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.
Robrt L. Pela Surreal Estate
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."
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.
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