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March 14, 2008


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Jon, Diversity is the key to a healthy ecosystem in nature, and the same is true of urban development. But Phoenix is succeeding at homogenizing everything, even the hullabalooed New Downtown, which has replaced countless historic homes with boxy artificial shells. Walk among them, as I often do, and what do you see (and feel)? Monotonous concrete walls, steel, and glass - few people spots, no window shopping, little street life, and nothing distinctive. It's like walking through a cement canal, few of Ray Oldenberg's "great good places." We seem to be good at building places for cars, whether moving or parked, but not so talented at creating people places. A few districts are hanging on, but one wonders how long it'll be before they're torn down for another Applebee's. And don't even get me going on our parks, which are about as natural and organic as Tang. Your voice is missed here.

Years ago, as I was finishing grad school at ASU, I worked at an urban cocktail lounge in the old Valley Bank Building in downtown Phoenix. Befitting it's location on the ground floor of a bank it was called The Prime Interest Bar and it really rocked, with downtown office workers, execs, locals who actually came from the 'burbs to do business in central Phoenix, etc. This was in the late '70s.

On recent trips back to Phoenix I take my wife on drives and walks through downtown and the question I keep asking myself is, "Where are the people and where is the energy?" "Back in the day" Phoenix seemed like an up and coming urban area with a central district that really buzzed. Nowadays it's certainly more polished but it has a hollow, empty feeling that makes one feel that it's all for show.

I was a teenager in 1948 when I arrived in Phx. Father had a downtown business. The old rails were being removed from streetcars. Downtown was thriving; very little suburbia. Nowadays rails are going in again, but downtown is a dud. No one walks; it's like a ghost downtown. Very sad. All the activity is in the suburbs.

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