Best Of :: People & Places
Sometimes we wonder whether legendary Italian architect Paolo Soleri isn't feeling a little smug these days. All signs point to no: The 90-year-old trailblazer was nothing but gracious during his birthday celebration in Scottsdale in June. He took time to pose for photos with families and fans, sipping water, nibbling on a scone, listening intently, and sitting through the heat for much longer than would be considered healthy for most men nearing 100. (Though, admittedly, most men nearing 100 aren't cementing their legacy in that decade).
But how could he not be? This is a man who was prophetic about one of the most urgent issues on the radar today: sustainable living. (He thought of it about a generation earlier than the rest of us.) More than 50 years ago, he founded the Cosanti Foundation, and 10 years after that, he began building one of the most ambitious architectural projects in the country. Arcosanti is an entire city in the desert that, when finished (if ever), was designed to house 5,000 people and take up only 25 of 4,060 acres of land. His idea was to create an alternative to urban sprawl, a city that works more like a complimentary organism than a never-ending growth spurt. Arcosanti looks something like a space-age community built entirely out of the dirt, sand, and stone. It is both modern and retro, beautiful and rugged.
The experimental community is basically in the middle of nowhere, located about 50 miles north of Phoenix along Interstate 17. It is (at least the beginnings of) an entirely new kind of city — one that conserves energy, land, and resources. In other words, it is (cough, cough) sustainable. In fact, Soleri's 50-year-old philosophy is based on a theory of sustainability: the combination of architecture and ecology (i.e. arcology; check it out on his Web site). Feeling a little silly yet? Maybe if we'd listened to him 50 years ago, we wouldn't be facing ozone high-pollution advisory days now.
Either way, the city of Scottsdale and Scottsdale Public Arts seem to have gotten the message — and they're bringing it to us in the form of the Soleri Bridge and Plaza, which will cross the canal at Scottsdale Road just west of Camelback. The project, designed by Soleri and partly built by his groupies at the Cosanti bell foundry in Paradise Valley, will feature two 64-foot pylons that will cast shadows to mark the course of the sun and a suspension bridge, as well as areas for walking and biking (and horseback riding, apparently). Okay, so ours is no revolutionary, self-sustaining city in the desert, but it will hopefully be a suitable tribute to our favorite architectural, environmental, ecological, artistic visionary. We salute you, Signore Soleri.
Though nobody knows her real name, "Cake Lady," as downtowners have affectionately dubbed her, continues to contribute to central Phoenix lore. In short, there's a woman about town who occasionally shows up at gatherings (a music performance, an art exhibit) looking for free stuff, especially cake. The consensus is that she reads New Times (a smart woman, indeed) and then calls ahead to inquire about the possibility of free goodies. She's been spotted only a couple of times, including years ago at a birthday party at the now-defunct Paper Heart, where she briefly showed up, then dashed out the door with a bunch of cake to go. Hey, Cake Lady, share some next time!
Yes, you're reading that right. No, we're not heat-addled.
Summer in Phoenix rules.
We first noticed this seeming contraction one day several years ago when all the traffic on Indian School Road dried up. Poof! It was like a scene from I Am Legend or Vanilla Sky. And it made us ponder the other positives of a season in which temps can hit the 120s in the shade and you can get a third-degree burn on your butt just by getting in your car.
The sunsets. The storms. The long light of evenings. The short lines at our favorite hangs. The full-moon hikes. The abundant parking at Piestewa Peak. The pool parties. The misters. The cheap resort rates. The free Sunday-afternoon films at the Phoenix Art Museum.
More than specific pleasures, though, our late-blooming appreciation of Phoenix summer has to do with the sense of inclusion we feel from Memorial Day through late September. For 120-odd days, it's our town — not the fifth-largest city in America. It feels like a community.
It's hot, but it's home.
It was weird, right? This year, summer didn't really start 'til July. Sure, we had a hot day here and there, but any true Phoenician knows to brace for the heat starting in, oh, March. Not so in 2009, and June was particularly balmy. If you don't believe us, check out the stats: We haven't had this many days under 100 in the month of June (only 13!) since 1927. Which only made July the cruelest month — when, as if on cue, the temperature soared.
Here at New Times, we know maps. We've spent countless hours trying to assemble them for our own various purposes. That's why we have such an appreciation for the Small Wonders map, published by Local First Arizona, designed to promote local businesses in both central/downtown Phoenix and Tempe. Consider this our thank you note for the labor of love it took to create these fold-out, easy-to-use, eye-pleasing guides to our favorite stuff in the city. It was surely no small feat to produce them.
Depending on whom you ask, the year-old Metro light rail may or may not be the most over-hyped project in Phoenix history. But no matter what you think of the billion-dollar (and counting!) project, you have to admit the view of the Phoenix skyline from the bridge going over Tempe Town Lake is pretty amazing, especially at dusk. From the confines of the always overpacked or nearly empty train car, you get a glimpse of Phoenix at its best. The downtown towers reach ever higher, their steady ascent seemingly fueled by the mysterious desert waters around you, but they never quite catch their backdrop, South Mountain. As the copper-colored star fades into the purplish haze of an Arizona sunset, even the most curmudgeonly rail-hater has to be impressed by the beautiful scene framed through the windows of this ambitious transportation project.