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.