"I'm happy Phoenix isn't a major art market," McFarland says, shrugging. "It's just a fact." For him, it's about something less conventional.

His goal: "Look at the past and feel like you did something your heart told you to do."

Cool, huh?

Cindy Dach
Andrew Pielage
Cindy Dach
Dach and her partners at 
Changing Hands Bookstore will open a new store in Central Phoenix in the spring, including a bar called First Draft.
PS Studios
Dach and her partners at Changing Hands Bookstore will open a new store in Central Phoenix in the spring, including a bar called First Draft.
Chris Bianco
Andrew Pielage
Chris Bianco
Chris Bianco now heads a mini-empire, including Pane Bianco.
Claire Lawton
Chris Bianco now heads a mini-empire, including Pane Bianco.
Bianco's Pane Bianco
Claire Lawton
Bianco's Pane Bianco
Kimber Lanning
Andrew Pielage
Kimber Lanning
In the past 10 years, Kimber Lanning's Local First Arizona has gone from four to 4,250 members.
Evie Carpenter
In the past 10 years, Kimber Lanning's Local First Arizona has gone from four to 4,250 members.
Wayne Rainey
Andrew Pielage
Wayne Rainey
Wayne Rainey's MonOrchid 
is a mainstay on Roosevelt Row.
Andrew Pielage
Wayne Rainey's MonOrchid is a mainstay on Roosevelt Row.
Greg Esser
Andrew Pielage
Greg Esser
"The Celebration of the Living (who reflect upon death)" is one of several projects Greg Esser has helped coordinate for Combine Studio.
Andrew Pielage
"The Celebration of the Living (who reflect upon death)" is one of several projects Greg Esser has helped coordinate for Combine Studio.
Silvana Salcido Esparza
Andrew Pielage
Silvana Salcido Esparza
Esparza's culinary output
Jackie Mercandetti
Esparza's culinary output
Esparza also spearheaded Calle 16, a mural project on 16th Street in Phoenix.
Evie Carpenter
Esparza also spearheaded Calle 16, a mural project on 16th Street in Phoenix.
Craig DeMarco
Andrew Pielage
Craig DeMarco
Craig DeMarco and his wife, Kris, just wanted a place to hang out with friends. Now they have several, including three Postino locations.
Evie Carpenter
Craig DeMarco and his wife, Kris, just wanted a place to hang out with friends. Now they have several, including three Postino locations.
Sloane McFarland
Andrew Pielage
Sloane McFarland
Sloane McFarland's art/real estate mash-up is in play at Yourland, where he's working with a sign painter on a mural.
Evie Carpenter
Sloane McFarland's art/real estate mash-up is in play at Yourland, where he's working with a sign painter on a mural.


It's the end of a very long day, and I'm waiting to talk to Cindy Dach. A reporter from the Downtown Devil, ASU's online publication, is interviewing her. Has been for at least 45 minutes. They sit on a picnic table, and around them, volunteers swirl over the "What Should Go Here" pop-up park at Second and Roosevelt streets, cleaning up the remains of the fourth annual Pie Social (full disclosure: Chow Bella, New Times' food blog, which I run, co-sponsors the event with Roosevelt Row). It's been a good day, with record attendance. Everyone's full and tired. Finally, as the sun begins to dip, the reporter turns off her voice recorder and Dach and her husband, Greg Esser, sit still long enough to answer a few more questions.

How long have they been in Phoenix? They look at each other. Seventeen or 18 years, neither is sure. "We're on the two-year plan," Dach says, laughing, though she's serious when she says they never meant to stay. In 2000, just after they bought their first building, which houses eye lounge near Fifth Street and Roosevelt, the city announced plans to gut Roosevelt to put in a football stadium. It was "game on" from there. The two have bought and sold buildings, advanced in their day jobs, and created Roosevelt Row — a nonprofit and a neighborhood. In 2003, there were fewer than 100 businesses in the area, Esser estimates. Today, he puts the figure at more than 300.

Dach says she's always liked it here. "Maybe because I work in air conditioning — summer just isn't that bad for me."

As for Esser, when asked the inevitable question: "Hell, yeah. Phoenix has never not been cool. It's how we appreciate its coolness."

