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June 30, 2011


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Some people might wonder what the great Randian utopia will look like. Usually it's a Pacific Rim city like Hong Kong or Singapore which mix authoritarianism with high-octane capitalism. This model, however, necessarily overlooks their status as port city-states, which means an artificial relationship to the surrounding environment. For most of the world, these cities are a unique and unrepeatable blend of political circumstances and geographic advantages. We who live in a grubby and ordinary world simply don't have the luxury of letting the Randian superstars decide everything since our titans tend to be college sophomores with more theory than practice in their portfolios.

Phoenix is, nonetheless, a claimant to the prize called free-market paradise. We're busy disinvesting in anything other than private wealth and its baubles. Soon, we're told, the fairies and pixies shall cast their spells and weave a golden bodysack for all those brave enough to bungee-cord jump off the bridge to the future.

There are no 114-story buildings, no air-conditioned domed cities, and no neon-clad saguaro totems atop Camelback Mountain that can swizzle this martini made from flood irrigation and cheap gas. We staked our future on a bad bet, and that future is now eyeball to eyeball with a brick wall.

I'm not sure how the final chapters will be written, but I suspect we'll lurch from one real-estate scam to another believe-and-make-it-so hustle before it all finally dries up and withers away in a much-warmer world. I have seen the future and it sizzles.

Though big investments are important manifestations of our civilization, far more than being ambitious about building large one has to be ambitious about being competent, efficient and preserving resources. Work smart not hard.

It's easy to build daring new things when a nation is on an seemingly never-ending upward arch. When it has plateaued or if it's on a downward swing, an elixir of big projects serves mainly as a false hope (aside from stimulus aspects). The false hope of a middle-aged guy in a midlife crisis who just has to get a sportscar, or the false hope of the Easter Islanders who built more and more Moai statues.

It's no use bemoaning the lack of ambition when it comes to large physical projects. Most are boondoggles, even transit projects(*). The projects with the right intentions are mostly not well executed - they cost too much and consequently prevent other projects from happening. The future will be about supplementing and improving the infrastructure we have. Reforming regulation and organization should come first. Better yet when that kind of ambition were to be satisfied by competent government.

Case in point, the Seattle deep bore tunnel is a bullshit project. It doesn't relieve congestion, it probably will increase it. It costs too much (per mile), cost escalation risks not counted. They ought to be enormous since they're boring the biggest diameter tunnel ever attempted in the world in downtown Seattle, on the waterfront, in watery geology. All this for a view. Or, as they say in Seattle, to be "happy to be finally moving on". The feeling of achieving a clearance, a coup, will not last long when having one's back to the wall is -through one's own fault- a permanent condition.

Nostalgia, futurism, denial, and withdrawal are mental safehouses for the crisis-ridden populace. In keeping with Kunstler's "Hope through Competence" theme: taking a cold bath in reality and acting accordingly is the only way to preserve a hopeful future. It'd indicate a mature nation.

(*) For an overview of how those things work or not:

There may be a valid way to quantify this, because I get the feeling that a growing percentage of the Valley's population is seasonal to one degree or another. We all know about the snowbirds who own or rent and spend less than 6 months here. Then there are those who have the flexibility to spend big chunks of the summer in cooler places. Taken together, I'm hearing that the seasonal exodus drops the census by something like 40%. And this goes well beyond the Big Dogs who typically desert as soon as the social season ends.

If true, it may help explain the lackadasical attitude toward issues of major strategic importance . . . at least among those who are in a position to make a difference.

What's often under-appreciated is that the summers are uglier and longer and the Bad Ozone is a growing menace. Jon and others may see the degradation from a higher altitude. For me, it is yet a reminder that we're heading in the wrong direction.

The deep bore tunnel in Seattle is not that region's only boondoggle. The entire Seattle area, despite a much better (not great) downtown compare to Phoenix, is unsustainable and their geology is very much a part of the problem.

