Phoenix Has an Inferiority Complex

Or maybe you do

I looked at a Web site called www.modernphoenix.net, which celebrates local modern architecture, particularly the work of the late Ralph Haver. I'd never heard of Haver before, but, as it turns out, I've seen plenty of his houses -- you have, too, if you've driven around '50s-era Phoenix neighborhoods. Now, don't tell anyone I said this, but those houses are ugly. Actually, they don't even rise to the level of ugly -- they're just boring. I know it's all hip to be into ranch houses these days; they're indigenous to Phoenix because they're low to the ground, and if you place them right, they'll save you money on your electricity bill. But there is nothing inherently interesting about them. The only cool part of the Web site was where someone had come in and dressed up a Haver home to the point where you could barely recognize it.

I moved on to earthly delights. Driving from Tempe to downtown Phoenix at dusk one evening last month, I admired the way the sun came through the clouds. We really do have amazing sunsets, I remark to my husband, adding that I suppose it's all because of the pollution.

"Yeah," he says. "They say the sunsets are beautiful after a nuclear explosion."

Really. But if you do want to ♥ Phoenix, don't bother with architecture and sunsets. Instead, look no further than my husband, the aforementioned one-man Phoenix fan club. He just doesn't understand how anyone could not love this place. "The problem with you," he told me one recent morning, "is that you didn't grow up in New York City and then move here." (Duh, I thought.) He informs me that here, everyone can be the king and queen of their own castles.

"You know who the king and queen of the castle are in New York?" he asks.

"The Trumps?"

"No. The loudest people."

My husband says I don't appreciate Phoenix because I've never hiked Camelback Mountain, and he's probably right. But there's got to be more than desert beauty to the fifth-largest population concentration in the world's most advanced nation. Shouldn't there be something for everyone?

He does concede one point. "I do wish Phoenix had cool restaurants and coffee shops like Tucson does," he says. Oddly, I feel myself rising to defend Phoenix. I tell him that I bet that we have way more cool restaurants and coffee shops than Tucson, it's just that ours are spread out all over town (Orange Table's in downtown Scottsdale, La Grande Orange in Arcadia, Barrio Café in downtown Phoenix, that new gelato place everyone's talking about is way out in Chandler), and anyway, all our friends in Tucson talk about how great Tucson is all the time -- that's why he thinks that! Nobody ever talks about how great Phoenix is!

I'm in a frenzy by now, but he's already turned back to the newspaper.


It was time, I decided, to do some serious reporting. Turns out, Rick and I weren't the only ones putting the city on the couch. Everywhere I go, it seems, people are talking about how Phoenix feels about being Phoenix, particularly around the New Times water cooler. Sarah Fenske, our newest staff writer, who joined us late last year from Texas, says when she moved to Houston, everyone welcomed her eagerly, telling her, "You're going to love Houston!" And she did. When she got here, no one said, "You're going to love Phoenix!"

Michele Laudig, New Times' music editor, took it a step further. She actually conducted an experiment. When her cousin came to visit last month from New York City, Michele put our city's best face forward -- showing her cousin all her favorite spots in Phoenix and Scottsdale, willing herself not to say anything negative, even though Michele can dish on Phoenix with the best of them. Her cousin raved, called the trip "life altering" and says she might even move here.

One of the weirder things about Phoenix -- I can never decide if it's good or bad -- is that it's incredibly easy to get in touch with the power brokers. People say this is a small town stuck in a big city, and they're right. Everyone knows everyone. Remember Christa, my friend who vowed to ♥ Phoenix with me? Her husband wound up as the mayor. So although I make it a rule never to write about Phil, I called Mayor Gordon to ask him what he thinks about our inferiority complex. He's lived here forever, he should totally get it. I still think he does, although my head was spinning by the time I hung up the phone.

So, I begin, does Phoenix have an inferiority complex?

"No!" is the immediate reply. "This is a great city, and the proof is in the numbers. People continue to come to Phoenix for a reason."

And then I have to admit that I zoned out for a few minutes. I came back around the time the mayor was talking about how this is one of the only cities in America where you can have your own backyard. He wound down with, "We're a western city that was a small town that now has become a major city and needs to take its place in line and be proud of its place and start to influence policy in this country."

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