He pauses and points at power lines against the yellow sky. "How cool is that?" he asks, snapping a photo with his phone.

"I wanted a life where I could walk for coffee, walk for wine, music, a gallon of milk," Dach says. She's got that now. "That makes it cool for me." She realizes others have a different definition.

"It's been a pivotal 10 years," Esser says. He points to the downtown skyline — 40 percent new, he says, largely the result of $4 billion in private/public investment. He and Dach laugh at the notion that the city paid Richard Florida to make Phoenix cool. They're among the ones who've literally done the heavy lifting.

So what's the last 10 years been like?

Dach replies in a small voice: "Hard."

Worth it?

In an even smaller voice: "Yeah."

People like to say Phoenix still is in its infancy, that in a way, it's a city like no other, that you can't compare it to any other place in America. Keeping a baby alive is a lot of hard work. Ditto for new businesses. It's taken a long time, but Silvana Salcido Esparza says she finally has assembled the right management team of young people to help her keep going. To work at Craig DeMarco's Upward Projects, you have to go through six interviews, then meet with him or Lauren Bailey.

"We're ready for the next wave of young people," says Beatrice Moore, 63. "We don't want to be doing this when we're 75 years old."

On a recent weekday, we wrap up lunch at Bragg's Factory Diner on Grand Avenue (Moore loves the vegan jackfruit sandwich but complains about the lack of signage — a couple of businesses already have failed in the spot) and walk past one of the many new murals on Grand, this one on the side of The Lodge. It's by a young painter named Rebecca Green, one of her signature female figures, reading a book to a group of foxes. Green moved to Denver this summer.

"She said she's gonna come back and finish it," Moore says, a little wistful.

Back on Roosevelt Row, it's dark now, and it's getting cold. Esser and Dach have good, eager volunteers, but never enough — and never, it seems, when you really need them. Everyone else has gone home, and there are still tables to be put away. The two excuse themselves to finish cleaning up.

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18 comments
exit2lef
exit2lef

"The conversations are at a much more evolved level." -- I'm wondering how this claim can possibly be made about one of the few major American cities not to fluoridate its water. Portland has some nice qualities, but it's hardly the pinnacle of enlightenment Taz makes it out to be. After reading the exaggerated claims of overzealous transplants to Portland, I've come to the conclusion that if South Park ever follows up its infamous "Smug Alert" episode, the sequel won't be set in San Francisco like the original. Instead, it will occur 635 miles to the north in Oregon.

BrekanArts
BrekanArts

This article fails to recognize Kim Moody and Dana Johnson of the Alwun House.  Or yours truly...   ;)

Pamela Stone Vozza
Pamela Stone Vozza

I'm such a freakin' central Phoenix / downtown cheerleader - my tween & I both! Hard to believe I was a hater in the 90s, but I wholeheartedly embrace it all now & drag my suburbanite friends downtown every chance I get!!!

wayne154
wayne154

I have lived downtown for 30 years.  The article seems to overlook the "people" who are not movers and shakers and are our neighbors. Ones that form bonds that don't necessarily require public social display. We may not be artists or innovators but workers and families. I will take a friendship and a beer, I have made in the drywall department at Home Depot because we are both working on a home improvement project to a custom coffee for $3.50 in a renovated storefront. That is the Phoenix I have known all these years and it is very very cool. Other cities that have had a reinvention of downtown have worked with developers (who have the knowhow and the money to create) instead of against them, driving them to other areas of the valley. McDowell one of the major arteries of the City gets a total facelift in Scottsdale, and it rots from 52nd to Grand.


Eric325
Eric325

I love Phoenix, for all its flaws, I do see character and personality...

hurricaneric
hurricaneric moderator

VIA e-mail feedback:

LETTER:

OK, I'm sorry, but somebody has to speak up about this. Take this as my contribution to the future development of Phoenix. Pretend I'm attending a Downtown Coalitions meeting. 

I've lived in Phoenix since 1991, I've lived in the valley since 1981. I moved to Tempe from Prescott,AZ to attend ASU. My wife has lived in Phoenix her whole life as have some of our best friends. There are many like us who are disconcerted and disconnected with the development of a city we once loved. 

