The Cool Index: Ten Years Later, Phoenix Is Still Hot. But Is It Finally Cool?

The other day, I spoke on the phone with a woman named Taz Loomans. She stepped out of a coffee shop in Portland, Oregon, into lightly falling rain to take my call, which sounded pretty romantic considering that I was hunched in my car in the parking lot at Scottsdale Fashion Square at the time, air-conditioning blasting against the early November heat.

Loomans, 37, moved to Phoenix with her family from Mozambique when she was 14. She earned degrees at Arizona State University, becoming a licensed architect and then a disillusioned licensed architect, quitting a corporate gig in 2009 to buy and rehab a couple of foreclosed duplexes in Central Phoenix. She started her own firm called Blooming Rock and became a one-woman cheering squad — on her blog and in several other online forums —for historic preservation, adaptive reuse, and other buzzwords for making Phoenix a better city.

Then she left. A few months ago, as she tells it, Loomans was going through a divorce when she took a four-day vacation to Portland. On the third day, she decided to move there. Her decision was big news in certain circles: New Times wrote about it, and KJZZ, the local NPR affiliate, did a series of essays based on it. Social media buzzed for weeks.

(from left) Kimber Lanning,  Wayne Rainey, Greg Esser, Beatrice Moore, Johnny Chu, Cindy Dach, Chris Bianco, Silvana Salcido Esparza, Craig DeMarco, Sloane McFarland
Andrew Pielage
(from left) Kimber Lanning, Wayne Rainey, Greg Esser, Beatrice Moore, Johnny Chu, Cindy Dach, Chris Bianco, Silvana Salcido Esparza, Craig DeMarco, Sloane McFarland
Cover of New Times issue from December 4, 2003
Cover of New Times issue from December 4, 2003
(from left) Lanning,  Rainey, Esser, Moore, Tony Zahn, Chu, Dach,  Bianco, Wendy Gruber, Esparza, DeMarco, McFarland. (Zahn and Gruber still live in Phoenix but declined to be photographed.)
issues 2003 photos: jeff newton
(from left) Lanning, Rainey, Esser, Moore, Tony Zahn, Chu, Dach, Bianco, Wendy Gruber, Esparza, DeMarco, McFarland. (Zahn and Gruber still live in Phoenix but declined to be photographed.)
Beatrice Moore
Andrew Pielage
Beatrice Moore
Beatrice Moore opened Kooky Krafts and painted a mural and a whole lot more, over the past 10 years.
Evie Carpenter
Beatrice Moore opened Kooky Krafts and painted a mural and a whole lot more, over the past 10 years.
Beatrice Moore's mural
Evie Carpenter
Beatrice Moore's mural
Johnny Chu continues to create delicious Asian fusion dishes.
Andrew Pielage
Johnny Chu continues to create delicious Asian fusion dishes.
A Chu creation
Heather Hoch
A Chu creation
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.

The Cool Index: Is Phoenix Finally Cool? (Complete Slideshow)

"I actually had no intention of moving away," Loomans says. But Portland was just so great. "It's about 30 years ahead of Phoenix . . . The conversations are at a much more evolved level."

People in Phoenix are such boosters, Loomans says. It drives her nuts. "When I left Phoenix, I was very up front about the things I was disappointed in," she says. "I felt a lot of anger, and I sort of felt a disillusionment with my advocacy work."

Oddly, given her disdain for the place, Loomans still is knee-deep in Phoenix. "I love living in Central Phoenix and taking part in the coming of age of this city," it says on the home page of her blog, which she updates regularly. Two months ago, when word spread that Harkins Camelview 5 movie theater in Scottsdale was in danger, it was Loomans who started a "Save Camelview!" page on Facebook.

She tells me that Portland can make a bigger national impact than Phoenix when it comes to issues surrounding urban sustainability and that she will be a part of that conversation.

