August 14, 2012

Falling in Love with Phoenix

by: Brenda Eden


Today’s post is by guest writer Brenda Eden. Brenda studied photography and GIS at Arizona State University. She works at the City of Phoenix creating storm drain maps. She loves downtown Phoenix and is constantly exploring the city with her camera.

One summer night two years ago, I came across Taz Looman’s blog.

I stayed up late into the night reading it. I kept telling myself to shut down the computer and go to bed, but I found it too interesting. I can imagine I am making Taz blush saying this, but I can also hear her saying “Yay!” And if you know Taz, you know what I mean. So when I receive her newsletter or see that she has updated her blog, I eagerly read it. Her most recent newsletter has a post entitled: Why Is Everyone Leaving?

I had noticed it too: so many creative people who have made this city better are moving away; I had just gone to a going-away party for a friend moving to Utah. I emailed Taz and told her that while so many people were leaving, I also knew that there were a lot of people falling in love with our city. I’ve met them here and there, mostly at the Valley of the Sunflowers, where I was volunteering in the spring and early summer.

I think I look at Phoenix with slightly rose-colored glasses. I’m here to stay. I have family here that need me, so I don’t intend to leave and I love the idea of working to make this place better. But I was curious to know more about how the people that I have met feel and so I sent out questions on Facebook and quickly received fascinating responses.

Taz asked me to write a response to her post about people leaving because I had responded really positively that Yes, people are leaving, but there are new people falling in love with the city.

Reading the responses I got was kind of a wake-up call. The recurring theme was that Phoenix is a really difficult place. Like the desert that it exists in, conditions are extreme and it takes a lot to thrive and survive here. They wrote that  Phoenix is lacking in community and artistic support. They wrote about racism and the difficulty of employment here. Some of the people who responded said that they definitely plan to move in the future. They feel that they have to for education or work or just because they desire a different kind of life than Phoenix can provide. They generally wrote that Phoenix has a lot of potential, but that it may take a long time to reach that potential.

I believe I will receive more responses to my questions and I will be so curious to see what those responses are and continue the conversation I have started. Most of the responders said they will eventually move. They explained the difficulties of living here so eloquently that I understand now more why they would want to move.

I am very curious to hear from the people who, like me, plan to stay.

Monday nights when I was in high school, I would have friends over to watch Northern Exposure, a TV show about life in the small town of Cicely, Alaska. The show was quirky, the characters were very quirky, and one episode featured the Capras, a couple new to the town, finding that a Little Italy existed in Cicely. But since Cicely only had 600 people, Little Italy was only a couple of houses, one of which had an exclusive and fancy restaurant in its basement. I kind of think of Phoenix as being like that: there are fantastic places and people and events, but a lot of times they are very hidden.

A couple years ago it would not have occurred to me that this city was something that I would come to love so very much. Coming across Taz’s blog caused me to start thinking differently about this city. Meeting people at community dinners that she hosted also got me thinking differently about this city. Because I do love it so much, I definitely feel excited about making it better. I also feel a responsibility to invite other people in to what is happening.

It’s been a long time since I have watched The Wizard of Oz, but you know the scene at the end of the movie where Dorothy is telling her friends about Oz, saying that it wasn’t a dream, that it was a place? She says “And you and you and you…and you were there,” pointing to the people in her life that in Oz were the Scarecrow, the Tinman, and the Cowardly Lion.

I kind of can’t believe I am admitting this, but sometimes I show up to events in Phoenix and in my head I sound like Dorothy: “You and you and you…You’re the person who made sunflowers grow in a dirt lot, you’re the person fighting for a dog park, you’re the person who made that mural I always can’t wait to turn the corner and see, you’re the person who makes the best coffee at my favorite coffee shop, you’re the person whose cooking is art and you made the best food ever at the Public Market, you’re the person working to make streets and neighborhoods better, you’re the person promoting more bicycling in the city, you’re the person who is trying to make this city more environmentally sustainable…” And on and on and on in my head.

I understand that people will always come and go, but so many people are doing the hard work of making this city better, that it will be fascinating to see how our city changes over the next few years.

Photo Credit: Taken at Valley of the Sunflowers. Photo by the author.

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4 Responses

  1. Will Novak says:

    Living anywhere else is boring, trust me, I’ve done it. I’ve lived for good periods of time in great American cities like St Louis, LA and Boston, but at the end of the day, I longed for PHX.

    Phoenix is indeed for people who want to build something themselves, not for people who want a finished product. And thats fine. Some people hire a handyman to screw in a lightbulb, others, we like to do things ourselves.

    I went to college in St Louis, and while its a great town and they do a great job respecting their history, I heard a lot about ‘the old days’ and ‘the 1904 Worlds Fair and Olympics’. Boston and LA too, people were always looking backwards. Perhaps in PHX our mistake is going too much the opposite way, but I like looking forward. I like checking the Republic to see what City we passed in population. To go down the street and say “oh whoa, what’s that?! It wasn’t there last week.”

    Phoenix is a young city, and its probably best for young people. People who still have energy, excitement and haven’t had their optimism stamped out. It takes a certain type to rebuild an ancient Indian city in a desert, and it still takes a certain type to see that cities potential greatness.

    It comes down to this: as a kid, did you want to go look at your buddies awesome Lego castle he built? Or, did you want to build one yourself? If you choose the latter, you better get your butt out of Seattle, or Portland or LA or wherever and get on the next airplane into the desert.

  2. Thank you for your words and willingness to roll up your sleeves and make this place a great place to live, work, study and play. (BTW, in many ways, it already is!) I have had the same conversation, about leaving/staying/building/”living” in this city with a lot of people. I know Jon Ashcroft; he is a friend and created our branding ( I have much love for him….so, when I heard he was leaving I literally sent him an email that said, “Jon, I can’t wait until the day that young creatives like you don’t feel like they need to leave to do what they are called to do.” At New City (a name inspired by the bible, yes, and also, our commitment and love for the city of PHX), we call our people to seek the flourishing of our city. We are doing what we can to meaningfully engage with the neighborhoods, communities and districts in which we live to contribute to the well-being of the city. Ours is a message of renewing….

    So, count me in…I’m here and I will continue to encourage the young talent that I am surrounded by to stay here and seek the welfare of this city.

  3. I <3 Phoenix and I love reading that other people do too. I agree the artistic community could be more robust and easy to access, but as someone who loves and needs a creative outlet at all times: IT DOES EXIST HERE. In many forms. There are creative people doing their thing all over the place, they're just hidden behind the cacti and the haboobs so they can be hard to find. The harshness of the desert highlights it's beauty. The saguaro blossom is stunning and gorgeous because it's surrounded by brown, spiky things. The same goes for our people. We have an edge, but we're better for it.

  4. SuzannePhx says:

    Thank you Brenda, for this inspiring, thoughtful post. I’ve lived here all my life so I can’t speak to other cities’ support of the arts or their political climates. I can say that the influx of artists and hipsters in the last few years has been electrifying. I’m here for the long haul, and I’ll be delighted to work with you, Taz, and so many others on making Phoenix better every day. Hugs!

    P.S. Here are some things we don’t have that I don’t miss: Hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, mudslides, snow, sleet, 90% humidity. Hooray for dry heat!

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