Likewise, Phoenix is an unsustainable mess not because of geology but because of sprawl. Neither problem comes with easy solutions and nature will ultimately decide our futures in these regions.

Jon it seems you've become too comfortable in your Seattle home: For you transportation isn't an issue but for 99% of those in metro Seattle who reside outside of downtown, it will be.

Some ambition does exist in Phoenix; in previous threads, we've discussed certain aspects of Phoenix that define the city and the course it is headed. Mentioned were important corners like 7th Ave and McDowell and (a favorite) the bio-med campus. Interestingly, the building on the S.E. corner of 7th and McDowell is now undergoing full renovations.

For the bio-med campus, a future hospital in partnership with UofA, Maricopa Integrated Health System, and District Medical Group:

Solar in the nation's sunniest state? Consistent, clean power that consumes little water and matches well the state's times of peak power consumption; not to mention the shade it could provide. Seems logical, no?

It won't happen in the state where is located the nation's largest nuclear power plant, a fleet of coal-fired plants hidden over the horizon, and a slew of new gas-fired plants.

Corrosively, Arizona chose to manipulate the economics of energy: defeating the value of independent investments in energy conservation and solar energy, in order to sell more power to a captive market.

Investments in large photovoltaic solar farms serve to lower the costs of solar for rooftops. In a state where an investment in rooftop solar has outperformed traditional investment vehicles for more than a decade, these large farms would soon become export industries competing against the traditional power sources.

With the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station having been given a 20-year extension of its operating license only a few weeks after they began to flood Fukushima with literally an ocean of water, there is little hope that Arizona will become an exporter of anything more than nuclear waste. Recall that more than half of the PVNGS is owned by out-of-state power companies.

While the profits accumulate for the 'private' owners of nuclear power plants, the risks are pushed onto the public sector via the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnity Act. Who will pay the costs of managing the nuclear wastes collecting a few miles upwind of Phoenix?

"The entire Seattle area [...] is unsustainable and their geology is very much a part of the problem." - PhxSUNSfan

PhxSUNSfan, I lived in one of Seattle's outlying communities for a few years after having lived in the the Phoenix area for more than fifteen years. Seattle has a rich cushion into which to relax and deeply breathe its fresh air and drink its cool, abundant water during our global descent. Meanwhile, Phoenix has little more than a hot, dry rock sandwiched between poisoned wells and a thick, brown cloud.

May 4 million Arizona folks move to Seattle, Soon! Arizona would make a fine National Park.
For those of you living the Return to the "Golden Ages", I recommend Woody Allens latest movie, "Paris at Midnight"

Rate Crimes, Seattle actually has a WORSE ozone pollution problem than Phoenix; it receives an F and Phoenix receives a B. Now the roles are reversed for dust particulate pollution where Phoenix receives a D and Seattle an F. There may be more "fresh" air in the far flung suburbs in Seattle but that is true in Phoenix; ask morecleanair where he lives and why...Seattle does have a "cushion" of soft soil that will be compromised due to liquefaction. Not a pretty picture.

Also, aren't there plans for at least three large solar plants in Arizona; with one calling for a 3,000ft high turbine tower. I believe Abengoa will be building one of them.

First Solar will be building three huge solar plants in California. Those investments will enrich the headquarters here in Tempe and will lead to more developments for Arizona.

I agree.

"Now the roles are reversed for dust particulate pollution where Phoenix receives a D and Seattle an F."

Last part should read; "Seattle a B." From the PI: Study: Seattle area among country's dirtiest for pollution

I lived in the Seattle area for many years, went to school in the Sound region, and understand the problems the region faces. I also was around when great transportation projects were killed due to local government infighting and incompetence.

PSF: consider this from Stacey Mortenson, Exec. Dir. of the American Lung Assn. in AZ, dated June 20

"Recently, in the American Lung Association of Arizona’s State of the Air report, Gila, Maricopa, Pinal and Yuma counties all received an “F” for ozone pollution."

