The Inigo Montoya guide to poorly used Phoenix terms

Tyler HurstBlog9 Comments

As downtown Phoenix slowly grows into a real urban core, I’ve heard many terms, phrases and promises regarding what we’d be able to do. From CityScape to the Jackson Street Project and Civic Space to a new skate facility at Deck Park, activists and urban planners have had a helluva time making claims about what was going to happen.

Here are a few words and phrases I wish they’d stop saying.

Cities with a still-standing history can be revitalized. Cities with a boom in the past can be revitalized. Detroit, when it finally does turn around, will be a revitalization. NYC in the late 80s and 90s underwent a revitalization. Downtown Phoenix has never, ever, ever been a cool and happening place to hang out (relative to the scene they’re trying to create now). It’s never been a bustling downtown from dawn past dusk until the morning again. Hell, according to the devils at the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, downtown Phoenix has only been around the 20 years!

A city core must first be vital, then fall into disarray and then be rebuilt to be revitalized. Downtown Phoenix hasn’t even been born yet. Find another term, please.

In the cool(er) months, the lack of any shade in downtown Phoenix becomes the least of any issue facing downtown. Right now the urban core is filled with empty lots along Roosevelt, packed with house is varying states of disarray (though First Friday doesn’t care) and far too spread out. You ever tried to make a night of it here? Don’t think you’re going to get away with it in dress shoes, as Central to 7th Street is nearly a half mile and you’ll probably walk 3x that distance to hop between Carly’s, The Roosevelt, CityScape and a baseball or basketball game.

And if you’re in heels or a woman walking alone, forget it. Although I haven’t heard reports of attacks, walking through dark, abandoned streets in 2, 3 or 4-inch heels makes me want to find one place and park it for the night.

The Arts District (aka Roosevelt Row)
Excuse places like Made and Conspire, who are often open during the day, but most galleries are open only nights, maybe weekends and always during First Friday. In fact, unless you come down here for that once-a-month event, you won’t see many people walking around at all, regardless of temperature. How a place like Revolver Records stays in business, have no idea.

It’s unfair to declare something a district when it doesn’t exist most of the time. Just like businesses can’t be listed on freeway signs unless they’re open a certain amount of hours, most of the really cool stuff happening in downtown Phoenix aren’t fixtures, they’re temporary (which doesn’t make them less awesome).

Do you know where downtown starts? Does it start at Camelback? Roosevelt? McKinley? How wide is it? 7th Street to 7th Avenue? How far south? Only the evil Downtown Phoenix Partnership has bothered to make a distinction, and even that doesn’t include anything north of Fillmore, which leaves out the entire arts district that is Roosevelt Row.

Phoenix is HUGE. You could say that everything from Bethany Home to Grant Street and 7th Ave to 16th Street is considered downtown, but then you’d still have the I-10 cutting it in half. So where is downtown? Where you make it, apparently. I live at 3rd Avenue and Roosevelt, which isn’t part of the nefarious Downtown Phoenix Partnership, but two bikes and two bike seats were stolen from here, which seems like an urban/downtown crime, so I’m declaring my place downtown. Prove it isn’t.

Car-free (I added this one after I published the rest)
It’s true that if you have a job along the Light Rail or work from home, have plenty of free time to ride busses everywhere else, have no problem being a mooch and have figured out a way to carry groceries in 100+ degree heat, you can live car-free in downtown Phoenix.

I would LOVE to give up my ride. Most days it sits in the garage here at Roosevelt Place, but there isn’t a chance in hell I could live without it. What if I needed to get to Tempe in under an hour? What if I wanted to get to north Scottsdale, dressed up, in less than two? What if I wanted to buy more than a few bags of groceries? While there are a few people living without cars, I’d argue that most of them either aren’t living very well and probably have ready access to a car most days. My month-long experience in NYC showed me that it’s definitely possible to rely on public transportation to get around, but that’s in a place where the grocery stores aren’t a half-mile+ away in triple digit temps. Car-free just doesn’t work (yet).

Phoenix is known for (insert ANY word here)
When I think of Scottsdale, I think of middle class folks in south Scottsdale, old people in Old Town, douchebags and 30k millionaires at the clubs and rich people in the north. Tempe is ASU plus Mill Avenue and a stagnant pond. Chandler is a “historic” downtown, plus Gangplank and tech companies. Queen Creek is where everyone who normally couldn’t afford a nice house bought one. Glendale is a farm town that thinks it’s a city, plus a mall that looks awesome but is always empty and a football stadium that really deserves a better team (okay, quarterback).

