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July 25, 2008


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I agree. I won't happen here.

Part of the problem is that the dominant paradigm really is dominant. It's not just a matter of people being passive or ignorant. Each time you build a single-family house on the periphery of a metroplex, you further cement into place Arizona's basic reality. It's autocentric, horizontal, dispersed and too late.

As with global warming, I wonder whether there's anything we can do to move opinion pro-actively. Short of a containable and instructive catastrophe, there probably isn't. Arizona made its choice in terms of sustainability by taking the cheap-growth route. The gravitational pull it exerts is so overwhelming that it effectively precludes real competition. No new paradigms allowed.

The name Talton is a litmus test for how we think about Arizona and the future. As a Taltonian, I know what a small minority we constitute. I would post Talton columns on an urbanist web site expecting, at least, some commiseration. Even there, Arizona few urbanists exhibited surprising hostility. "He's too negative" or "he's always saying the same thing". They would then cite something from Bob Robb to make the point that Arizona is really rocking.

Arizona will never be Oregon, and if were too somehow miraculously change our hearts and minds, the damage that's already been done is too great. I've made my peace with this state. I know it's going down. Maybe I'll be a witness. Maybe I'll be a casualty. Or maybe I'll get out in time. Like Talton.

Hi Jon,

I am one of those loyal readers from your Arizona Republic days and I’ve greatly enjoyed your postings on Rogue Columnist. Your editorials generally resonate with me, but your past two posts in particular struck me.

First, I must tell that I spent the mid-90s through early 00s in and around Portland, OR. My relocation to Arizona was driven primarily by economics, namely the availability of a job opportunity that interested me when one didn’t seem to exist in Oregon.

When you lay out your solutions for Phoenix and Arizona in the July 25 post, I see your points about how the Phoenix metro area should grow are directly out of the Portland urban planning guide. I absolutely love Portland and Oregon. While living there, I even chose to live downtown for a couple years and take light rail to a suburban job. It was a fantastic transportation alternative to sitting in freeway traffic twice a day as I now do in Arizona.

However, I don’t see light rail being successful in Arizona when it opens later this year and its failure, I believe, will set back efforts made to expand it. This is because of the other item that we all know Phoenix feeds on – sprawl. I don’t believe Portland’s transit plans would have worked unless they also had the urban growth boundary. This also ties into your July 23 post. When doing “light rail, you’ve got to be perfect”. I’ve driven along Phoenix’s rail route along Tempe and Phoenix. There’s nothing there beyond ASU. No building construction, no condos, no higher density single-family housing starts, and no walkable shopping. Who is going to use this train? To me, the people who approved building this set it up to fail. When Portland was building is Westside light rail, there were numerous projects ongoing to coincide with the rail’s opening. With the exception of one notable failure in Beaverton (“The Round”), there were numerous high density single-family houses, apartments, condos, and shops ready to go on day one. Many more have opened in the years since. Living near and walking to and from the train stations immediately became a viable option. Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa seem to have no such projects and given the credit crisis and housing collapse, it is hard to see any projects starting soon.

So, perhaps I fall into the “suicidal depression” category that sees Arizona’s future as “hopeless”. But in my opinion, unless Arizona gets serious about stopping sprawl into Buckeye and Pinal County, any amount of rail or bus projects is going to get little use. Perhaps $4 gas will encourage the next round of building by the real estate industrial complex to focus on in-fill, but I doubt it. That construction won’t turn quick and easy profits. And there are existing neighbors that show up at the planning meetings to complain in NIMBY style. Arizonans (like many Americans) are slow to connect the dots.

I like a lot of your suggestions, however, you need to keep a few things in mind. First, people moving to Phoenix creates a work force that companies are looking for. Lower taxes and people willing to work keeps companies coming to Phoenix and keeps our economy up. Raising taxes and adding tones of laws onto home developers forces the construction industry to lay off workers. More simply put, real estate taxes, higher gas taxes, regulations on industry, etc. lessons job availability, hurts our economy, and ultimatly hurts the state. Look at California, highest taxes on gas, sales tax, and corporate taxes in the country and they are losing employers left and right. That will hurt them far worse in the long run.

I remember the real estate recession of the 80s. All these same issues came up, and all these same solutions. But then the market turned around, and everybody forgot.I'd like to take issue with the poster above: I am in California now for the summer, and you would be surprised how vibrant the economy is in northern California, where it's population dense and the schools are good.

I’m more of a bipolar Phoenician. Some days, I feel like eventual collapse is certain. Other days, I see signs of progress and feel hopeful. I share your views that smart growth management is perhaps the most critical. Public policies definitely need to be changed. Zoning needs to be retooled to make it easier to build high quality density in infill areas. Right now, it’s actually easier to build sprawl, from a regulatory perspective. While Phoenix moves at a sloths pace, there are signs that they at least recognize this problem and are actually trying to address it. Incorporating LEED ND into the zoning ordinance would be a huge step in the right direction.

