If so, it won't be thanks to anything the city's done. "When a city is marketing itself, there are things you typically do," says Rita Sanders, whose Rita Sanders Advertising and Public Relations Agency has pimped everything from car shows to the Cardinals. "You fly travel writers in from around the country, and you show them the city you want them to write about. You name certain parts of town, and you come up with slogans that help people understand what those parts of town are about. Good, descriptive names. Memorable slogans."

Sanders, whose clients include the City of Phoenix, is cautious about trashing Copper Square, a failed attempt at branding a 90-block downtown retail-and-office district with names and slogans that were anything but descriptive or memorable. But with a little prodding, Sanders will admit that the project was a fiasco.

"Copper Square! Look, I'm in the business 30 years, and even I don't know what that name is supposed to mean. Is it a business district? Is it an entertainment district? Why should I go there? If I've lived in Phoenix a long time, I need a name that's going to make me feel better about going downtown, which didn't used to be a place you sent people you liked to."

Sanders needn't worry about what the name Copper Square means, because, after eight years and millions of dollars spent promoting it, the city has dumped the name and hired a consulting firm to dream up a new name for downtown.

"They gave up too easily," Sanders says. "And now they're starting over again, which is kind of a Phoenix tradition."


It's clear that Phoenix's new booster club doesn't care whether downtown has a new name. They're not willing to wait for Don Keuth's "one day very soon." Look around the next time you're in a crowd, and you might spot someone wearing an "I Heart Phoenix" lapel pin. Poke around on the Internet, and you'll find pages of blogs devoted to digging the Valley of the Sun. Keep an eye peeled in traffic, and you'll likely spy one of Bryant's "Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix!" bumper stickers fixed to someone's tailgate.

There's a brand-new backlash against Phoenix-bashing, and Bryant is its self-appointed spokeswoman.

"I was just so tired of all the whining," she says from behind the counter of Frances, the two-year-old Camelback boutique where she sells handmade belt buckles and vintage clothing and garden supplies. "I'd be in my store and people would come in — and I get people from age 10 to age 70 in here — and they'd be complaining about what a hole this town is. I thought people weren't looking deeper into what was happening here. There's a lot of great stuff going on. But do these people ever go anywhere south of Camelback? Do they ever leave Scottsdale? I am telling you, they do not."

Bryant, who grew up in Tucson and has lived in Phoenix for 25 years, wanted people to shut the hell up about her town. That her "Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix" shirts and bumper stickers are such big hits is another indication that bashing Phoenix is as old and tired as an Acquanetta joke.

"That 'I hate Phoenix' message used to come from a bunch of pissed-off 19-year-olds who were wishing they lived in New York," Kimber Lanning says. "And it's true, there didn't used to be so much to love about this place. But now you've got people who've defined who we are as a city, who rolled up their sleeves, figured out how to deal with city policy, and grew the parts of this place that we love."

It certainly took long enough. Of course, all those years Phoenix pretended to be a Marlboro ad didn't help matters any. Decades' worth of illustrations of our city, whether painted or line-drawn or charcoal-sketched, seemed always to depict a Saguaro cactus perched moodily against a brown, hilly skyline, or a crusty cowpoke admiring a brilliant sunset. Usually there was a bleached cow skull or the silhouette of a horse in there somewhere. And for a long and especially dire period, a bandanna-wearing, howling coyote.

These images sent a plain message: Come to Phoenix, and you get to wear cowboy boots all the time. You can have a cactus in your yard. There are wild animals here, but it's okay — they wear cotton-blend fashion accessories.

Not anymore. These days, local artists are receiving national attention with striking send-ups of stereotypical Western art. Painter Steven Yazzie has spoofed bandanna-wearing wildlife in a series of portraits of coyotes posing moodily on contemporary furniture, and his oil-on-canvas Asshole pokes fun at both the Scottsdale art scene and Arizona's Old West reputation. Randy Slack's paintings of peeling, run-down street signage document Phoenix before its latest face lift, while artists like Jason Hill and Laura Spalding present a more urban, more accurate depiction of the city, one that actually looks like what you'll find once you get here.

Hill relocated from Portland six years ago, arriving at what he calls "the end of Phoenix's ghost town phase," when downtown was still largely deserted. He remembers seeing the Financial Center at Central and Osborn for the first time; it "blew his mind." He remembers thinking, "Why are these beautifully designed offices on Central Avenue sitting empty, while generic office parks on the edge of town are filled to capacity?" Conversations Hill had with longtime residents only strengthened his suspicion that there was an unhealthy disconnect between Phoenicians and the city's urban core. His friends in Portland were begging him to come home.

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4 comments
Giulio Sciorio
Giulio Sciorio

I've been here since 81 and the development of down town has been super slow almost going backwards in some areas.

At one time we had F1 races in down town now you have to hunt to get a meal after 6pm.

I love it here but as a working artist and someone who lives and works down town I can tell you there is not shit to do in downtown. Everything closes early, its boring if you don't like sports but we have a few theaters.

Things like the slow speed limit and shutting down service of the light rail make it a joke. Who's gonna leave a bar at 11pm so that they can make the light rail? Not me and not any I know of.

There's very little incentive to open a business in down town. The city gov could give a shit less about the artists. They waited just long enough before tearing down so many beautiful homes so that ASU could move in and save us. Has anyone paid attention to the Westward Ho? It should be this amazing boutique hotel but instead its where old people go to die.

The art scene is good if you know where to look but people still think of LA or NYC as the place to get good art. I can't even count how many jobs local artists loose to some douche from LA or NYC. Even the book PHX by Edward Booth-Clibborn has all photography by a Japanese photographer. WTF??

Newton got a LA phone number and its helped him get more clients in town. WTF to that too.

I'm not hating on ptown I love it here. I'm hating on the fuckers that don't pay attention to Phoenix artists. We're here and we're kicking ass.

Maybe when I had my fill and move to LA I'll get more work in Phoenix 'cause you know I'm fucken rad cause I'm like, ya know from LA.

Native Arizonan since 1956
Native Arizonan since 1956

Has Phoenix finally arrived? I had no idea it needed to "arrive". Some people said it arrived with the addition of an NFL franchise (we know the truth about that). Some say it arrived when the DBacks won the World Series. Some say it arrived when we surpassed Philly for 5th largest city in America.Me? I don't think it needs to arrive and yet, I know in some people's eyes Phoenix will always be "almost there", needing that one more missing ingredient to put it on the map or make it culturally significant. I was born here and have lived here most of my life. It was good enough then and it's good enough now.

Donna
Donna

You said it.

George
George

Phoenix is a hole.

 
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