Taz Loomans left town yesterday.
For most people, that won't mean a thing. But for those of us whose livelihood or avocation involves hand-wringing about the local state of architectural affairs, it's proof of our worst fears: that the folks who love this city and want to help it grow are bailing out on us.
Loomans, an architect and first-generation East Indian immigrant, came here in 1991 as a teenager. She studied architecture at ASU and eventually launched Blooming Rock Development, a firm focused on sustainable design and community-oriented development. Her blog has been a go-to spot for anyone who believes that Phoenix is on its way to becoming a world-class city.
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Except that, just lately, Loomans is no longer certain of this possibility herself. "Phoenix doesn't offer anything that is all that remarkable," she says — and then, hearing herself, she groans. "I hate saying that! I've been such a proponent of what's good about this place for a long time. But I never really chose Phoenix, per se. I came here in high school because my family moved here. And now . . . I attribute my change of heart to how long it's taking for things to change here. Also, to where I am in my life right now."
Loomans is referring to her recent divorce, which she says changed her perspective. So, too, did a trip to Portland, Oregon.
"I fell in love with Portland on the first day," she admits. "I thought, Wow, why don't I live in a place like this, that already has everything I advocate for: walkability, people on the streets, a vibrant nature, and real commitment from its community? I came back to Phoenix and I saw how desolate and spread-out everything is. It didn't feel right to me any more."
In short, Loomans grew weary of trying to affect change in a city on its way up. She wants to live in a place that's already arrived. She admits she's as guilty as anyone of focusing on how much better things are here than they were, say, five years ago. "It's a dangerous myopia," Loomans points out. "The world is changing at a fast pace, and we need to keep up. In order to do that, we need to hold ourselves to a higher standard and to stop patting ourselves on the back about how far we've come. Because we still have a lot of work to do to become a world-class city."
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Loomans agrees with me that a good part of that work includes making Phoenix attractive to younger people who will want to settle here, and "re-branding" the city as something other than a place to find nice winter weather.
"We talk a lot about how Phoenix is a convenient place to live," she says. "The roads are wide, there's lots of parking. But people — particularly younger people who've lived in other big cities — need more if they're going to stay. They need a vibrant central core, a lot of coffee shops, and more neighborhood-oriented communities. Phoenix has a lot of that, but those things are not part of our national brand. We're still boasting about the dry, warm weather, which makes us sound like a good place to retire. Period."
Oregon has not turned Loomans into a Phoenix-basher. There are, she insists, a lot of things to love about this city. "I felt embraced by Phoenix," she says, "and very loved here. It's a city where it's easier to matter, easier to make a difference, because not so many people are really trying to change things, make things more vibrant. That means a lot of opportunities for creative people, but it also means it's easy not to be challenged, because there's so little competition. I'm looking forward to honing my skills in a more competitive market, which can only force me to improve in my work."
In other words, Phoenix's loss is Portland's gain.