Blog Archives

Viewpoint: Beyond chains and cheese (restaurant madness and what it means for downtown Phoenix)

Popularity of Matt's Big Breakfast fostered other local restaurant startups.

[Source: Life in Downtown Phoenix blog] — While the arts community was the first generation of pioneers to successfully lift downtown Phoenix out of its doldrums, the second wave of downtown resurgence came from the independent restaurants that gambled on the area.  By 2005, places like Matt’s Big Breakfast, Cibo, and Fate proved that independent restaurants with quality food could really have success downtown.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and 2009 is really proving that as the number of restaurants opening their doors all around the aforementioned downtown pioneers is staggering.  Already this year the Turf (formerly Turf Accountant), Pasta Bar, El Portal, and Sapna’s Cafe have opened.  By the end of the month Moira will bring sushi back to downtown for the first time in years, and sometime soon Luke’s of Chicago will start a branch on Seventh Street in a renovated historic building while a Mediterranean restaurant is set to appear on Roosevelt Street just east of Third Avenue.  Almost every one of those restaurants is within a half-mile radius of the original Matt’s/Fate duo that got things rolling.  Amidst all this Palette apparently closed — which is shocking for anyone like me who was part of the sometimes-90 minute wait on the weekends for brunch — but the rumor is that someone else wanted the location and that Pallette will resurface somewhere else in the area.

Assuming these businesses can survive the current economic conditions, they’ll be poised to really help downtown surge when the housing market finally turns around.  Downtown Phoenix probably already stood alone with Tempe’s Mill Avenue and Old Town Scottsdale as options for those who live in the Phoenix area and prefer walkable urban environments.  But aided in no small part by this restaurant boom, downtown has separated itself from the chains of Mill and the cheese of Scottsdale as probably the premiere locale for urbanists.  While downtown Phoenix is of course only beginning to catch up with even its western competitors in places like Denver and Portland, it has clearly established some positive momentum.  [Note: To read more of downtown_resident’s views, click here.]

Skyline struggles to give Phoenix sense of identity

[Source: Richard Nilsen, Arizona Republic] — A city’s skyline is its ID photo.  Think the Transamerica Pyramid and the Golden Gate Bridge for San Francisco, the George Washington Bridge, and the Empire State Building for Manhattan.  And Dallas, well, Dallas has its freeway flyovers.  But what is Phoenix’s mug shot?  

“The first view of most visitors to Phoenix is the downtown towers silhouetted against Camelback, Mummy, or South mountains as their airplanes bank for a landing,” says Max Underwood, an Arizona State University architecture professor. The mountains are certainly part of it, but what about those buildings?  Do they give Phoenix a sense of self?

Phoenix is now the fifth-largest city in the nation, and it keeps getting bigger.  But smaller cities have a more distinct architectural profile: San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Denver.  “Our high-rises are not interesting enough, varied enough, tall enough or numerous enough to create a skyline worth talking about,” says Grady Gammage Jr., a Valley lawyer and urban-planning critic.

It isn’t just a question of individual buildings of architectural distinction — Phoenix has several of those. It’s about an overall sense of architecture as a source of civic pride and urban identity.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]