Longform

Sunnyslopetopia

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Norton went on to found the area's first subdivision in 1911; two decades later, the Desert Mission was founded to provide health and social services to needy Slopers. Local physicians and dentists donated time to the mission, which became the center of cultural, social and religious activities and where the ambulance doubled as a shuttle service to local picnics and the mission's therapeutic pottery program. When fire wiped out seven of the mission's nine buildings in 1942, millionaire John C. Lincoln, who'd come to Phoenix from Ohio because of his wife's failing health, donated 20 acres north of Dunlap where a new clinic might be built. The clinic eventually became John C. Lincoln Hospital, which opened in 1965 and became the heart of Sunnyslope, which was already in decline.

By the mid-1980s, the Slope's main business area was known as much for its hos and pot peddlers as it was its budget auto mechanics and its secondhand shops, and the neighborhood was targeted as a "blighted area" by the City of Phoenix. By the end of the decade, the Sunnyslope Village Alliance — the fourth such group to attempt a neighborhood revival — was formed to clean up the community, and the Slope began another long, hard climb out of its own ill repute.

But this time, it worked.


Ask Sunnyslope resident Christina Plante why her community is finally, after 20 years of trying, managing to pull itself up out of the sewer, and she'll tell you it's because of the amazing people who live and work here. She'll say it's because of the fine support of John C. Lincoln Hospital, which funnels a seemingly endless amount of cash into community-reclamation programs, even while it's undertaking a multimillion-dollar renovation project of its own. She'll use the words "community" and "support" and "neighborhood relations" so often, you fear she'll break into a chorus of "Kumbaya" at any moment.

But she has to. Plante is the neighborhood relations manager for John C. Lincoln, a former coordinator of a 2006 Department of Justice Weed and Seed grant that afforded a quarter-million dollars to weed out crime and "seed" neighborhoods in the area, creating what she calls "one giant block watch that helps the city fight blight around here."

Plante is no Pollyanna. "My job doesn't require that I live in the area," she says over an omelet at The Eye Opener, the so-unhip-it's-cool diner on Hatcher Road where she lunches most days. "I'm here because I want to be. And I know better than anyone that we still have a ways to go before this is the perfect neighborhood. But it's also the only place around here where I can live in a big city and a small town at the same time."

As if to prove her point, the restaurant's owner, Halim Mokbel, stops by the table to ask after Plante's cats and to show her the promotional fliers he's just had printed. Plante and her lunch companion, Joel McCabe, appear to know everyone in the place, and everyone seems to know everyone else here, too.

"It sounds like propaganda," says McCabe, who manages Desert Mission's Neighborhood Renewal department, "but it's really true: The reason that this community is succeeding is because it was a community founded in caring." McCabe knows how cheesy this sounds. "But listen," he says. "This community founded the Desert Mission. The Desert Mission helped found the clinic that became John C. Lincoln Hospital. We're just giving back. And it's not all altruistic. We want this to be a vital part of town where our businesses can prosper."

The proof, as they say, is in the pudding: When Sunnyslope hit the skids, Lincoln Hospital kept its ER — often the only source of medical care for low-income families with no health insurance — open. "This was at a time when practically every ER in town was shutting down," says Councilman Greg Stanton, whose District 6 includes parts of Sunnyslope. "And when J.C. Lincoln could have pulled out of a depressed area and relocated its entire facility to its new Deer Valley location, it didn't. They stayed here and helped foster the community that founded them."

None of which was of any consequence to Phoenicians, who until recently considered Sunnyslope a drug-infested Loserville where one went to buy a used radiator or a bag of weed, but not to set down roots. The turning point came in 1999 when the city joined forces with John C. Lincoln Hospital and Sunnyslope Village Revitalization, Inc., a nonprofit community development corporation, to build Sunnyslope Village Center, a 12-acre, 120,000-square-foot, $12 million neighborhood retail center located at Central and Dunlap. It wasn't long after that some of our better-known architects and designers began buying land in Sunnyslope. Guys like Eddie Jones of Jones Studio became a fan of the area, and landscape architect Steve Martino opened up shop in the 'Slope. Nielsen Diversified, a renowned interior design gallery, relocated to Central Avenue. And developers began inviting some of their more open-minded clients to come look at the views from the pretty hillsides that surround this part of town. (Even in the middle of a real estate slump, Sunnyslope is not only holding its own, its sales have improved. "Right now, Sunnyslope is second on my list of places where people want to be shown property," says Jim Anthony, a Home League Realty broker who lives in Sunnyslope's upscale, gated Mt. Central Place. "At price per foot, I'd say Sunnyslope is doing better than some better-known Phoenix neighborhoods.")

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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