She's supporting herself these days as a freelance writer, working for online publications like answers.com and 1-800-RECYCLING.

Mostly, Loomans adds a little sheepishly, she writes about Phoenix.


This is not a story about the people who have left Phoenix. It's a story about the people who have stayed.

Ten years ago this fall, New Times devoted a lot of ink to the possibility of urban renewal in a series called "Exploding Downtown." The bottom line: After several false starts over the course of many decades, downtown Phoenix was deserted after dark, a cultural wasteland with pro baseball and basketball arenas and little else to draw a crowd — and it was hardly better during the day. At the time, a guy named Richard Florida wrote a book called The Rise of the Creative Class, in which he championed the notion of rehabbing crumbling cities (and, thus, economies) by making them places where "creatives" — up to a third of the population! — would want to live and work. It had been done in Pittsburgh, which pretty much meant it could be done anywhere, right?

But Phoenix? New Times flew in Florida to speak at the Orpheum Theatre; the city of Phoenix paid him tens of thousands of dollars to share his secrets (which boiled down to: Quit tearing down old buildings and put neat coffee shops in them instead) with city leaders.

After his talk at the Orpheum, a group of us had dinner with Florida at the only place any of us could think of to take him: My Florist Cafe. We sat in the middle of the dining room at a large table, surrounded by empty tables, no hustle and bustle like a real city would have. I remember feeling a little ashamed.

Richard Florida published a 10th-anniversary edition of his book, The Rise of the Creative Class Revisited, this year — and the only mention of Phoenix is a passing reference to solar energy. Some would argue that there's still not much to do at night downtown and that city leaders really bungled things by allowing CityScape — a gigantic office/retail complex with a lot of concrete, a lackluster selection of stores, and some bad planning — to take center stage. And My Florist is gone, the whole intersection now inhabited largely by cheap chain restaurants.

But hold on there. Something has happened in this city, and it's way more significant than getting our own Urban Outfitters or Habit Burger. The big picture has changed. One of Florida's admonitions when he spoke at the Orpheum was that people have to quit being embarrassed by Phoenix and, most important, they have to stop moving away. Ten years later, people still move away. Loomans is evidence of that, and she's not the only one.

And yet, check out who's stayed.

When I realized it had been 10 years since "Exploding Downtown," I went back and re-read my contribution to the series, a story called "The Cool Index." That piece detailed what was happening in the culture and food scenes in Phoenix then — a time when lots (for us) of galleries and restaurants and creative pursuits were just beginning. The story featured the work of a dozen "super-connectors" — people who weren't just opening a cafe or sponsoring an art opening, they were working together on lots of projects at once, with each other.

I turned to the series of portraits of these people that had accompanied the story, holding my breath as I cataloged them one by one: Stayed. Stayed. Stayed.

All 12 are still here, and check out what they've been up to in the past decade:

Chris Bianco: In 2003 (the year "The Cool Index" was published), Bianco won the James Beard regional award for the Southwest (the first pizza chef ever to do so). At the time, he was running Pizzeria Bianco at Heritage Square and had just opened Pane Bianco, a sandwich shop on Central Avenue. Today, he owns those plus another Pizzeria Bianco at Town & Country Shopping Center, with plans for a third in Tucson; he has partnered with Jamie Oliver on restaurants in England but still calls Phoenix home and is back in the kitchen after finding a new medicine to treat asthma that until recently forced his hiatus from the pizza oven and flour. Today, his brother, mother, and father all are involved in the business, and he's co-authoring a cookbook.

Cindy Dach: Dach has gone from marketing director at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe to co-owner and general manager of what is one of the nation's most successful independent bookstores. Next spring, the store will open a much-anticipated second location in Central Phoenix. Since 2003, Dach also opened MADE art boutique, which sells mostly handcrafted, locally made goods, on Roosevelt Street — now known as Roosevelt Row, thanks to efforts by her and others, who created a nonprofit to support the fledgling arts district.