This article begins with a meeting of a guy named Richard Florida who was invited and paid to recommend how Phoenix could become "cool". According to the article, he suggested "stop tearing down old buildings and open up coffee shops in them." At the end of the article, the author talks about how much Phoenix has grown 2003-2013 because NOW it has plenty of coffee shops in old buildings. 

Oh really?

Coolness does not reside in hifalutin, organic, locally grown gourmet coffee boutiques in old buildings. (I refuse to call them "coffee shops" because they are NOT where a blue collar truck driver might stop for a cheap cup of coffee to keep themselves awake, they are NOT open 24 hours, they do NOT offer doughnuts, and they do NOT provide free refills). 

To talk about Phoenix being "cool" , you have to talk in the past tense. Phoenix USED to be cool. Phoenix USED to have 24 hour coffee shops. The Sunnyside Cafe, Brookshire's and a downtown Waffle House come immediately to mind, but Phoenix had many more back in the 70's, 60's and 50's. 

But what REALLY made Phoenix "cool" is exactly what is missing today: charm, romance, mystery, affordability, nuance, atmosphere, authenticity, and character.

Phoenix in 2003 still had The Emerald Lounge, The Newsroom, The (original) Autumn Court, Chez Nous (in its original location since 1962), Newman's, King's Cocktails, The Jungle Cabaret, a jazz club in Park Central, The Matador - just to name a few of the places that were unique and provided Phoenix with some semblance of soul. Seedy perhaps, yes, but that's one of the elements, one of the ingredients, that makes a metropolis thrive.

And its not just long time bars and restaurants that Phoenix has diminished. How about malls?

Chris-Town, The Biltmore and Town and Country have all been revamped to look and feel as bland and generic as possible. All three have curtailed the foliage, amped up prices, rid themselves of relaxing park bench seating and provide NO atmosphere for romantic window shopping.

And, of course, the architecture that provided Phoenix with a genuine identity is gone. The Washburn Piano building, Phoenix Civic Center, Patriots Park, The Madison Hotel, palm trees on Central - all still existed in 2003.

Of course you can go further back in time and find an even MORE exciting and robust Phoenix when the Cine' Capri was still around, a small but thriving Chinatown existed in downtown Phoenix, The Green Gables welcomed you to dinner with a shining knight on horseback, and a Swiss restaurant existed where Seamus McCaffery's Irish pub is now.

My point is this, and its expressed by Taz Loomans at the beginning of this New Times article - "People in Phoenix are such boosters, it drives me nuts. I felt a lot of anger and disillusionment." This is one of the reasons she moves to Portland "where the conversation is 30 years beyond Phoenix."

But this ( New Times ) article is not about people who moved away but about people who have stayed (and are making a difference or so the author implies). Fine, just don't tell me Phoenix is now "Cool" because now I can pay over $2.50 for a cup of coffee to watch "important movers and shakers" glide by my uncomfortable seat. God, that makes me feel so privileged. To think, yesteryear I was a nobody reading the newspaper at The Sunnyside and now I'm Cool because I can buy coffee at the same place local artists do.


PERSONAL INFO:

Jim Minnick

Phoenix Arizona

Rob Morgan
Rob Morgan

I can only speak for myself but as a Scot I've loved every minute I've spent in the Valley. I wish I was there or thereabouts right now.

Leo León
Leo León

I think one of the biggest hurdles for the valley is how to connect the massive sprawl. I think once the light rail is extended into other towns and cities, it'll be much easier to commute to arts districts such as Roosevelt row, and spread culture

Jukes
Jukes

Few things make my blood boil faster than the words "Richard Florida."  Has any recent academic made a bigger reputation and collected more cash based on a single book that contains an observation so obvious others would have rejected it as an original idea?  Creative people gather in urban areas and the urban areas benefit from their output.  Wow!  What a concept.  That was happening in Europe and Asia long before Columbus landed at Guanahani.

No, it definitely wasn't "cool" to pay Florida "ten of thousands of dollars" (yikes!) to hear him reiterate the contents of a book I'm sure you all read before he got to My Florist.  So I guess Phoenix had nowhere to go but up.  And it has. 

