrigated Phoenix like you, I miss the smaller city vibe. That's not coming back. AZ is being overrun by fleeing Californians and we will soon resemble that state more than we already do. In my mind, there is one thing that Phoenix can do that would radically alter and possibly stop its decline. Make the world's ugliest freeway into a good looking, well paved one that our city deserves. I-17 is the backbone of the state of Arizona. Our backbone desperately needs a chiropractor.

Good column Jon,
Nice Photo.
I have driven that Tucson neighborhood a number of times in the last 25 years.

Your words, my comments.

“The old city was shady, grassy, and well landscaped. From there moved circles of citrus groves, flower fields, pastures, and farms”.

Prior to the Hohokam the great Sonoran desert did not look like a shady well landscaped city.

Prior to T.R approving the damming of streams and rivers this had once before been the projects of the “disappeared ones” or those who are gone. And I anticipate history will repeat.

Quote from Van Dyke
“The weird solitude, the great silence, the grim desolation, are the very things with which every desert wanderer eventually falls in love. You think that strange perhaps? Well, the beauty of the ugly was sometime a paradox, but to-day people admit its truth; and the grandeur of the desolate is just paradoxical, yet the desert gives it proof. –John C. Van Dyke, The Desert, 1901

“the look is concrete, asphalt, gravel, and shadeless palo verde trees. Oh, and "shade structures" that provide little shade. Lookalike faux Tuscan tract houses in "master planned communities" offer postage-stamp lawns and wide driveways”
“The green beauty of areas such as the historic districts, North Central, and Arcadia must be preserved, incentivized even as water rates rise, to preserve what is left. “

Ed Abbey quote
“Water is life: “Water, water, water....There is no shortage of water in the desert but exactly the right amount , a perfect ratio of water to rock, water to sand, insuring that wide free open, generous spacing among plants and animals, homes and towns and cities, which makes the arid West so different from any other part of the nation. There is no lack of water here unless you try to establish a city where no city should be.”
― Edward Abbey, quote from Desert Solitaire

“A desert urban aesthetic in other areas.”

There is a Cree prophesy which states:
Only after the last tree has been cut down
Only after the last river has been poisoned
Only after the last fish has been caught
Only then you will find out that money cannot be eaten.

More quotes
“It's strange how deserts turn us into believers. I believe in walking in a landscape of mirages, because you learn humility. I believe in living in a land of little water because life is drawn together. And I believe in the gathering of bones as a testament to spirits that have moved on. If the desert is holy, it is because it is a forgotten place that allows us to remember the sacred. Perhaps that is why every pilgrimage to the desert is a pilgrimage to the self.” Terry Tempest Williams

"You can't fight the desert. You have to ride with it.”
- Louis L'Amour

“I would not sacrifice a single living mesquite tree for any book ever written. One square mile of living desert is worth a hundred ‘great books’ – and one brave deed is worth a thousand.”
- Edward Abbey

“Drifting across the vast space, silent except for wind and footsteps, I felt uncluttered and unhurried for the first time in a while, already on desert time.”
- Rebecca Solnit

“Polish comes from the cities; wisdom from the desert.”
-Frank Herbert

“The barrios of Tucson (shown in the photo) offer a pleasant alternative. Buildings go right up to the sidewalks, where walls and houses enclose an often spacious courtyard. There you can find at least one shade tree, a real shady awning, and inviting patio. This design radically lowers the use of pavement and gravel. It's far more attractive than the typical Phoenix tract house and more authentic for the Southwest.
Let a developer try one. I bet it would catch on.”

Wallace Stegner quote
“Civilizations grow by agreements and accommodations and accretions, not by repudiations. The rebels and the revolutionaries are only eddies, they keep the stream from getting stagnant but they get swept down and absorbed, they're a side issue. Quiet desperation is another name for the human condition. If revolutionaries would learn that they can't remodel society by day after tomorrow -- haven't the wisdom to and shouldn't be permitted to -- I'd have more respect for them ... Civilizations grow and change and decline -- they aren't remade.”
-- Wallace Stegner

Since the Hohokam and Teddy gave us canals.
Maybe an additional use for them?

Oleanders? Really?

Great column! Maybe few people are commenting because most of your readers agree with your analysis here.