As for me, the bad air has forced me to spend more and more time away from the Valley. Moved to the periphery 8 years ago to escape the Brown Cloud but couldn't outrun the Bad Ozone.

Morecleanair, I just looked up the new stats for 2011( )

You are correct; interestingly, metro Seattle has the country's 18th dirtiest air quality while metro Phoenix ranks 24th...sad for both regions! In Seattle the marine layer and gray scale of the environment tends to hide the haze of smog over the region and especially over Rainier Valley, Columbia City, and downtown.

Soleri: The ideal Randian paradise is Somalia. Singapore and Hong Kong's strengths are based on strong public infrastructure investments that would be anathema to Arizona.

pSf: Seattle's danger is a mega-quake, not man-made calamities. Phoenix lacks the ambition to create world-class clusters in software, biotech, world medicine, aerospace, etc. It lacks the "we" civic culture. Air quality? Give me a break. Seattle has the cleanest air of any city I've ever lived in and a highly patronized transit system

Jon, the American Lung Association would strongly disagree with you. Sometimes I sense a little bit of unsupported Seattle cheer leading from some Rogue posters. AND many of the problems with stability in the region ARE manmade; including buildings and structures that are not strong enough or built to withstand even moderate quakes. Liquefaction and settling occur even without "mega quakes."

OK, Seattle sucks, and San Diego, and Denver, and Chicago. Now let's get back to Phoenix's problems. Or does it even have any? Are there any best practices that can be learned? Any? The latent message I am hearing is the kind of denial and subject-changing that you would condemn if you heard it from the Real Estate Industrial Complex. Where is Phoenix's ambition and means to play in the bigs? The biomedical campus is years behind where it should be. Otherwise, all I hear coming out of "the Valley" is crap out in the 'burbs. Nothing to sustain a metro of this size or make it competitive. Nothing to move it up in the metrics that matter.

'Scuse me for repeating myself, but I still wonder how much the now-ingrained summer (mass?) exodus contributes to a lack of commitment that may sort of neuter too many folks who might otherwise qualify as decision-makers. Wonder if there's another major market that spouts a seasonal population leak to the degree we do? Yes, I remember that the Biltmore and other watering spots used to close for the summer; however the 25-30 year influx of jillions of transplanted Midwesterners appears to have brought a concomitant rise in the number of "seasonals" with prime allegiance back in Rockford. Jon has often commented on this and I believe it constitutes a major factor in our forward thinking malaise.

Morecleanair is correct. In addition, the people with the greatest resources and potential for influence to help things get better 1) Are part of this cohort and don't really consider Phoenix "home"; 2) Live outside the central city and have no commitment to downtown; 3) Tend to give their money to "home," e.g. Minneapolis and 4) Like the right-wing anti-tax, no civic commitment needed pathological culture.

Morecleanair, I think the exodus has something to do with the inertia of progress in Phoenix, but I doubt 40% of the population leaves. I think the problem is more on a subconscious level; people's minds are stuck back in Rockford, Milwaukee, etc while their jobs and physical bodies have them rooted in Phoenix. Until those people realize that they should pay attention to matters here, in their new home, it will remain a challenge to get people involved.

I for one believe that people who leave their "homes" for a job, better livelihood, better weather, etc should contribute to their new community because it has given them something that lacked back home. Fine, remain a Cubs, Reds, or Brewers fan but become a part of this community; starting with schools, infrastructure, etc.

Jon Seattle doesn't suck it just isn't utopia and is not the best example of planning and city building. Most West Coast cities are not and we should pay attention to real dense cities on the East Coast.

The only real investments, aside from First Solar's stupid decision to build in East Mesa, are in downtown Phoenix. In fact there is a huge problem on the horizon in downtown if more office space is not built. The problem facing Phoenix (outside of downtown) is how to change the thinking of suburbanites and suburban minded planning "authorities" like MAG. Those agencies are still planning for 1 million residents in Buckeye and San Tan by laying out freeway routes past the White Tanks and around AJ. This conflicts with the great commuter rail system they have planned and mapped out. If only they could stop building and planning for the exurbs maybe something can be done sooner that will have a significant impact on the region.

