Viewpoint: “Phoenix 101: Lost opportunities”

[Source: Jon Talton, Rogue Columnist] — My chief goal in writing the Phoenix 101 post about the old city was to dispel the notion that “there’s no history here,” spoken by the transplants as they file into the tract houses of their so-called master planned communities.  More, to fight the canard that “Phoenix has no soul.”  Well, maybe now in most places, but it wasn’t always so.  Yet the post was so popular, it seems logical to follow up with a brief history on choices made and opportunities missed.

It’s important to make a distinction.  People have sometimes dismissed my observations with words such as “well, everyplace changes” and “my hometown isn’t the same any more, either.”  At the risk of being pedantic, that’s not my point.  First, while every place changes, it doesn’t necessarily change mostly for the worse.  Cities such as Seattle, Portland, Denver, Charlotte, San Diego and even Oklahoma City have undergone massive changes. Yet they have managed to preserve and revive their center cities, their civic spaces and enhance livability (and they have plenty of suburbs, so Phoenix isn’t special there).  I miss the old railroad yards in downtown Denver –- but what an amazing city it is now.  It’s gotten better.  Second, Phoenix is not just any city — so who cares if it’s no worse than Fresno or Youngstown?  It sold its magic for dross.  And its choices have set the stage for crisis, whether sudden or lingering.

Much was out of the control of Phoenicians and their leaders.  Phoenix grew large after the City Beautiful Movement, so it lacked many great civic spaces; it was a modest farm town during the 1920s, so it had relatively few art deco towers.  Worst of all, it came of age with the automobile, Levittown-style suburbia, and the savage city planning and dehumanizing design ethos of Robert Moses and Le Corbusier.  Still, Phoenix made choices.  It lost opportunities.  Here are a few.  [Note: To read the full blog entry, click here.]

One thought on “Viewpoint: “Phoenix 101: Lost opportunities””

  1. “First, while every place changes, it doesn’t necessarily change mostly for the worse.”

    Neither has Phoenix. When I moved to Phoenix 20 years ago, the Phoenix Art Museum, the Heard Museum, the Arizona Science Center, and the Central Library were all tiny, underpowered institutions. Since then, they’ve all undergone expansion bringing them up to major city status. 20 year ago, Arizona Theater Company had to stage its plays in a community college auditorium. Now, it performs in the impressive Herberger Theater and has one of the highest subscriber renewal rates in the country. I could go on about all the positive changes I’ve seen.

    Is Phoenix overall better or worse than in the past? That’s subjective and dependent what one seeks in a city. Nevertheless, a balanced perspective would acknowledge all the positive maturation that Phoenix has undergone as it has progressed from regional city to major metropolitan area. Jon Talton may wallow in his bitterness from self-imposed exile in Seattle, but that doesn’t mean that DVC has to abet his civic treason by posting and linking to his rants.

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