All the boosters' stories and all the boosters' flacks can't get our mythical bird out of the ashes. Five years after the biggest collapse since the Hohokam unpleasantness, Phoenix still has the character of a fallen souffle. Perhaps that's for the best without a better plan, because the worst thing that could happen is a return to mass sprawl building. The most striking feature — and tell me if I'm missing something — is the lack of anything big happening. I don't mean nonsense such as "Buckeye will have 400,000 people!" I mean nothing is seriously moving ahead to follow on the genuine pre-crash achievements: ASU Downtown, light rail (WBIYB), the expanded and attractive convention center, the beginnings of the downtown biosciences campus and, disappointing though it is, CityScape.
Instead, Mayor Stanton is off on a misguided quest to "save" the state's defense jobs. Mesa at least is running light-rail 3 miles into downtown, but otherwise real advancement on LRT, much less commuter or intercity rail, is so slow as to be meaningless. The Gaylord "resort" collapsed in exurban Mesa — good. Glendale is in hock forever to save the Coyotes hockey team/development-con-gone-bad — good (never thought I'd find myself on the same side as the "Goldwater" Institute). Scottsdale is still rich (except for those long stretches of empty car lots on McDowell) — but who cares? The west side is getting its far loop freeway — bad news. Is this it, other than to hope for another real-estate boom?
Progress faces substantial challenges, some new, some old. The congressional delegation, Ed Pastor excepted, won't do a damned thing to bring home federal money to build a quality economy. The Legislature is anti-city, anti-science, anti-education and opposed to any real economic development besides the "What is that Smell?" state Commerce Authority. Suburbs keep cannibalizing business from the city and each other. There's no focus on the biosciences campus, the one real area of promise, and the big hospitals are happy to torpedo it. The new "takings" law puts further handcuffs on urban solutions. The city lacks a serious economic-development strategy for the city. Government revenues were vaporized. And there's the weight of so much empty land, so much inefficient sprawl, a huge underclass, the massive catch-up necessary but impossible to fund. Kook politics has cost the state dearly.