I wish you were a billionaire, pSf; you would do the right thing. I will add, with respect, that you are letting your usual Seattle crankiness show. I didn't say it was utopia. I used it as an example of city ambition with the 50-year mark of the Needle as the news hook. I wish Phoenix could learn from Paris. But precisely because of its nature, it is probably best served by at least learning some best practices of Western cities, which face some of the same issues.

PSF: I mis-spoke. The 40% estimate came from last year's water and sewer figures in certain communities with many seasonals. We'd most likely see similar declines in mid to upscale eateries. I certainly agree with your comment that people's minds (and value systems) are probably rooted "back home", which has often been the case. My point is that there are now considerably more of them who are free to spend a good part of the summer elsewhere, contributing to the feeling of disociation.

Many of Phoenix' issues are also a national problems. City planning would be greatly helped if the federal government limited funds for highways to "maintenance only" projects. No new urban/metro freeways should be funded. Instead any new transportation project requiring federal and local dollars should be for mass transit. The gas tax should be raised to reflect the environmental cost, employers should encourage commuting by subsidizing transit passes and in turn, given tax breaks according to the use of those passes, businesses should be encouraged to locate and remain in central cities - requiring them to pay for infrastructure if they choose a suburban location...

cleanair, the only way to "battle" that reality is to continue building in downtown Phoenix and Tempe. With the next mayoral election in Phoenix, that can set the stage for continued success in attracted employers. Stanton seems to be a very downtown-centric candidate; he is passionate about the city. If Phoenix voters elect him I believe it will be a huge step in the right direction.

Basically, the urban areas of the metro must continue building community and only then will more "real" residents take root. That is the only way to overcome the influence (or lack thereof) of "dissociated seasonals". BTW, for some reason I like that term much more than Snow-Bird.

It's odd that the best thing we can say about Phoenix is that in some rather limited categories other places are worse. Seattle, a city with world-class gravitas, does have geological issues. But even if the worst happens, it can and will rebuild. Phoenix, on the other hand, is busy letting itself fall apart because it's waiting for the next boom to validate the cure-all tonic of low taxes. PSF's cheerleading aside, this is madness. There is no strategy behind lowering taxes and starving infrastructure other than wishful thinking gussied up as right-wing ideology. PSF, there is no possibility Phoenix can reinvent itself outside a wholesale reappraisal of this strategy. There isn't a brain trust or a stewardship class leading on this, so you're stuck with libertarian fairies and ideologues. Good luck.

Jon, Somalia would describe the end result of this ideology. Here's a cute reminder about that:

Hard-core Randians know this so they shift the terms of the debate such that "rational self-interest" becomes a fig leaf for oligarchy. Singapore and Hong Kong are hardly libertarian but insofar as they mete out harsh punishments, stifle free speech, reduce transfer payments to the poor, and exacerbate income inequality, they're an ideological improvement on the social democracy paradigm of most advanced nations. These "Randian utopias" can do this because of their special status not as nations but city-states with ethnic hierarchies and authoritarian governance. This is what libertarianism looks like in the real world as opposed to the Cato Institute's abstractions.

"But precisely because of its nature, it is probably best served by at least learning some best practices of Western cities, which face some of the same issues." - Rogue

Yes, my Seattle crankiness gets the best of me. I remember in high school one of my passions was urban planning. I completed a project with other classmates regarding Seattle's magnificent future which would compete directly with Manhattan's profile and scale. We laid the course for the expansion of the monorail (or other elevated mass transit system), eliminated parking garages, filled in the Denny Triangle, built towers with anchored/seismic buffered stone facades, etc. Alas, more parking was built downtown, freeways expanded, no new transit was built besides BRT, and the Seattle suburbs continue their march into the Cascades (at least they stopped killing the bears that wonder into people's yards).

