2012 has been a year of profound change for me. I went through a divorce after being married for seven years. If you’ve ever been through a divorce, you know that it feels like the rug (actually, it feels more like the entire ground you walk on) has been pulled out from under you. Nothing looks or feels quite the same. Your old assumptions and your old paradigms don’t make sense anymore and you’re left with a blank canvas (whether you want one or not) on which you must build a new life with new assumptions and new paradigms.
During this emotionally turbulent year, I have had the privilege to travel quite a bit. In fact, as I write this, I am in the Bay Area on a new years trip. I visited some world class cities this year such as Barcelona, Chicago, Portland, New York and now San Francisco.
These trips have also changed me and the way I look at the world. Whereas before I was happy to help build Phoenix into a world-class city, I now want to find out what it feels like to live in a world-class city. Before, I wanted to help bring bike lanes, urban gardens, community and walkability to Phoenix. Now I want to live a life where those things are a part of the culture and are woven into the fabric of the city. In my travels, particularly this year, I’ve found that there are quite a few places in the country, and no doubt in the world, where this is true.
In the perfect storm of my travels combined with a fresh perspective and the fact that nothing appears the same as it did a year ago, I’ve decided to move to Portland, Oregon. According to Yes Magazine, Portland is “America’s most livable city, a hotbed for innovative ways to support green policies, public spaces, pedestrian amenities, transit, and, of course, bicycles.” In short, it has almost everything I’m looking for in a city (though unfortunately, it lacks sorely in ethnic diversity).
As you can see, I’m moving not so much because I’ve lost faith in Phoenix, but rather because different things are important to me as I go through a personal evolution. But this isn’t to say that my move and the move of other people like me shouldn’t be concerning to those who are working to make Phoenix a better place, including both its leadership and grassroots activists. Phoenix is a great place to build from the ground up, things like actual buildings, your career, a better city and movements towards socially equitable and sustainable development. But it’s still a tough place to build on previous progress and get to the next level. The city’s penchant to tear down old buildings and build new ones in their place is a perfect metaphor to how Phoenix always seems to be starting from scratch (apropos, perhaps, because of it’s name), and just can’t seem to build enough sustained momentum to become a world class city.
Sure, Phoenix is a young city and can’t be expected to be at the same level as the cities I visited this year. Moreover, it’s a young city that grew up in an era where the car was king and the suburbs were the most coveted places to live. Regardless of the reasons, however, there is a sea change towards more dense, community-oriented, walkable and bike-able lifestyles, and Phoenix is woefully behind in offering this option to people who want it. Can Phoenix change in significant ways that would be recognized not only by the city’s boosters but also by people who don’t live here? Can Phoenix mature into a city worth moving to and worth staying in, in a global economy? These questions are still up in the air, if you ask me, but that’s good and bad. It means there’s plenty of room for hope, but none for complacency.
Though I have my gripes with Phoenix, don’t think I don’t love it. I consider it my hometown, even though I wasn’t born here. It holds a very special place in my heart and I will miss it terribly. There are lots of things I love about Phoenix, but the very best thing I have found over the 22 years I’ve lived here is its people. Ever since I became a part of the tight-knit urban community of Phoenix, I’ve found my second family. I will miss this community of smart, creative, hardworking and caring people the most when I leave. I will be writing more about this in upcoming posts. Meanwhile, have a very happy new year!!!Tags: bike-ability, community, moving to portland, phoenix, portland, suburbs, urban lifestyle, walking