Us vs. Them

Make downtown attractive to locals, not to outsiders wearing knee socks and nametags. It only makes sense.

This is street culture at its very best, with a small c.

Yet this distinct celebration has shaky institutional funding. This summer, First Friday lost the shuttle buses usually employed to ferry revelers among the exhibition spaces. Instead, Phoenix hauled passengers to a fireworks show on the Fourth of July without bothering to accommodate the city's nascent bohemian scene.

We aren't shocked to learn that no one from ArtLink, the umbrella organization that organizes First Friday, serves on the blue-ribbon task force to promote Arts and Culture on behalf of economic development.

There’s plenty of room for creativity downtown. How about a Park N Swap instead of a vacant lot? It could be one part of a diverse street culture.
Jackie Mercandetti
There’s plenty of room for creativity downtown. How about a Park N Swap instead of a vacant lot? It could be one part of a diverse street culture.
Soviet-style architecture dominates downtown. We deserve better. We deserve a livable core city.
Jackie Mercandetti
Soviet-style architecture dominates downtown. We deserve better. We deserve a livable core city.

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Richard Florida will be speaking on October 21, 2003,at 6:30 p.m. For free tickets, stop by Changing Hands Bookstore, call 602-229-8428 or click here

While alarmed, I remain optimistic.

There are good things already accomplished, there are plans by city officials to encourage even more infill and multi-housing components. And whether you label them lofts or apartments is sort of beside the point. But for every two steps forward . . .

You do not get a better example of the city's confusion over whether it is building a downtown for us, or for them -- for we who live and work here, or for those who visit -- than by comparing the convention center expansion and the proposed light rail.

If you toiled at the new genome consortium, for example, you could take the light rail home to the Artisan Lofts on Central Avenue across from the Burton Barr Central Library. On Sundays you could travel from the jazz scene at the Virgil Bell VFW Post 1710 near the railroad tracks on 17th Street and Jackson all the way to a rival jazz club at Park Central. You could do it without driving drunk. You could stop off and dine at Portland's. Or Durant's. Or Majerle's.

The light-rail should enable residents to overcome one of the single greatest impediments to the development of an urban core: the great physical distances that separate where we work, live and play, distances that make it impossible to walk anywhere in downtown Phoenix. While we wait for the infill that will generate the critical mass of residents that will support a true street scene, light-rail has the potential to tie the disparate elements together.

If the light-rail is for us, the expanded convention center is clearly for them.

Consider this: Is there anything more repugnant than the tourist in shorts, calf-length socks and a camera?

Why yes, a conventioneer with a nametag.

Why is it that no one with a brain in his head goes to Fisherman's Wharf when they visit San Francisco? Because few of us would choose to be labeled a tourist.

Conventioneers are worse. You show me a city where conventioneers dominate the landscape and I'll show you a horror show, a sterile downtown landscape dominated by Styrofoam structures.

Why?

The answer is not all that complex. The number-one convention city in the country is Las Vegas; the fastest-growing convention city in America is Orlando. This target audience prefers plastic breasts, plastic mouse ears and plastic habitats.

You cannot build a downtown for these people and build a downtown for us.

So, if we don't want a downtown dominated by conventioneers, what do we want?

Ahh, now . . . the answer to this ought to be as complex as possible. Different people want different things, and a real downtown crosses all kinds of lines. Variety, singularity, bread and circus, sophistication, low-down and a level of intensity now absent.

But before we get lost in the reverie of the dream, let us consider the practical.

As the convention center expansion demonstrates, as the tax-supplemented financing for professional sports venues makes clear, there is money targeted for downtown. But historically the cash has been allocated to a select few who have created the big boxes -- the islands -- of Arts, Culture and Entertainment with an emphasis on capital letters and capital projects. The money needs to be spread around to smaller entrepreneurs.

Specifically:

The city should subsidize financial incentives for apartment and loft developers, restaurateurs, and shopkeepers.

There will never be a downtown until enough people live there to keep the lights on in restaurants and bars after the office towers are abandoned at the end of the workday. When the downtown work force walks home instead of driving to the suburbs, downtown Phoenix will reach critical mass.

A lot of multi-unit condos, lofts and apartments are already built. Others are planned. More are needed. And as the yuppies come, and they must, the city must protect those artists and pioneers who made this discussion even possible.

Downtown Phoenix does not have a staggering list of historic buildings, but it does have an inventory of characters, institutions, urban adventurers, and cool-wave individuals that ought to be part of any genuine audit of the real. Downtown Tempe blew it when rents and parking drove Changing Hands Bookstore off of Mill Avenue.

Today, you can get burgers and wings in downtown Phoenix, but the restaurant mix is abysmal. How is it that we have given valuable franchises to convention hotels downtown and not required the owners to operate a single memorable restaurant?

We have chefs who are known throughout the country, but none of them is downtown. What would it take to get them to consider locating near the light-rail line?

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