Above all, I hope no one assumed Florida had anything to do with Pittsburgh's second renaissance. It's not as if the city followed some plan he created, although if anyone makes that assumption, he doesn't correct them.  I lived in Pittsburgh the entire time Florida was teaching at Carnegie-Mellon and while the city has, indeed, become hipper with its transition from a manufacturing- to a knowledge-based economy, Florida had nothing to do with it other than to make observations, many of which are bogus. 

Nothing that has happened in Pittsburgh since the last of the steel mills within city limits closed can't happen in Phoenix.  In fact, Phoenix is starting with a slate that is both literally and figuratively cleaner than Pittsburgh's was in the 1980s.  Pittsburgh's hipness is happening in pockets all over the city, not in one place, so the fact that Phoenix is spread out shouldn't be a deterrent.  This city already has better roads and a better public transit system than Pittsburgh does, so connecting communities is easier here.  

Pittsburgh's hipness is helped by a relatively liberal city government and citizens, from the wealthiest to the poorest, who embrace the arts.  When city resident Sharon Needles won RuPaul's Drag Race last year, she was brought to City Hall to be honored by the Council.  That seems emblematic to me.   Pittsburgh, as a city, reaches out and supports creative endeavors of all types. 

When I lived there, I wrote a series of poems about Andy Warhol that were choreographed into a modern dance and a dance company had no trouble getting funding to mount a serious production.  Even I am amazed by that.  What could be more elitist than poetry and modern dance?!  In a city where football and baseball flourish, no less.  Even when Pittsburghers don't want to buy esoteric works of art to install at their homes doesn't mean they won't support the creation and presentation of out-there ideas.  Have you seen the giant rubber duckie floating down the Allegheny River?  http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/giant-rubber-duckie-splash-pittsburgh-article-1.1470385

Pittsburgh also celebrates education.  And I don't mean the corporate kind.  Counting schools of nursing and seminaries, there are 39 non-profit colleges and universities in Pittsburgh.  But that doesn't necessarily mean Pittsburgh is over-run with young people.  The median age of Pittsburghers is 35.5.  The median age in Phoenix, supposedly overrun with retirees, is 32.2.  But what's important is:  college students who want to stay in Pittsburgh following graduation are encouraged and there are programs to help them buy homes and start businesses. Crotchety conservatives and angry elders don't say NO to every idea. 

I don't think a city can declare itself to be cool.  But if hipness is a goal, and to me it's a good one, it takes citizens like the people profiled in this article (seriously, thanks for your sweat and tears, folks).  It also takes open minds from the top down.  No one gets a rubber duckie from the Netherlands if the mayor's reaction is, "I don't see the point of that."  Say YES, Phoenicians.  Build it and the hipsters will come.


swkennedy
swkennedy

@hurricaneric So, I'm reading this article thinking, "YES YES YES", and thinking "I'm with you stranger!", and thinking "man, who is this???" and had already cut this quote "what REALLY made Phoenix "cool" is exactly what is missing today: charm, romance, mystery, affordability, nuance, atmosphere, authenticity, and character."....


and lo & behold....


Hey Jim!


You nailed it...


It was REAL before.  For better or worse, it was FUCKING REAL.


Oh!  the Sunnyside!  Katz's Deli!


Phoenix WAS cool....It had it's own character...and now, it's just the low-brow bastard child of Tempe & Scottsdale......It's just generic, color by number yupster bullshit....built by Scottsdale types who came down here to capitalize on the REAL cool, and thus KILLED it.  These people didn't recognize what real cool was....real cool comes from the bottom up....

1wayfaringpilgrim
1wayfaringpilgrim

@hurricaneric Well stated sir!  I'm a Phoenix native, born here in 1956.  Much of what made Phoenix cool, at least in my eyes, has been gone for a while.  But I suppose that cool these days means something entirely different to folks of a more recent vintage.

1wayfaringpilgrim
1wayfaringpilgrim

@Jukes I personally find "hipness" to be an unworthy goal and "hipsters" to be both nauseating and pretentious.

Jukes
Jukes

@1wayfaringpilgrim @Jukes Lucky for you there plenty of generic suburbs you can move to where you won't find any artists or innovators. 

1wayfaringpilgrim
1wayfaringpilgrim

@Jukes I know several authors, musicians, artists and innovators who have no need for "hipness" and do not call themselves hipsters.  Many of them actually live in suburban Phoenix.  Imagine that!

 
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