Us vs. Them

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

Skate parks are a necessity.

Our sister city in Mexico is Hermosillo. How in God's name did that happen? Have any of you seen Hermosillo? Hellhole is the description that springs to mind. You can have as many sister cities as you want. Why not Oaxaca?

Oaxaca has a downtown, one of the nicest zocolos in all of Mexico. There are points of similarity, or points of exchange, we would benefit from. Like Phoenix, they have a remarkable history that predates the arrival of Europeans. We have Pueblo Grande, they have Monte Alban. Like us, Oaxaca has an indigenous population. Like us, they have world-renowned art galleries. They, too, have a spectacular botanical garden. They have a huge number of language schools where we could send students, where we could send teachers to renew their skills. They have a distinct cuisine and cooking schools with which ex-governor and current pastry chef J. Fife Symington III could set up exchanges for cooks. Oaxaca has local music and dance that will kick your butt.

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.

Certain airports now feature those odd-looking, and surely Swedish, chairs where massage therapists will smooth out the cricks for 15 minutes. This sort of sidewalk solicitation should be peppered throughout the downtown.

When I see the old folks at the Westward Ho and the big Catholic Church headquarters downtown, I think bingo. How about open-air, nighttime bingo in the Civic Plaza?

With states rushing to pass legislation banning gay marriages, downtown Phoenix ought to encourage and sanction civil unions for lesbians and homosexuals. Florida uses tolerance for gays as an indicator of diversity. A day spa would be nice, too. Lots of flowers.

Lighting is important at night. Color helps.

Recently, we ran a piece in New Times on a group of local clothing designers. In New York City, designers are incubated, taught about merchandising, given great space in which to work. The project is funded by the Lower East Side Business Improvement District. Clothing is produced on site. We could do that.

A couple of months ago, everyone was agog because a columnist in Philadelphia attacked the Valley of the Sun and Phoenix for all of its shortcomings. The defense one read in newspapers and listened to on talk radio was that we had more golf courses than anywhere in the world. Jeez.

I think we should market downtown Phoenix as a crossroads, a trading post of ideas and culture, in the middle of historic human migration.

It has been suggested that the strains of cannibalism amongst prehistoric Anasazi people in northern Arizona, first reported by ASU anthropology professor Christy Turner, were introduced locally by ancestors of the Aztecs. With the indigenous history already here, with the phenomenal growth of Phoenix since World War II, with the waves of human migration from Latin America more recently, we have something much more compelling than historic buildings.

We ought to have as an ethos the story of people on the move.

The fact that we exploded with the introduction of air conditioning is interesting. Land fraud, instant culture, suburbs. Pat McMahon did a show for KAET that portrayed Phoenix's modern boom. And Alan Dutton's coffee-table book Arizona Then & Now is a collection of photographs of particular sites, before and after growth. Feast your eyes on the old Adams Hotel and look at what replaced it.

The story of Latin American migration -- from the sanctuary movement, to the deaths in the desert, to the infrastructure that wouldn't exist without immigrants -- is part of our legacy.

We ought to trumpet indigenous art from throughout the Americas. We should become the curators of migration. The vast majority of us are from somewhere else.

Of course, a lot of this is just riffing. Dreaming, really. The compelling thing about Richard Florida is that he demonstrates how dreaming with purpose generates jobs, as well as a sense of place.

The folks on the blue-ribbon task force and the four foundations underwriting the commission have set themselves Olympian standards. Citing a potential 32,000 new jobs in biosciences, there is speculative talk of needing $140 million promotional budget per year for 10 years.

With a goal of luring 120 new businesses to Arizona in the neurological sciences -- cancer therapeutics and bioengineering -- the challenge to the foundations is to change the very face of the state. The role of arts and culture is deemed critical.

But in the extensive research already conducted, Richard Florida is prominently quoted and promptly misunderstood.

For example, in the seminal document called "The Arts in Arizona," research sponsored by Arizona's four foundations linked the new economy to a healthy Arts and Culture environment.

But the 47 individuals interviewed were all prominent executive directors, CEOs, presidents, senior vice presidents, managing directors and trustees.

These are all accomplished people, most of whom run highbrow cultural facilities -- and all of whom are safely tucked in at night by 9 p.m. Unless they're at a board meeting.

There were no young people interviewed. There were no discernible members of the creative class interviewed. There were no advocates for a vibrant downtown with street culture.

If you think this means that we have an Us vs. Them divide, you are missing the point.

Good things are afoot.

Mohraz with the Piper Trust clearly sees a more panoramic future and cautions that the foundations are only just beginning their work.

Richard Florida has much to add. Come listen.

You're invited.

E-mail michael.lacey@newtimes.com, or call 602-229-8404.

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