15 June 2017

Going Rogue Again With Jon Talton: PHOENIX How To Measure Being #5

Being Number Five
The Rogue Columnist
"I remember in 2006, when Phoenix passed Philadelphia in a Census estimate to become the nation's fifth most populous city. As a columnist for the Arizona Republic, I accompanied then-Mayor Phil Gordon and a delegation to Philly. The Philadelphians were very gracious. At one event, they talked about visiting Phoenix where City Hall "looked like a building where honest business was being done." The City Hall that the statue of William Penn stands atop had seen its share of big-city corruption. Not knowing Phoenix's abundant history of criminality, they sounded envious.
Even so, it was obvious wandering around Philly, with its great urban bones, energy-filled downtown, corporate headquarters, extensive rail transit and commuter-train system, and world-class cultural and educational institutions, that any comparison with Phoenix was apples to gravel. Still, even though I had begun to assemble powerful enemies writing about the city's reality and pushing verboten projects such as light rail (WBIYB), I felt proud. My hometown was America's fifth-largest city!
You can take the boy out of Phoenix but you can't take Phoenix out of the boy. For much of its existence Phoenix wanted above all to get big. And now it was.
The city fell back to sixth place in the 2010 Census, but with the latest numbers it's back to No. 5, probably to stay. Many dreams and ambitions have been realized over the past near-decade. Downtown is filling in, thanks to the ASU campus. It sports a handsome convention center and new hotels. Roosevelt Row is a destination, not a handful of Resistance members fighting to survive. T-Gen and the biomedical campus are there and growing, although not at the speed I had wished. We built light rail (you bastards) and it will be extended. All this in the face of thuggish opposition by the right and the city's worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.
We can look at this milestone in two ways. One is to backslap and keep on, don't rock the boat, it's sunny and cheap, championship golf, if you don't like it here move somewhere else.
Or we can look deeper. . . it is primarily a suburban city, even within the city limits, based on single-family houses and driving. It is endless real-estate enterprises connected by wide highways called "city streets." Most Phoenicians have suburban values, not urban values. Much of it is soulless cookie-cutter building. . . "
I could go on, but the point is clear.
Phoenix may be No. 5 in population, but it rarely if ever meets that metric in areas of quality.
What gets measured gets done, and for decades the yardsticks for Phoenix have been people and housing starts.
Imagine if Phoenix sought to be No. 5 in the best economic, social, and cultural areas?
That is, of course, a heavy lift.
Large cities have heavy carrying costs and Phoenix consistently punches below its weight. It's not helped by the anti-city Kookocracy at the Capitol. But it's an aspiration worth pursuing.


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