I just read that Philadelphia has buildings turning off their lights at night so that birds won't fly into them. Could that ever be considered in Maricopa County? It might save birds and possibly heat.

Buildings right up to the sidewalk with private central courtyards are a mainstay of many hot climates. With a two-story building and a few awnings or other shade structures to block the high sun, there can be significant shade all day. Plus, a small fountain and some potted plants add just enough evaporative cooling to take even more of the edge off since hot winds can't blow it all out.

Spend a few minutes in the vast uncluttered desert night. The eyes adjust and nature allows one to see without the harsh glaring artificial lighting found in dark city canyons. Enjoy the sky as did your Hunter/gatherer kin.

Re the photo, can someone say in what part of town it was taken? It looks like there may be a (very) tall building in the background.

Unfortunately the Catch 22 is that in order to mitigate the heat island effect, more water will be needed. And it's not going to be there. The whole Southwest is in a long-time drought. If we could get people to do actual desert landscaping, dirt and desert plants there might be enough, but people, for the most part midwestern transplants, want their grass and their pools. I speak as a lifelong Valleyite, who moved to SW NM seven years ago.

I remember and occasionally still use a phrase you coined in the 90s; "Real Estate Industrial Complex".
That right there explains it all.

Sandra, Hows that working out?
"A river used to run through it: How New Mexico handles a dwindling Rio Grande."
Well there's always the Margaritas at the Double Eagle bar.
Mexico is still waiting for their water since the "boys" that have Pancho Villa's head stored away, reneged.

It's complicated, Sandra. Jon has made the palo verde a villain, or more accurately, its overuse a villain, but it is a wonderful Sonoran Desert species that has been always with us.

I have one in my back yard and I love its springtime blast of bright yellow blooms, much loved by bees -- carpenter and honey alike. Verdins nest in it. White-wing doves and Gila woodpeckers perch in it. It is a nurse tree to the saguaro next to it.

It fits with everything that is us and that is the Sonoran Desert.

Over the years since I planted it back there with my boulders, agaves, and prickly-pears, it has given me pleasure. It is an organism entirely undeserving of "skeleton tree" pejoration. It has a place among us, the heirs of the former Western Interior Province of New Spain and of Native American polities before that.

Out in my back yard, it has been "dirt and desert plants" there, probably somewhat to my neighbors' chagrin. But I suspect my neighbors' landscaping schemes don't see nearly as many Gambel Quail, desert cottontails, finches, thrashers, et al., as I do.

There is more than one answer to what is a "desert aesthetic."

Joe good comments.

In 50 when i moved to Arizona the yards were dirt and mesquite bushes and desert critters.

Currently i hear a person in the area of
2300 N 9th Street in Phoenix is feeding a large Red Fox that visits most every day.
Somewhere on the web is a photo of the Fox on top of the yard wall.
Yep needed to buy them a bus ticket to Montana to hand feed grizzly bears M&M's.
In the last 14 years i have encountered coyotes in the area of 7th Street and Thomas. I passed on trying to pet them.

I suspect that is Barrio Viejo.
U can Google it

Thank you, Joe - I am fond of the palo verde. Back in the days when I had a house close to downtown Phoenix, half of my front yard had s variety of cactus including a prickly pear without the needles. I used water on the other half and had roses. A luscious veggie garden in back with the best dirt made from all the leaves in the neighborhood, sand from the Salt River when one could drive through it from Tempe to PHX and the fattest worms in town. Those were the days!

Good stuff in Jon's Arizona pages.
Partuculary artickes from Tucson news.

I’m just curious how this post figures into the water reality in Phoenix. Do you forget there was a lot more water for a lot less people in those days? I you don’t often see cottonwoods planted in irrigated landscapes because even there they are huge weedy water hogs, with roots that stretch 30ft to any nearby water source. This was a nice “ah remember when?” post without any real substance. The argument of “xeriscape uses as much as irrigation” is categorically false. Trees Matter advocate native plants last I checked.

Rogue, we can’t turn back the clock. Just let it go.

With all due respect, the comments section works best when people bring constructive, stimulating, knowledgeable, heterodox discussions and arguments. Soleri is taking a break, but c’mon.

For some reason this column provoked a combination of defensiveness and/or off-topic snippets. Few addressed the substance of the column. As for Al, I’m not letting it go. You can go elsewhere.

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