To me, I consider many West Coast cities (including Phoenix) much too auto-centric; L.A. is the West's poster child despite its density.

Why does all this sound to me like you all want more, more, more. How about less, less, less.
It was obvious 50 years ago this was where it was all headed,
per Soleri "These "Randian utopias" can do this because of their special status not as nations but city-states with ethnic hierarchies and authoritarian governance.

Cal, in this sense more is less; more transit and less freeways means less sprawl and less incentive to build mega subdivisions on virgin soil. More employment density in central cities means less suburban office parks that are connected to more roads...

I venture to say that the rich transients feel the temporary nature of Phoenix's edifice deep in their bones. That's a function of the sunshine, the desert, and resort-like surroundings. If it feels too good to be true (the forever vacation) then it probably is. They may not admit this consciously but actions don't lie. Those actions are stimulated by occasional sightings of the ugly precariousness of AZ.

Jon is right that ambitions have to be much higher because back then good enough was good enough. The stakes are much higher now and reality is less forgiving of mistakes. Nowadays, very good or excellent is good enough.

George Packer once relayed a quote by his colleague Dexter Filkins from when they were watching a fat American contractor in Baghdad's green zone: "We are just not that good anymore!"

ps (Randian utopias): The more rational people think they are, the more irrationally they act. Ayn Rand herself 'seduced' one of her acolytes (married to another one) into having an affair with her on the grounds of "This is rational! You don't think I could ever do something irrational, do you?" The wife, on the other hand, wished for Rand's romantic longings to be fulfilled by someone else, a shocking case of altruism she had to admit.
The crazy fills the void left by the empathetic. What place does that remind me of?

The problem with Morecleanair's opinion, is not just that it is correct in the present, but that it also presages the rentier future of America.

Snow birds aren't quite rentiers in the formal definition, but they might just as well be. For just as nobody waxes a rented car, and nobody upgrades a rented home, so too, nobody gives a damn about a city they live in as temps...

Here is the deeper truth: Bush's so-called ownership society, always a scam, found the rocks when the housing bubble burst and the stock market followed that rotting carcass up onto the sharp reef...

When happened next is what always happens next:

The rich got even richer.
Americans either got foreclosed or hair cuts...
Investors swooped in turning homes into rentals.

We are fast becoming a rentier nation. And again: Just as nobody waxes a rented car, updates a rented home, or gives a hang about a rented neighborhood, so too nobody cares much about a rented city that rents back it's own Capitol.

Morecleanair's deeper and meaner truth is this one:

The ownership society is now the rentier society. And this has a profound effect on human caring, kindness, and vision. The upshot is, nothing good can possibly come from a culture where nobody gives a republican fart for the future.....

PHXSUNFAN, I understand the theory
It just dont work

this should be your favorite website:

Nature will survive one way or the other, no problem.

Admittedly, my perspective of a region is that of a 7,000 miles-a-year bicyclist. In Arizona, we head for the canyons northeast of Mesa. Woe to those riding and sucking the Phoenix air into their lungs. For obvious reasons, we Seattle riders didn't ride downtown, but we did enjoy Mercer Island, the lake trails, and the eastern farming valleys, such as those around Woodinville.

Mercer Island is only a few miles from downtown Seattle. There is no place a few miles from downtown Phoenix that compares for riding, or air quality.

I would like to see the details of the ALA studies. I suspect that Arizona's air problems are far more regional whereas Seattle's are more localized.

Of course, I cheer the advances in solar in Arizona. That's what I was doing long before it was fashionable.

Sadly, the time for leadersihp in solar in Arizona was not 'last year', but two decades ago.

One could multiply the current number of solar projects by a hundred, and still not match the trajectory of a coherent initiative launched in even the late 90s.

Of course, that solar initiative would have had to overcome the economic manipulations of Arizona's uniquely repressive utility rate schedules.

Well said, koreyel.