Greg Esser: Married to Dach, Esser also has been instrumental in the development of Roosevelt Row; he and Dach help coordinate frequent events including food truck festivals, a chile pepper festival, and this year's "Feast on the Street." Esser left Phoenix for Los Angeles for two years to run a public art program there (still returning constantly to work on Roosevelt Row projects) but returned full time in 2011 to take a job with ASU, where he heads the art museum's international artist residency program and another program called the Desert Initiative.

Kimber Lanning: Lanning still owns Stinkweeds (an independent record store) and curates shows at Modified Arts (an art gallery that once featured live music but no longer does), and she's particularly focused on Local First Arizona, which began with four members and has grown to 2,450 indie business members with 13 staffers and three offices — the largest local business coalition in North America. Local First Arizona has been influential in everything from making policy at the city level to starting Devoured, the city's highest-profile food festival.

Wayne Rainey: Out of the game for nearly five years after a battle with encephalitis, Rainey is back — he sold the live/work arts space Holgas (to artists Matt Moore and Carrie Marill) and just signed escrow on a new ownership deal on MonOrchid, his gallery/work/event space on Roosevelt Row. Rainey still works as a commercial/fine arts photographer; he's also involved with a coalition of Phoenix gallery owners to endorse good business practices and says he's getting ready to re-launch his arts publication, Shade.

Silvana Salcido Esparza and Wendy Gruber: Their romantic partnership ended years ago, but Esparza and Gruber still are in business together at Barrio Cafe in Central Phoenix. Esparza — a James Beard semifinalist more than once in recent years — opened Barrio Queen in Scottsdale and a Barrio Cafe outpost at the airport. Esparza also began a mural project, Calle 16, on the street where her original restaurant is located, to protest Arizona's controversial Senate Bill 1070 and immigration policies in general. And Esparza's just about ready to open a new bar next to Barrio Cafe.

Johnny Chu: He continues to open (and sometimes close) Asian-inspired restaurants. Roosevelt Row's Sens has come and gone; now Chu owns the splashy Sochu House in Central Phoenix and T.Spot, the new ramen shop and Asian tea house inside his Tien Wong Hot Pot in Chandler. He's also consulted on projects including The Mint, a Scottsdale nightclub.

Beatrice Moore and Tony Zahn: Moore and Zahn continue to live and work in the Grand Avenue arts district, where they own several buildings. Since 2003, they bought and opened Bragg's Pie Factory, which houses the Frontal Lobe Gallery, work/retail spaces, and a diner. Moore's opened a craft store, Kooky Krafts, which showcases her art, and she helped start the Grand Avenue Street Festival. She also was involved in an extensive street-scaping project on Grand and fights to keep zoning approval limited to two-story heights in the neighborhood.

Craig DeMarco: He maintains an ownership share in La Grande Orange, the grocery/coffee shop (and later pizzeria) he started with his wife, Kris, but today they are focused on Upward Projects, run with Lauren and Wyatt Bailey, which now has three Postinos, Federal Pizza, Windsor, Joyride Taco House, and more in the works.

Sloane McFarland: The artist still co-owns the Central Avenue slump-block buildings that house his office, Martha + Mary, along with Pane Bianco and Lux; both have expanded. New tenants: Slippery Pig Bikes and Hayden Flour Mills. He bought a 1950s-era Valentine diner on Roosevelt and created Welcome Diner, which served as a pop-up long before the term was coined — chefs from Nobuo Fukuda to Payton Curry have cooked there, and Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson have settled in with their Southern diner cooking. McFarland also is hard at work on Yourland, an arts/development project on a hunk of land at 16th Street and Buckeye purchased by his great-grandfather 100 years ago.

Not bad, huh? And that was during a decade that included the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, in the city that was arguably hardest hit, as well as an immigration debate that did not show Arizona at her best.

Today, we'd have trouble deciding on which restaurant to take Richard Florida to. There still aren't enough, but there are a lot more.

