Architecture and Design

Roosevelt Row: The Fight to Keep Downtown Phoenix "Authentic" Is a Fight to Let It Become Something It's Never Been

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There are no bulldozers on Fifth Street on this lazy Saturday, only people, mostly Millennials, pawing through books at Lawn Gnome Publishing, browsing tchotchkes at Misconstrued boutique, trying on T-shirts at Made. But Reid is right that things are changing, quickly and dramatically, on and near the Row. The once-scary neighborhood of reclaimed bungalows and former crack houses has lately fallen into the shadows of high-rise towers like the eight-story Roosevelt Point at Fourth Street, and by Arizona State University, which has been gobbling up downtown properties for a decade now. The imminent destruction of a trio of beloved old Row buildings is the latest in a trend that threatens to transform Roosevelt Row into something big and shiny and decidedly unscruffy.

The increasing din from local creatives, preservationists, and small-business owners who want to keep developers from obliterating their arts district is loud enough to drown out some equally compelling inquiries. Like whether every old building is worth saving. And if we're halting progress by chasing away big-money developers. And if it's possible that downtown's artsy character can survive gentrification.

"No way in hell," according to Jimbo Reid. "This whole place," he says, pointing a combat-booted toe in the direction of Roosevelt Row, "is gonna be gone, gone, gone."

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela