I’m currently reading Jill Bolte Taylor’s book, “My Stroke of Insight” about her experience with a stroke that left her with only the right side of her brain functioning. Having lost the use of her left brain, she found out first hand what it was responsible for.  One of the things the left part of our brains does is judge whether something is good or bad, right or wrong.

For example, Jill, since her childhood, hated squash. But because of her stroke, she sort of forgot that and tried squash again in her adulthood and now she loves it. The left part of our brain not only judges what’s good and bad, she realized, but it actually holds on to that judgment for a very very long time. It is the right side of our brains that can adapt to new information and actually change our views.

So Scottsdale is to me what squash was to Jill Bolte Taylor. I decided as an urbanist that I didn’t like Scottsdale, thank you very much. And the more stories I heard about it, i.e. the fact that they don’t want the Light Rail or want to be a part of Discovery Triangle, the more it confirmed my left brain’s decision about Scottsdale.

But last week I sat down with Scottsdale resident and the man behind Creative Connect, Dan Semenchuk, at a coffee shop called Sola in Downtown Scottsdale. Ironically, Dan’s very interested in getting people’s right brain juices flowing, as he’s all about fostering and supporting a community of creatives. And last week, he happened to appeal to my right brain, the side that actually is capable of changing our views and adapting to new information.

Here are 3 fallacies about Scottsdale that he knocked right out of me in our hour-long conversation.

Fallacy No. 1

Scottsdale is one big homogenous suburb, it’s all the same, there is no difference between North Scottsdale and the rest of Scottsdale.


Scottsdale is NOT all the same. North Scottsdale is nothing like South Scottsdale. South Scottsdale is comprised of a lot of blue-collar workers and lots of locally-owned small businesses. The way Dan talked about it is there is Scottsdale north of the canal and there is Scottsdale south of the canal. He’s mainly interested in revitalizing the Scottsdale south of the canal, which is dense, walkable and has great potential for urban vibrancy.

And furthermore…

there is a Downtown Scottsdale. There is actually a real “city center” in Scottsdale and it is suprisingly dense (by Phoenix standards), walkable and shaded.

Fallacy No. 2

Scottsdale is a mixture of showing off and being fake – Fashion Square Mall, the Borgata and Kierland Commons mixed in with fake western architecture, fake Native American kitsch, and fake boobs.


there are real, down-to-earth, hardworking folks that live and work in Scottsdale, especially in south Scottsdale. There are real neighborhoods, that are historic, that aren’t comprised exclusively of 5000 sf homes and that have been owned by the same people for a very long time.

And furthermore…

Scottsdale has a rich history of real innovation and excellence. Evidence can be found in the AMAZING mid-century modern architecture that graces much of South Scottsdale.

Fallacy No. 3

The art in Scottsdale is crap, made for the mass consumption of wealthy tourists visiting “the wild west”.


there are some really great, cutting edge artists and galleries in Scottsdale that have nothing to do with “the wild west”. In fact Scottsdale has been a bonifide artists hub since it’s incorporation in 1951.

Finally here are 3 possibilities he planted in my brain that I’m excited to see come to fruition:

Possibility No. 1

Urban vibrancy and a sense of community in Downtown Scottsdale. Dan sees a Scottsdale where locals like him can walk and bike to local businesses, hang out, meet friends and actually have a rich community experience in the center of Scottsdale. He also sees an ethnically and economically diverse population wanting to live and thrive in South Scottsdale.

Possibility No. 2

Making Scottsdale a hub for creatives, especially visual artists. Dan wants to create an environment in Downtown Scottsdale that attracts avant-garde, cutting edge, out-of the box creatives. And the way he wants to do this is to rally everyone, especially the local business owners, to start working together, instead of thinking of one another as competition.

Possibility No.3

Cross-pollination. This is the possibility that excites me most. First of all Dan wants those of us who live in Phoenix, especially Central or Downtown Phoenix, to get past our preconceived notions about Scottsdale. And second, he wants Phoenix creatives to work hand in hand with Scottsdale creatives to expand our individual horizons and help build our respective centers of arts and innovation. He also wants to introduce some of the edgy Phoenix creativity that shows up in things like murals in the Roosevelt district and on Calle 16 to Downtown Scottsdale. In fact, he is currently working on a project to produce Scottsdale’s first mural right across the street from Sola’s.

So stay tuned and watch for the revitalization of South Scottsdale. Even better, play a part, frequent the local businesses there, find ways to cross-pollinate, and support the efforts of people like Dan who’re working hard every day to bring a sense of place, social equity, economic diversity, and soul to the area.