Now tell me what Phoenix is. Hipsters? No, only in south CenPho and part of downtown south of the I-10. Scary poor families? Nope, that’s only south of the stadium. Minorities? Nope, that’s mostly north of Bethany Home. Rich people? Not anywhere else but around 24th Street and Camelback.

Phoenix really can’t be categorized and for the love of anything holy don’t tell me it’s a melting pot, because nothing mixes here. Step across 16th Avenue going west and you’re likely to get shot at. Go to Garfield district south of Roosevelt Street, east of 7th Street and you’ll be introduced to little Mexico (which is a fun place to run, walk and hang out, btw. Also, RANCH MARKET!).

What does it mean? Unlike double rainbows, it means jack shit. It means every marketer and developer and public relations lady and promoter needs to figure out descriptions that actually make sense. You can’t classify Phoenix; not everything can be put into a box.

Tyler HurstThe Inigo Montoya guide to poorly used Phoenix terms

9 Comments on “The Inigo Montoya guide to poorly used Phoenix terms”

  1. Steve Weiss

    Being as young as you are and not a native, you don’t seem to know there was a thriving downtown right up until the 1970’s. The punk scene flourished on the abandoned remains into the late 80’s, but basically much of what was downtown was swept out in the 1970’s. Downtown became a commerce center/banking/law firm offices only, a trend that still continues.

    Many of the buildings that could have created revitalization were torn down.

    I’m getting more and more comfortable with NOT finding a brand for Phoenix. Any attempt narrows a masala of cultures, imagineers and diversity. The Greater City of Phoenix? Neighborhoods are how you identify, be it barrio or historic neighborhoods, tract house uniformity or most recent,urban dwellers…St. Croix Villas condos are one great example of a totally insular yet embedded community. They are there, they are enjoying the fruits of homesteading before all others and they will be a strong voting block with a few isues to confront their lifestyle.

    Downtown Phoenix? Yes, D.P.P. created an imaginary demarcation, and then tentacled out as more stuff grew up. But they will never be able to understand The 5th Largest Small Town in the Nation, and why that is actually the best thing that could happen.

    1. tdhurst

      I wish we’d either accept that we really are a cool small town, or go gangbusters toward being a thriving metropolis.

      Problem is that now we seem to have the worst of both worlds.

      1. Steve Weiss

        Or the best. Different strokes. Some might find CityScape to be a move towards a better place, I find it a search for suburbia. I Fought The Law and the Law Won. In that case, better to think that if anything good comes from it, the short time that biz will survive there, at least it employs people.

          1. Steve Weiss

            Jackson Street fortunately will never become the Universal Studios CityWalk that the Jensen team wanted to make it, if in fact they actually planned to do anything more than drive up the prices. Now with it bankrupt the reset button has been pushed, and it’s entirely possible that wonderful area may just happen at a reasonable price. Being on Jackson during the World Series convinced me it could be the best street fair and fun place in PHX…but not as Jensen’s group proposed.

  2. Jose Gonzalez

    I understand being repulsed by the use of buzzwords, especially from corporate developers and the like, but I pretty much disagree with a lot of what you’ve written here.

    The idea that Downtown Phoenix has no history or was never bustling is a myth.

    First off, you can talk to Jeff Falk at Deus Ex Machina (Grand Ave & 11th Ave – in the La Melgosa building) about the history of Downtown Phoenix on an art scene level. He and his generation’s time in downtown stretches back into the early 90s/late 80s and I’m sure he can tell you a little bit about the generation that came before him.

    If I’m not mistaken, Yuri’s posted plenty of links that give info on Downtown Phoenix being more walkable and busy a long time ago. My godmother worked at the Woolworth’s in Park Central Mall when things were really buzzing there in the late 60s / early 70s.

    DPP’s take on downtown is limited by their self-interest. Of course, they don’t want to acknowledge that there was much of a downtown before they came on the scene.

    That’s all to say that there’s plenty of history in Downtown Phoenix. I was scrambling to come up with even more examples, but the John Talton link you posted (“Downtown Phoenix) even has this:

    “And don’t be taken in by the propaganda: Phoenix did have a vibrant downtown — it was killed by civic malpractice.” Which links to Talton’s detailed take on the downtown Phoenix’s history:

    As far as walkability: I’m definitely not a fan of all the empty lots (and that’s a huge issue), but you can absolutely make a night of being in downtown all on foot. That was pretty much my life every night from Summer 2007 to Summer 2009. Also, I would challenge you to have an awesome night in Chicago or New York and not walk at least 1.5 miles, a distance you’re claiming is a hinderance. I think it’s just a matter of perspective.

