Geography of the Mind

Arizona is a state of mind...

It's irrelevant what any urbanist, civic booster, city officials or property developers say. Downtown Phoenix is a ghost town of brand new high rise buildings, condominiums, multi-use projects that have largely been unoccupied or are under occupied. Lots of them. The restored slums sit waiting alongside the new buildings also waiting to be fully peopled. Our historic buildings sit as lonely islands in a sea of steel and glass. The truth is not much is happening in Phoenix, at best we're at a standstill, mostly the core city is deserted. Meanwhile we are ringed by cheaply built but formerly high priced suburbs that one day may rival the desolated developments of the Salton Sea.

There are those who are doing well, the usual suspects, making a buck of what is left but despite attempts to dispel the truth, the average person is economically down. There are pockets of activity and vitality, some of it in the most surprising places and communities of people. For the most part, Phoenix is like a jilted lover, confused and wondering what to do next. As most forsaken ones do, we will find new companions and our way back. People may be down but are not out, the new frontier spirit is alive and well among lots of folks.

The Arizona Legislature is busy thinking of ways to buck the Federal Government, in ways that appall much of the rest of the country, but we have never much cared for what they think. Good on 'em for doing it. Even though I find our Senate President, Russell Pearce and his minions, personally repulsive. We're as broke, if not more so, than any state in the union but we need to rebuild this state our way. We have been like that from the beginning. Before President Taft would even allow us to become a state, he insisted on changes in our Constitution, which our ancestors made and then after statehood put the issues to the voters to reinstate them and they did. Nowadays we have people in Pima County who want to become a state of their own.

Which is laughable to a lot of the rest of the country but you have to be a real Arizonan to understand. We truly don't care what the rest of the United States thinks or does, especially about us. I have no idea how Arizona, especially it's two major cities, Phoenix and Tucson, are going to pull out of this over-development and funny money mess. What I do know is there is something about this place, that you have to be here a long time to fully understand, that always manages to find it's own way back.


  1. I tried to comment on this last night and managed to somehow wipe it all out between previewing it and posting it. That's just as well because it was pretty long-winded. That happens sometimes.

    I know what you mean about having to be a real Arizonan to understand the state. It's a lot like how I feel about the North Country here in NY. Other people can pass through it or hear about it and appreciate it to a degree, but I think you have to feel a place to really understand it. I don't think there's any way to feel it without either being there or having been there a lot. I think it has to get inside your heart, which I guess leaves an awful lot of people on the outside looking in. Their loss. :)

    For me- as someone who knows almost nothing about Arizona which I haven't learned from your blog or my godfather (who lives there)- I'd never claim to begin to understand it (though that whole Taft switcheroo story is beautiful and goes a long way to explain things) but I love that it's there and is standing up for itself. And I know that even in this liberal pit of NY, a whole lot of people look up to Arizona. You'll never hear it on the news, of course, but if you came here and asked around, you'd be surprised how many people love Arizona for fighting the do-nothing dictatorial mess that our federal government has become. It's inspiring. It really is.

    OK...slightly less long-winded, maybe. Anyway, another great post, JR. Thanks for putting it up.

  2. Arizona has a great poke-the-feds-the-eye mentality ever since I can remember way back to the sixties. Post-1993 when we got a lot of Southern Californians (we call them "dumb callies" here) and Midwesterners ("mindlesswasters") moving here, some of that was diluted out for awhile. It's funny, since the economic crisis they seemed to have become converts, those that haven't left anyway.

    Phoenix was number six on Forbes "America's Emptiest Cities" list http://www.forbes.com/2009/02/12/cities-ten-top-lifestyle-real-estate_0212_cities_slide_12.html

    I have cousins who live in upstate NY, although I've never been there I get that it is unique from the rest of the state. This same group of cousins also live in the Jacksonville/St Augustine area, also among the list of emptiest cities. I lived there for a few years in the seventies working on a project for AT&T and I know my cousins pretty well. The ones who left upstate NY permanently have mixed emotions about it now, the ones still there love it. I think they're all sorry in a way they left Arizona in the eighties though, especially those in FL.