Image Credit: A map of Downtown Scottsdale from the 2011 Scottsdale Downtown Map and Directory to give you a sense of what’s south of the canal.

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7 Responses

  1. A thoughtful post as always. With Scottsdale having just celebrated its 60th birthday, I’ve reflected a lot in recent weeks on my ambivalence toward the city. I agree with all that you’ve said, although I think that Scottsdale’s refusal participate in the Discovery Triangle and light rail is a symptom of a larger phenomenon of Scottsdale separatism, the reluctance of one community to cooperate with its neighbors in regional initiatives that would benefit the entire metropolitan area. Until the current mayor Jim Lane and vice-mayor Bob Littlefield overcome their separatist ways or are replaced, I believe that your third possibility, cross-pollination, will be difficult to achieve. Perhaps some residents and community groups will make it happen on their own even if municipal government resists.

    Along with the separatism, there’s a related problem of the expansionist “Scottsdale brand” created by that city’s convention and visitors bureau. By including considerable land area outside of Scottsdale city limits, the brand amplifies the widespread confusion about the location of Scottsdale’s borders and results in huge swatches of territory being misattributed to Scottsdale in the public imagination. Scottsdale certainly deserves to define a brand for its own city, but when so many people seem to think, incorrectly, that everything east of 40th Street is in Scottsdale, any marketing campaign that increases that confusion comes across as an attempt by Scottsdale to take credit for attractions outside its borders.

    I’ll balance those criticisms with two aspects of Scottsdale I admire without hesitation:

    First, the Scottsdale Center for the Arts, the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and the entire Civic Center are an asset that everyone can enjoy, regardless of city of residence. The Virginia Piper Theater hosts internationally-known performers, and the outdoor Sunday A’Fairs in the spring are great free, family-friendly events.

    Second, the McDowell Sonoran Preserve is a reason not to write off North Scottsdale. Over the past fifteen years, huge parcels of desert have been spared from development, and extensive network of trails has been developed. Although the Preserve is owned by the city, its creation and continued growth have been made possible by the McDowell Sonoran Conservancy, a grassroots organization.

  2. Will Novak says:

    Downtown Scottsdale is easily the most walkable center in the Valley, I’m not sure why it gets such a hard time from Central PHX folks. Are there things about Scottsdale to dislike? Sure. But any area where people are parking once and walking around all day should be praised in the Valley. Old Town Scottsdale also does the best job with shade of anywhere in the Valley, every sidewalk enjoys a shaded arcade.

  3. ljbutson says:

    The South Scottsdale neighborhoods are ripe for re-inventing themselves. The Haver homes near Oak Street and Scottsdale Road are perfect examples of Mid-Century Modern. But, the rest of the neighborhoods in South Scottsdale are what I like to call “Mid-Century Modest”.

    I believe they represent the next wave in sustainable buildings. These small homes with their un-insulated walls, single-pane windows and low ceilings can be remodeled and redesigned on a modest budget.

    The result of which will be homes that can carry South Scottsdale through the next 60 years. Homes that will reflect the values of the people that believe they can make a difference; not only in Scottsdale but in the Greater Phoenix Valley. Homes that will play a significant part in re-creating the urban fabric and re-defining what a “suburb” can be.

    I’m glad you’ve had a chance to see beyond the Scottsdale stereotypes and see South Scottsdale potential. I live here and I love it! ljb

  4. As a follow-up, here’s an interesting article from the Republic. A recent study suggests that the southern and central portions of Scottsdale subsidize its northern reaches. I suspect the same would be true in Phoenix itself:


  5. Debra Jones says:

    I suppose I may have to call myself a “Southy” now! Just living in the path of the free bus makes me aware of the separation of north and south mentality. Yes, we are the worker bees. The ones who often serve the tables and make the beds of the people passing through Downtown. We are struggling artists who managed to get a little usurped when the urban renewal, which SOUNDED like it would encourage us, actually pushed us farther and farther afield. The Pop-Up Galleries in the art walk and permanent population which I am sure is MUCH more stable down here, is really ready for a blossoming! Count me in on the plans!

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Debra, thanks for your comments and your insight. It’s not much of an urban renewal if it pushes the worker bees and artists out if you ask me. It seems that many are looking towards a resurgence of a different kind of Scottsdale which welcomes the worker bees and artists back into central/south Scottsdale.

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