A few quick observations on the $30 million Barry and Peggy Goldwater Library and Archives to be built in downtown Mesa. For the city of Phoenix, it is embarrassing, ahisorical, wounding and revealing.
Embarrassing because, according to the Arizona Republic, the library trustees wanted to put the institution in downtown Phoenix and city officials dropped the ball.
Ahistorical because Barry Goldwater was born in central Phoenix, attended Kenilworth School (as did I), managed his family department store downtown and was a Phoenix City Councilman who, among other things, backed construction of the Civic Center that is still home of the Phoenix Art Museum and Phoenix Theater.
Revealing. The story states, "Still, Stanton doesn't believe the city 'lost' the project to Mesa, calling that 'the old way of thinking' and saying he wants all Valley cities to prosper. 'I take my role as regional leader very seriously,' he said. 'They decided that Mesa's their better site, and I honor and respect that. But make no mistake: Downtown Phoenix is alive and well and growing and expanding.' "
Wow. Just wow.
To be fair, Stanton is playing a weak hand, with a hostile Legislature, two Krackpots on Council and lack of capital to do anything big. He may hope to build a coalition of mayors of the state's largest cities to offset the Legislature. This is well and good as far as it goes. One problem is that the Constitution vests insurmountable power in the hands of the Legislature, as well as the initiative process which always tilts rightward. Second, the cities do not share a common urban agenda besides wider roads and freeways, which are death to quality urbanism.
I can assure Hizzoner that the suburbs of Phoenix and their jealous satraps do not regard him Regional Leader or even a regional leader — unless it means Phoenix as the wounded giant to be picked clean of economic and cultural prizes while left to hold the working poor and run the airport.
It is naive in the extreme to believe otherwise. The metropolitan economy is too weak. Opportunities for growth are too few. The leasing and speculation boyz are totally focused outside of central Phoenix. White-right apartheid is a strong force. Scottsdale sucks enormous amounts of wealth and capital. Phoenix is in the fight of its life and can't cruise along as if it's 1960 (that's the real old way of thinking). This is not to say there can't be common ground on some issues, and, sure, Phoenix should at least pretend to play regionally. But to really engage in the regional game as its played now is death to the central core, and eventually the city itself. The library fiasco shows me Phoenix is not thinking and acting competitively, especially as a city rather than a sprawled out mess of subdivisions.
Mesa actually is a big city; it just hasn't acted as one. Under Mayor Scott Smith, it is beginning to do so. It faces tremendous obstaces, not least a conservative Anglo population that is anti-urban to its bones. But the alacrity and skill that Mesa sewed up this deal, along with its embrace of light-rail, shows it has new energy and ambitions. It can be a partner. But it is also a competitor. If Phoenix City Hall doesn't get this, it can expect to receive more harsh lessons.