    All of that said, I do agree that the lighting is horrible down some streets in downtown. Sadly, I can say that I’ve had female friends attacked. Lack of lighting can legitimately damper walkability.

    In regards to some rundown houses in Roosevelt Row, I’m not sure why you would mention that “First Friday doesn’t care.” Are you talking about Artlink, the volunteer group who organizes First Friday as a gallery event? Or do you mean the random patrons of First Friday?

    Regarding the Arts District / Roosevelt Row: A lot of arts-related activity when it comes to Roosevelt Row (outside of the exceptions you made, to which I’d add the Firehouse) are limited to a few nights per month (Third Friday, in my opinion, is taking off nicely) or mostly weekends. That is an issue that’s a combination of establishments’ resources and, I’m sure, level of patronage and foot traffic.

    I’m not sure what your solution would be; Force downtown galleries, art spaces, and businesses to be required to be open beyond their means or needs? I mean, it would be awesome if more businesses were open all the time in downtown, but what’s to be done there?

    As far as being designated an arts distract, the area you’re talking about has the most concentrated art-related activity going on, even if the establishments aren’t open the hours that we might like them to be open. What other areas of the city might you designate being an art district?

    Re: Downtown and what’s considered downtown: I mostly agree. There is a lot of confusion as to what is considered downtown in Phoenix. A lot of that stems from an actual plan (and I wish I had the link to a great article I read about it) the city had to have downtown extend north to Camelback between 7th Avenue and & 7th Street. That’s probably why people valley-wide still refer to parts of the city that are north of McDowell or between I-17 and the 51 as downtown.

    Re: Car-free – It can definitely be done. When I was doing it, it was super-helpful to have a sweet-ass bike. Cindi Farmer (@cindifarmer) had a great presentation last night about going car-less and how she used the amount of time that you have to wait around for buses and for the sheer amount of time it took once she was already boarded her advantage. It’s definitely not for people who aren’t creative and, to a certain degree, organized.

    The working class families that I encounter and that don’t have regular access to a car seem to cab a few times per month for big grocery store hauls.

    Anyway, I would definitely encourage people to go car-free even for a limited amount of time because of the learning opportunities and adventure, but having a good chunk of the population be voluntarily car-free is more of a far off goal right now than a reality. (Which I think you also acknowledge.)

    Re: Phoenix is known for __________

    I agree that Phoenix can’t be summed up easily (just like your description of other cities mostly can’t be summed up in one swipe) and marketing or PR folks that try are probably leaning toward hype or oversimplification.

    As a sidenote, I love Gangplank and I dig how things are coming together in the area, but I really don’t think Chandler is known for its historic downtown. I’m pretty sure that most folks still think of the ostrich festival and subdivisions first.

    1. tdhurst

      Didn’t I write “historic” downtown Chandler? I meant it sarcastically, if that wasn’t conveyed properly.

      And you’re right about distance, too. That was an error on my part. My issue with the walkability is that there is so much unused or closed space between everything that’s cool, making walking across downtown less of a journey of discovery and more of a trek from place to place. Using distance alone was a poor choice, I should have compared it to the distance BETWEEN places you can stop to eat, shop, drink or hang out.

      Force art districts to stay open? Nope, but you just don’t call it an art district. Like First Friday only existing on that actual day, the art district is a defined spot (my Light Rail station declares it), but seeing as how most days I can’t enjoy what those places have to offer, it shouldn’t be called anything.

      Yes, car free is definitely a goal, but like you said, it’s not practical for most people. A LOT has to come together for that to work. I ride my bike as often as possible (well, before the seat was stolen from it while locked up in my “secure” garage), but there’s not a chance I could go more than a week without my car here.

  3. Yuri Artibise

    I suggest you read Vanishing Phoenix to see all of the vitality that downtown has lost. We onces had a vibrant, bustling WALKABLE downtown core, complete with privately operated transit and street car lines and with grand theaters, clubs, hotels, offices, supermarkets and restaurants open until 11pm 7 days a week.

    Jose covers most of what else I had to say…

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