Downtown Deluge

Artistic statement: Thank you very much for the in-depth articles on downtown Phoenix. ("Exploding Downtown," October 2 and "Jerry's World," October 16) Your special project deserves kudos for bringing to light the many opportunities that the Phoenix metropolitan area has to create a vibrant, creative, and "live-able" downtown.

I saw (and heard) Ray Bradbury speak about 20 years ago, and he summarized many of the key points found in Richard Florida's important book, Rise Of The Creative Class. Mr. Bradbury's definition of civilization was that the quality of the civilization was directly proportional to the number of excellent restaurants a person can walk to within two miles of their front door. He went on to enumerate virtually the same list of lower-case "arts" and "cultural" items that Professor Florida indicates. In Bradbury's condensed and efficient analysis, once you have a critical mass of people living, shopping, eating, and drinking within an area, the artistic, cultural, musical and social benefits appear.

The key to any "creative" space development is to provide the "creative class" with the time to pursue their muse, by providing low-cost living quarters and readily available spaces for them to purvey the objects of their labor, be it art, music, or incredible cuisine. As you so aptly state: "What's hugely missing in downtown Phoenix are enough cafes, bars, coffee houses, lofts, music showcases and retail outlets to form the day-to-day fabric of urban life."

In Paris, Cannes, and other "highly civilized" cities in France, there are up to five brasseries (restaurants) per lineal block of city, with compact housing in abundance. One characteristic of older cities in Europe appears to be that families have owned their residences for several generations, so their "rent" is very low, basically what it cost for upkeep and heating, cooling and cooking necessities. This "low rent" lifestyle makes it possible for "creatives" to hang out in the neighborhood and be creative, because they don't actually need a lot of cash flow to survive. In some European cities, "artists colonies" have been in existence for hundreds of years, providing low-cost living areas and ready-made local markets for one-of-a-kind handmade products. In most of the United States, rents and mortgage payments prohibit the kind of "creative" lifestyle, because artists cannot make enough money from their art to pay their monthly living costs.

The municipal tax structure in Phoenix is against building any kind of "creative class" in a downtown Phoenix urban renewal zone, because what the city really wants are big-bucks yuppies who buy quarter-million-dollar condo "lofts" and, inevitably, drive their Porsches, Mercedes, and BMWs out to the trendy restaurants in Scottsdale to eat and drink.

Gerry Kaufhold

You can't go back again: Does the Editor of New Times ever read the Letters to the Editor to look at the big picture?

Don't you find it the least bit strange that all six letters included in your October 9 issue all carry the same boring theme that downtown Phoenix stinks? ("Exploding Downtown," October 2) They unanimously agree how downtown Phoenix pales to New York, Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, etc.

All six letters were written by people who left those cities to come to Phoenix, and now want to change them to be like what they left.

Don't you find something very strange about that?

You should!

Jim Sparks

Experimenting with downtown: Thanks so much for addressing the downtown issue and spurring the debate by bringing Richard Florida to the Valley.

I recently moved back after 13 years in Minneapolis. It was great to see that city had reversed its course from falling population and property values to the opposite in just that short time. My own hood in "Uptown", the largest urban area outside the downtown, went from formerly redlined to the hottest real estate market in the Twin Cities, where people who bought homes for $80,000 20 years ago were selling them for half a million. The reason was simple: anything you wanted was in walking distance, from the Chain of Lakes, to the best restaurants, nightspots, shops and movie theatres in town, including five coffee shops within as many blocks of my home. And the downtown was a short bus ride away.

Meanwhile, it's truly painful to see the decline of my old hood, south Scottsdale, and the continued decay of vast areas of Phoenix. The current vision of growing endlessly like mold in a petri dish, leaving the core dead and empty, is a failed one, and Phoenix and Scottsdale have unfortunately become textbook examples. But until people decide they've had enough of a dead downtown and urban sprawl and vote accordingly, how can that change?

Ken Jacobsen

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