Like other governments, we have a huge problem with lobbyists (mostly the Home Building Assoc. of AZ) having way too much power. Massive, lasting subsidies are given to sprawl. I see killing these subsidies as the battle for Phoenix that’s winnable. Purging the Kookocracy of the hardcore rightwingers is not winnable, the districts are just drawn that way. We’ve got to work with what we have. Sadly, Napolitano hasn’t been up to the task here. She has been an absolutely horrendous on the issue of growth management. Absolutely terrible.

Prop 207 killed any possible way to implement a growth boundary. Re-regulating water resources as a tool for urban planning is a way to achieve the same thing however.

Gas prices will devalue a huge chunk of Phoenix. They may send us into a tail spin that is unrecoverable. If we are lucky enough to land some major, high quality employers, and build enough rail, before $10 gas, we may be able to make it through. FDI is probably our only hope here. A Marshall plan for solar could also help. The corporation commission should set a goal to halve electricity rates in AZ by 2025 through a massive expansion in solar energy. That would surely attract a few foreign investors.

A big mistake has been to bet the farm on business tourism to revitalize downtown. The airlines are 3 quarters away from collapse if current oil prices stay the trend. That may transform our $500 million massive earth-toned IKEA store into a very expensive homeless shelter.

As for education. The Feds are going to have to put the smack down for anything to change. We regard learning about as important as clean air in Phoenix.

I disagree with Gabriel. I think light rail will be a huge success. It was well planned for the most part. The chicken vs. egg is always a conundrum in urban planning. Some will say there isn’t the density for a transit corridor. Some say there isn’t transit to justify the density. My feeling is that density will follow the transit. There is already some evidence for that downtown. Gas prices can only help here.

We’ll learn the real resilience of the AZ economy as the real estate industry implodes. Will we be able to reinvent ourselves in time, or will we go the way of Detroit/Cleveland? The next 24 months will be interesting times.

Thank you for this blog Mr. Talton.

How many times, Jon, did we talk--and write--about most or all of the above. I am no more sanguine about Phoenix's chances for finding the leadership and political will to become a city of distinction than when we last chatted.

I am glad to hear that Mary Jo Waits is still working on solutions. She has always been out front with new ideas and thoughts on how to implement them.


I think Gabriel Prado needs to spend some time in California before making assertions that higher taxes are causing companies to move out. Actually the higher taxes provide a higher quality of education which provides a higher quality workforce which leads to smarter, more successful companies. Here in the Bay Area, the economy is going full-blast and new companies are sprouting up weekly.

If Mr. Prado can name ONE company that has left California for the lower taxation environment of Arizona, I would invite him to do so. I'm speaking of course of companies that Jon would agree are the cornerstone of any economy of the future and those are companies with intellectual property, rather than patio furniture manufacturers.

I too am a native Phoenician. Matter of fact, I grew up near you, went to Emerson, and North High. I remember back when Glendale was the edge of town, when climbing SQUAW PEAK was an awesome adventure, and sneaking into the FOX theater to watch the latest 007 movie made for a great summer day.

I left Phx in 1989 when the economy flatlined, and returned in 93 when it started recovering. On my return, I realized what a low-life magnet the town was - primarily due to a visual shift from living in the North bay. I worked with Civil Engineers who designed alot of the new subdivisions - and would point out how their 45' lot sizes were simply 10 years from becoming slums as no-one would choose to spend their lives stuck in crap like that. Unfortunately, their hands were tied by the developers; higher density = more $ per acre. FU very much.
In 2005, opportunity to leave Phx for Northern Colorado presented itself and I took it.
Now, I miss my friends, restaurants, knowledge of every downtown street, and such, and believe it or not, I miss the spirit of the people of Phx. They were damn happy to be living in "paradise". Unlike the bitter spirit of the majority of the Colo-losers.

You write of the mistakes made by those in power, of the happy-jack attitude of the AZ Rep. and so on, but you have to remember that the majority of the population of Phx is content with living in a dust bowl as long as they have their pools and cold beer.

Yes, the build out of communities and the abuse of cheap land has lead to a nightmare of problems based solely on new development drying up. It was a huge amount of what stoked the fire and without, the entire metro area is screwed.

Another issue I had/have with Phx was the terrible crime rates. I have never lived anywhere else where I was victimized by it as many times as living in Phx, actually I have had a crime committed against me ANYWHERE but in good ol' metro Phx.

With the amount of law enforcement, sheriff blowsHisHorn-Joe and such, one would think that crime is under control. Bullshit!

One more note before I signoff
I've noticed bumper stickers lately with the date of the 1/20/09 (or whatever it is) and "Bush's last day"
There's a freaking count down to the end of this jackoff-stupid-sonofabitch's (and his scariestMoFo I have ever seen) sidekick - time in office.
WOW. The sooner the better.

That's all for now.

Mr. Talton, you are missed. After 27 years in Phoenix, I've started looking for work elsewhere. Any quality of life here has vanished and there is no political will to do the hard stuff.

A year late to the party, but hey busy doing instead of talking....


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