It's not just these 12 people, of course, who have made a difference these past 10 years. Other players have emerged on the downtown and Central Phoenix scene. Chefs, artists, designers, and business people like Georganne Bryant, who opened a boutique called Frances in 2006 and, later, the candy shop Smeeks and runs Crafeteria, a popular holiday craft festival. Bryant's been instrumental in pushing for support of independent businesses. Longtime music promoter Charlie Levy opened Crescent Ballroom in 2011, bringing bands and people to Second Avenue and Van Buren. It's been a "real game changer" for the local music scene, Kimber Lanning says (though she still admits it's a tough city for a mid-career visual artist). Even the city of Phoenix has played along, she adds, changing adaptive-reuse policies and other regulations that were standing in the way of independents. And infrastructure is arriving.

"It's really gratifying to look around," says Wayne Rainey. ASU's downtown campus, the medical campus, the Translational Genomics Research Institute, light rail — all have happened in the past decade. "Those are things we talked about in the kitchen here [at MonOrchid]; we had salons," he says. Now it's all here and, yes, it's great, but it also scares him. So many people say Phoenix's cultural scene isn't nearly big enough; Rainey's worried that it's just big enough to get squashed by the next wave of development.

"I think things are different. We're probably a lot more vulnerable than we were," Rainey says. "There's even more intense speculation about how to leverage these projects for profitability. This next economic cycle is going to be the determining factor of whether Phoenix wants to maintain an arts district . . . These things almost never last."

One thing is definitely true: These days, you can barely drive a block in downtown and Central Phoenix without hitting a coffee shop — often housed in an old building.

All of which begs a version of the question New Times asked 10 years ago: Phoenix is still hot. Is it finally cool?

Assuming we were at the tipping point in 2003, have we made it a decade later?

Of course, if you have to ask whether you're cool, you're not, as Richard Florida observed when he was here. By definition, cool is ephemeral. The hot part is easy; I found out with one e-mail that it's actually hotter here than it was a decade ago.

"Yes, it has become warmer in metro Phoenix, mostly nighttime temperatures," writes Nancy Selover, the state's climatologist. "And, yes, we [people] are mostly the cause of that."

So that's settled. But there is no climatologist who can tell you whether your city is cool. I had a chance to ask most of the dozen super-connectors from the 2003 story, and the answers were all over the board.

Beatrice Moore says she certainly hopes Phoenix isn't considered cool, and she resents the businesspeople who want to move to Grand Avenue and mooch off her funkiness. "We're not just a bunch of trained monkeys who are down here making things hip and cool for you," Moore says.

Craig DeMarco cringes and says he tells his staff, "When you try to be cool, you're not cool." This city's never not been cool, Kimber Lanning insists. But Silvana Esparza looks a little uncomfortable — odd for a woman who's typically not afraid to share her opinions.

"No, I'm very sad to say, but no," she says, looking down.

"Phoenix is the coolest!" Rainey yells, sitting up straight from a comfortable slump at his desk at MonOrchid to pull up proof on the computer — a study he saw just that morning, he posted it on Facebook, it's here somewhere. He searches, searches — there it is. A publication called Money Journal (no, I hadn't heard of it, either) just named Phoenix one of the "10 Most Liked U.S. Cities." We're number five. Portland is number one.

Rainey sits back, satisfied, so pleased that you can't help taking a little pride in Phoenix, just being in the same room with him.

Hey, it's a start. Maybe we're cool, maybe we're not. Maybe those of us who are left don't really care. A few years ago, Georganne Bryant from Frances printed bumper stickers and T-shirts that said, "Love Phoenix or Leave Phoenix" — a sentiment so popular that someone stole it and put it on their own shirts.