It's becoming more and more difficult to squeeze one out for the Gipper.

Interesting perspective, AWinter.
Though, I thought it was because Ayn Rand was so incredibly, amazingly, irresistably HOT, HOT, HOT!

AWinter: thanks for

One last comment about a typical dialog with the seasonals and the transplants: I've reluctantly joined a mens' club where their standard opening question is often "where (are) you FROM?" When I say "HERE for the past 40 years!", they tend to look at me strangely while considering a follow up . . . like "betcha you've seen lotsa changes!?" Depending on how many pre-dinner Scotches, I may offer a cryptic answer but sometimes even tell the truth . . that most of the changes have been to the general detriment of our quality of life.

This usually brands me as a malcontent or still worse . . a tree-hugger and maybe even a Democrat! Whereupon I remind myself that this place is a slice of paradise to them, compared to their origins in the heartland or the frozen tundra. When it gets too hot (above 90) many are able to go "home" for six months, thus avoiding the ugly realities of oppressive heat and Bad Ozone.

To be fair, I've met many admirable public-spirited transplants who are dedicated volunteers and all-round good people. But, as noted earlier, there's little or no connection to (or comprehension of) the REAL Phoenix core and its opportunities because wherever they live tends to be an enclave pumped full of myopia inducing booster-juice. Bottom line: to me, the legal immigrants are an equal or greater concern than the illegal ones!

Mens Club? Try the company of Hispanic women, they have a much better understanding of the world.

Just returned from 10 days in Hawaii.
112 degrees. Smog you can cut with a knife.

Is this hell??

We participate in a blog about hell????

azreb, it's 70 in Seattle right now.

Cal I think my wife would object!

Welcome back to Hunter S. Thompson's vision of hell, azrebel.

I hope everyone has an enjoyable 4th of July!

Well, you know sometimes the best man for a woman is another woman. Hispanic works in this equation also, Just ask Frida.

The desert always wins

Seattle is a great place to be on July 4th. The weather, fireworks over the water, and the good vibes. I wish I were there.
Happy 4th of July!

If this discussion of ambition, vision and resolve were to continue, I'm curious as to Jon's assessment of how crippling our state legislature has been in, say, the last 10-15 years. As for me, I don't know what to expect from them other than a stream of far right and often bizarre laws.

I wrote years ago in the Republic that the Legislature is one of the biggest drags on the state, economically, socially and even in image. This predates the recent in-the-asylum sessions. And it really matters because constitutionally, the Legislature is the most powerful arm of government.

A few examples: Underfunding education, cutting university money, sabotaging light rail and the downtown biosciences campus, failing to adequately and in a sustained way make a commitment to funding research, measures against the poor that are not only immoral but a waste of human capital. All-day K was a huge fight, St. Janet's signature achievement to help economic mobility of the working poor. Now killed. Speaking of which: The Legislature being owned by the NRA (and Real Estate Industrial Complex). And, or course, the immigration war that targeted brown people, not their exploiters.

Who could have raised taxes to a level to fund the competitive and quality of life needs of a populous state? Made sensible land-use law. Helped cities. Created world-class universities. Established rail service. etc. Only the Legislature. Their neglect has been criminal.

In this morning's news, David Brooks has concluded that the Republican Party "is not fit to govern". And Paul Krugman takes a bow for arriving at that insight 10 years prematurely.

What has happened in Arizona is hardly unique to us. Minnesota Republicans have shut down the state for the sake of their ideological conviction. Georgia and Alabama have passed their own versions of SB1070. Kansas and South Dakota are repealing female autonomy in reproduction. Wisconsin and Ohio are rolling back labor rights.

This is happening because America is in the midst of a profound religious reawakening. Michael Lind, an ex-Neocon, explores the the meaning of it here:

Brooks remains an idiot, because the trillions in cuts would sure as hell "crimp" growth and much worse.

"This is happening because America is in the midst of a profound religious reawakening."

I have been saying this since 1949!

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