Every time I come home I feel a twinge of nostalgia. From my parents’ house to my grade school and my first job to my first girlfriend, every significant moment in the first 24 years of my life happened in or near Kent, WA. For many of the people I grew up with, this familiarity convinced them to stay and make the Seattle metro area home for the rest of their lives, too. And I know why, as the summers are beautiful, the people are friendly and just about every type of entertainment, indoor or outdoor, is within a few hours’ drive.
I moved to Phoenix for graduate school. Packed up my car with all my clothes, my laptop and my sporting equipment and set out for Tempe and ASU just over eight years ago. While many assumed my plan was to get my degree, pack up and come home, I had other ideas. You see, I never finished my graduate degree. I came close, but due to some unfortunate circumstances, a few very bad breaks and an arrogance in receiving an education that was less helpful as the semesters went by, I left ASU as a grad school dropout with something like 12 credits remaining. I still regret it.
But that’s not why I’m still in Phoenix. I’ve struggled to call this place home, as it doesn’t make sense to me. Nothing is where it seems it SHOULD be. Towns pop up out of nowhere, strip malls and mini-communities can be found at every major intersection and most of the people who live here want to be left alone. Phoenix metro is a manufactured, planned community devised by a mad scientist who just wanted to screw with people. This attitude of hoarding and reluctantly sharing has permeated everything I’ve been involved in, from magazines to Gangplank. The wide-open but finite amount of resources and man-power in the Valley means many of us don’t seem to live together, we only tolerate each other.
Similar to TSA now checking for not allowed items instead of protecting our safety, Phoenix metro’s people seem to go through the motions, and nothing more, when it comes to anything beyond themselves. There are exceptions, but those people are usually ones who have either already made their money or make it from other sources, and as such have no real skin in the game.
Arizona has a long ways to go. Our state needs to stop abiding by the rule of old white people and outdated, traditional methods and businesses, and embrace a new level of awareness and acceptance. We need to start thinking more about what we need and not just about we want. We need to continue working together on projects that will benefit everyone. We need to realize that decades of AZ growth has been toxic to our ability to excel, or even function, in a global economy where growth just isn’t the driving force anymore.
Doing this isn’t easy, and we’re all to blame. While I certainly have not always been a shining example of teamwork, I recognize that we’re all in this together. Events like CenPhoCamp, All Out, PodcampAZ and now Startup Weekend are my attempts at using my strength, pissing people off enough that they’ll realize how awesome they are and actually accomplish something, to get everyone on the same page and hopefully transfer that energy into a lasting feeling that brings people and ideas a little closer together.
I am not rich. In fact, I probably make less money than you do. My participation in anything in Phoenix metro is due to me loving the experience, not the outcome. It’s not about being seen in the cool places – though hanging with Si Robins always ups my cred – nor is it about being friends with the cool people – Mark Dudlik
secretly despises is often disappointed in me – or even expanding my brand (I hate myself for even saying or thinking that). It’s about creating a sense of place, a sense of community and a sense of belonging that the many transplants in AZ seem to lack.
It’s about trying my damndest to feel like I, more so than the strip malls, golf courses and planned communities, actually belong here. It’s about making a home. Because in the end, we all talk about living. But no one really lives until they know they’re dying.
And we, just like the real-estate economy, are our state’s chance at being looked at as anything but old-fashioned and out of touch, are dying a little bit more every day. Our home, yours and mine, deserves better. Had any of this happened in our original home town, we’d all be up in arms. We’d fight back. And that’s really what separates a house from being a home and a city from being a community: the willingness to do anything to protect it.