If you want to see for yourself how Phoenix has changed in the past decade, pay a visit to Lux Central at 4402 North Central Avenue. It was easy to find places to schedule interviews for this story — Craig DeMarco and I met at Tammie Coe Cakes; Kimber Lanning wanted to go to Urban Beans; Wayne Rainey told me to grab a drink at Songbird, the coffeehouse in the front of MonOrchid, while he wrapped up a meeting. But, as it was in 2003, Lux — arguably (because there's always an argument about such things) — remains the hub of the coffee culture scene in Phoenix.

The coffeehouse barely resembles its former self; it's Lux on steroids. Opened in 2002 by Daniel Wayne and sold three years later to a guy named Jeff Fischer, Lux moved in the summer of 2011 to much larger (from about 1,600 square feet to about 3,600) digs next door and became Lux Central, such a big deal that the Arizona Republic devoted the cover of its lifestyle section to a story about the expansion.

Lux Central winds around several different rooms, including a full-service bar and kitchen, as well as the ubiquitous coffee. The beans aren't the best in town, but the people-watching is stellar, your fresh-baked raspberry corn muffin comes on a mismatched thrift-store plate and the hibiscus tea has a cult following. There's almost always a live DJ, local art rotates on the walls (lately, Randy Slack's colorful, thought-provoking paintings) and the centerpiece is a table packed with vintage typewriters, an ironic nod to the Apple products that crowd the rest of the tables and laps.

The slump-block complex with the hard-to-spot sign has changed a lot, but co-owner Sloane McFarland still offices there. He's 40 now and hasn't changed a bit, except for a bit of gray in his long-ish buzzcut. Over a cup of tea at Lux Central, McFarland takes the long view on the past 10 years.

In 2003, when "The Cool Index" was published, McFarland's first big show — a video installation that focused on themes he uncovered as he explored real estate and development — was up at Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art. He hasn't had a show since but says he's still been making art. He's now in the process of cataloging what he's made.

You can drive around town and see some of it. Along with the buildings that house Lux, Pane Bianco, and more, McFarland now owns the Valentine diner on Roosevelt Street that houses Michael Babcock and Jenn Robinson. The building had been vacant for 25 years before McFarland bought it. It's not a money-making proposition; McFarland admits they are now working on making the diner self-sustaining.

"It's really about the space," he says. He doesn't think of himself as a developer, but "materially, it's true."

A larger pursuit, and one that's harder to wrap your head around than the super-cute diner with the bubble lights, is Yourland. The plot of land on the southwest corner of Buckeye and 16th Street has been in the maternal side of McFarland's family for 100 years. For a long time, the building still standing on it housed Phoenix's original Smitty's grocery and department store. Part of that space has been revamped and now is home to the federal government, which leases it for immigration services — including citizenship swearing-in ceremonies. McFarland's work is on display in the lobby, in the form of a video he made of the Statue of Liberty.

An old Kentucky Fried Chicken on the site someday will house a project Babcock and Robinson of Welcome Diner are working on, he says, and a mini-mart that has committed to carrying up to 10 percent organic and natural foods is further along. The gas station next to it sells alternative fuels (including ethanol and diesel), with a number of electric recharging stations for both hybrid and all-electric vehicles. Around the back of the store, McFarland is in the process of creating a mural that reflects the historic nature of the area. Included in his design, executed by a 35-year veteran sign painter, are various name brands in their original fonts, with the year they were introduced to the market (like Doritos, 1967). He's got several semi-secret, art-related billboard projects in the works, as well.

None of it's been easy. It took five years to get the plans together for Lux Central, McFarland says. The economy crashed the same month he signed the lease on Yourland with the federal government. But now he sees things taking shape, and he's pleased. He's big on "the aesthetics of the tenant," he says, gesturing around Lux Central. And he sees a close connection to his videos, which always have been about transformation, growth, and using buildings as metaphors for the soul.

"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?


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...   ;)

Amy Donohue
Amy Donohue

I love it here so much in CenPho and I've been here for 11 years. :)

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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