The Big Cheesy

The last thing poor New Orleans needs is planning tips from Phoenix

I have to admit it. When I heard that Mayor Phil Gordon was in New Orleans last week, announcing that Phoenix city planners will "help" that stricken city with planning and redevelopment, I laughed.

Hey, it's better than crying, right?

Now, it's true that New Orleans needs help, by the shovelful. And it's certainly true that we all ought to be pitching in.

Matt Mignanelli

But the city of Phoenix offering its planning services?

Maybe Lindsay Lohan can give New Orleans some sobriety tips while we're at it. And George W. Bush can help them run a military invasion.

Here in Phoenix, we're living in what's got to be America's worst-designed major city, a hideous grid of expensive new buildings with no curb appeal. Even worse, we're all gnashing our teeth, daily, as we navigate a post-apocalyptic wasteland of torn-up roads, orange barrels and giant, gaping holes in the ground. Eventually, we're going to have light rail and a new Sheraton, but downtown is such a mess these days that I get déjà vu watching CNN — minus the car bombs, the dusty streets of Baghdad look just like my freakin' neighborhood.

The worst part is, I don't think we're enduring all this trauma en route to a better place. Instead, if this city's history is any indication, we're going to end up with some crappy project that we'll replace in a few decades.

Before you write me a nasty e-mail, go walk around the convention center. It's new. It's also on my list of buildings that need to be bulldozed. The place has the hulking utilitarianism most often associated with Soviet Bloc architecture from the 1970s. You don't linger on the sidewalks in front of a design like this. Instead, you hustle to your car.

In other cities, planners are moving away from this kind of oversized ugliness. They're talking about scale, and creating neighborhoods you can walk in — two things we seem intent on ignoring even in 2007 in downtown Phoenix.

But there's no point in keeping up with the times. This is Phoenix, and we're in a constant state of reinvention, a perpetual teardown with little incentive to get things right. Trolley doesn't work? Build a road on top of it. Too much traffic? Hey, take out the road and the trolley tracks — we're building a train!

Or, let's talk about Central Avenue. In 1989, the city spent $10 million to "beautify" the stretch of road south of downtown's Burton Barr Library. We were supposed to get our very own version of the Champs Élysées. Instead, we got slightly wider streets, a few palm trees, and a confusing turn lane of schmancy sandstone bricks.

The late New Times columnist Deborah Laake wrote about the debacle at the time ("Let's Fight Over Central Again," April 19, 1989). And, as her story noted, the construction problems plaguing Central business owners had "some council members" vowing that there would be "no more construction on Central during their lifetimes."

I really wish Laake had named names. Because I'm betting a number of the council members in question aren't dead yet — and yet, here we are, removing $10 million of beautification to make way for light rail.

There's no silver lining to this do-over. Take those pricey sandstone bricks. The spokeswoman for the light-rail project, Marty McNeil, tells me that they're headed for the junkyard. The city had originally been hoping to use them somewhere else, but, McNeil says, "they crumble when they're pried up."

It's $10 million, crumbling before our eyes. And, once again, guess who's bearing the brunt?

It isn't the council members Laake talked to. Their promises are forgotten to time.

It's the business owners, dozens of whom are pleading with the city for assistance as they struggle to stay alive.

Terry Goddard, who's now the state attorney general, was mayor when they "beautified" Central. He's also the mayor we have to thank for Patriots Square Park. It's a horrible place: Not only miserable in the summer, but an uncomfortable brick slab even in the nicest weather. I have yet to find anyone who's enjoyed a single picnic lunch under that Cirque du Soleil-style awning. Even the winos aren't having any fun there.

The city spent a few million "renovating" this hideous park to current conditions less than 20 years ago. (With the parking garage below, the project was $12 million, city officials tell me.) But it's such an unmitigated failure that, when the city announced we were handing over the park to developers, there was hardly a shout of protest.

So, now we're getting an AJ's Fine Foods and some chain restaurants. But no one should be too concerned by the content: No matter what we build, I'm predicting a shelf life of 20 years, tops.

This is what we're exporting to New Orleans.

I'm done laughing. In fact, I feel kind of sick.

The thing is, I'm pretty sure that Mayor Gordon's trip to the Big Easy was merely a good chance for a campaign photo-op. And I don't begrudge the guy for going. Hardly anyone is giving City Hall much attention these days. (TV news only covers the weather and Sheriff Joe's grandstanding; the Republic rarely bites on a story that doesn't feature Jordin Sparks.) Hizzoner's gotta get the headlines when he can.

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Worst designed city? Are you kidding me? This is by far the easiest city to navigate I have ever lived in, I think even easier than Tucson. Have you ever been to the Washington DC area? I'd rather saw off my arm, pour Tabasco sauce on the stump and stick it in a jar of pickle juice than drive around DC. I hated living in DC and couldn't wait to get back to the desert!

glenn haney
glenn haney

Get a grip Sarah, before touting that the only qualification that Bozo's opponent has is he is a nightclub owner is an insult to the only qualified candidate..he is also an attorney, who was born and raised in Phoenix. He has correctly articulated the problems with the corruption in City Hall..Who can stand for the fact Gordon gave two developers 222 Million dollars, for our so called "downtown development" or the fact that crime has increased during the "Kings" reign..look at your own papers articles where he violated the law for months with his graffiti covered campaign headquarters..curiously when you look at the true facts of the close of his opponents business you find out it happened only after he announced he was running against the Bozo and for reasons that were clearly not legitimate. WAKE UP, GET THE REAL STORY SARAH DO THE PUBLIC A FAVOR AND GET YOUR FACTS RIGHT BEFORE ENDORSING ANOTHER FOUR YEARS OF CORRUPTION IN CITY HALL!!!!!!!

Screw the mayor
Screw the mayor

The mayor is horrible, I never voted for him, and for the life of me I can't figure out why people still vote for him, and Sheriff Joe. Our dear loving mayor kicked ma and pop store owners out of their place of business, so he could watch young girls walk to his new pride and joy accomplishment ASU. Then he has a ginormious campaign fund. Look if any politician can raise 500% over their normal campaign funding then that means he has made some pretty big promises to pretty big businesses. In my opinion that makes him a closet crook. Another reason why he sucks: Maryvale (Phoenix's worse neighborhood according to some) does not have street lights on at night. Yup you wonder why people are getting shot, raped and the elderly get lost, because Indian School Rd does not have working street lights. Why is that? During the serial shootings all over the valley still no street lights. When was the last time the mayor asked you the residents of Phoenix for your opinion on a development project or gave the residents of the valley something like a homeless center to help them instead of pushing them in the Durango or Sunnyslope area. His brilliant idea of ASU was gonna save downtown, are you flippin serious?! What's gonna save downtown are the new residents of the lofts, the lightrail, decent restaurants(do you know what an Olive Garden would do to lunches downtown? I salivate at the dream) would help out a lot, not a bunch of kids that ruin the morning drive to work, and then they leave by 2pm so the businesses close at 4 pm. I love downtown with all my heart, I grew up here and to see it suffer because this crook has to line his pockets. Is he even from here?

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