I’ve been tasked to explain why I like Phoenix better than Tempe, why to me that it makes me feel more alive than being in Tempe does. I’ve tried many times to verbally explain it, but well, I’m a writer and not so good with the spoken word. So here I will attempt to put into written words the things Phoenix makes me feel.
To that end I was fortunate to find Upwards Projects blog post about Federal Pizza featuring Old Bisbee Brewing Co. beers. It gave me the platform and foundation for what it is that I find invigorating about Phoenix.
First, I am an energetic, passionate, outgoing, social butterfly who loves old brick buildings and busy bustling hot spots. I love texture, wether it’s in the fabric of a wall paper or the people around me. The sounds of their voices and the energy of their collective souls is like my heartbeat. This makes me feel alive and I come by it, well, historically and a bit naturally I presume.
See I’m from the funkiest place in Arizona. I was born and raised in Bisbee, AZ. A small, quirky, eclectic and friendly little town about 200 miles southeast of Phoenix. My dad and step mom still live in the same 100 year old rock house where I spent many summers. Bisbee has charm. Bisbee is bucolic. Bisbee is where copper miners, hippies, bikers, Daughters Of The American Revolution (DAR), church folk, CEOs and politicos all lived, socialized and played bridge together. People in Bisbee were friendly and neighborly when I was growing up. We knew everyone and visa versa. Sometimes a blessing, sometimes not so much. Anyway, I loved the ‘feel’ of Bisbee. The old buildings, the musty library, the creaky floors of my house. Going to Mrs. Browders’ candy shop and spending the two cents I had just found under my bed on candy, or putting some plastic horse on “layaway.” Going to the Dairy Queen for an ice cream after my sister’s softball team won a game.
I know you’re probably wondering, “What the hell does that have to do with Phoenix? Good lord it’s huge in comparison, and well, most developers have been quick to tear down just about any building over 10 years old just to put something new in it’s place!” And yes, in many ways you are right. But here’s what Phoenix is to me.
It’s the same place I’ve lived for the last 30 years, and for the most recent 17 I’ve lived in the same zip code, despite moving three times. It’s the place where I fought and beat breast cancer at the age of 23. It’s the place where my mom and I made a new start when Phelps Dodge moved the corporate headquarters from Douglas, AZ. It’s where I graduated from high school, met, fell in love with and married my son’s amazing dad. It’s where I had my adorable son, in the same hospital his dad was born in. It’s where I lived when I made it through journalism school while having said child.
But it isn’t just all the “living” that makes me like Phoenix better, although, one could argue, that’s enough. It’s because I’ve watched it grow and change. I’ve watched as Phoenix and local businesses and elected officials and neighbors all worked to create a very unique space in such a large area. Creating special places to eat, meet, drink, have coffee, shop and workout. Places like Windsor, Churn and Postino. Places like St. Frances, Chestnut and SideBar. Places like Hissy Fits, Paris Envy and Smeeks.
For the last 20 plus years I’ve watched as Phoenix somehow became a tight knit community of like-minded, yet very diverse people. People actually walk and ride their bikes now to these places. There isn’t the same cookie-cutter-ness (yes, not really a word, I am aware), that you find in many other parts of the Valley. You can sit in Lux Coffeebar and feel like you are in San Francisco or New York while you listen to light rail wiz along Central Ave. Visit Carmel’s Breakfast House on Camelback and sure enough you can almost hear the ocean as if you were in Newport Beach.
And in this joint venture that many have embarked on in making Phoenix different than the other ‘burbs here, the people have continue to be friendly, outgoing and helpful. At least that’s what I see every time I visit “home.” Somehow Phoenix has managed to create a huge, connected neighborhood out of some 40 or more square blocks.
What I see, and feel for that matter, is people want to be out, they want to be alive, and most importantly they WANT to connect with those around them. I don’t see or feel that in Tempe, at least not yet. But it’s harder to do that here. Like it used to be in Phoenix.
Phoenix is still where you’ll find 90 year old houses sitting next to more ‘modern’ Haver-like homes in little pockets of irrigated lots. Where kids can run and splash and slip in slide in the flooded yards like I did when I was a kid in my grandparents’ lot. (Yes, don’t remind me of the pollutants in the water, not my point here.) My point is that somehow Phoenix has managed to become this huge version of my childhood town. I don’t know if it really has or if I’m just seeing it how I want to see Phoenix, but I don’t think so.
It’s how I want my son to grow up. In this bigger version of my own childhood. I waited a long time for Phoenix to become what I always dreamed it would be, and now it has, and for that I will always return to my “home” even if it’s just for an evening or a night supporting my home town through local venues like Federal Pizza, and for that I am grateful that Urban Phoenicians “get it.” They understand that it’s local involvement and community that really matters in the long run. Connecting with those around us, regardless of age, size, color, income etc. that makes life grand. Phoenicians want to get off the sofa and out in their front yard and meet their neighbors, and it doesn’t matter the size of city, they want to be neighborly. Urban Phoenicians KNOW it’s the Villiage that feed our collective souls and hearts, mine included.