Downtown Phoenix: Don't Hate the Haters

Recently there has been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere on the shortcomings of downtown Phoenix, my adopted hometown. First, there was some consternation that events like Ignite Phoenix and TEDxPhoenix, were in fact not held in Phoenix at all and therefore not to be attended by ‘true Phoenicians.’

In addition, there have been posts from bloggers like Derek Neighbors, Tyler Hurst, and the Downtown Devil explaining what they see as downtown Phoenix’s shortcomings. And of course there is Jon Talton, the ‘exiled’ Arizona Republic journalist who doesn’t pull punches when describing what has happened to his beloved home town. All of these people and their writings have raised the hackles of some downtown Phoenix cheerleaders. However, all of these people are deeply engaged in their communities in their own ways, something that many cheerleaders are not (Hint to cheerleaders: eating dinner at a local restaurant does not make you active in the community).

As an incurable urbanist, I am excited by what’s going on downtown, and have been one of the area’s biggest boosters. I am a firm believer that the only thing worse than unconstructive criticism however, is blind boosterism. As such, I am not blind to the fact that downtown Phoenix is a work in progress that still has a long way to go before it becomes a truly vibrant urban hub and I’m grateful that the above people are willing to point out its flaws.

Yes downtown has come a long way over the past 10 years (and especially the last 5 years). However, all this work has barely laid the foundation for a ‘real’ downtown; an urban space that offers a mixture of opportunities to live, work and play. It is far to early to sit back and proclaim that downtown Phoenix has arrived, and definitely too early to castigate those who dare to point out the remaining shortcomings and hurdles that the downtown core faces.

Boycotting events or ignoring those you disagree with is no way to help the city or region grow. So rather than write of the comments of Derek, Tyler or Jon, why not listen to them and learn how others see the city? Sure you may disagree with some, or all of their points, but chances are you will re-examine your perspectives and may even find some common ground with the critics to work with. By simply writing the critics writing them off as negative cranks, however, you are missing an opportunity to improve your city.

There are plenty of opportunities to share your opinions and ideas. To begin with, share your opinions in the comment section of this post, or TD‚ Derek‚ or others. Better yet, invite the critics out for lunch coffee or a beer (we are extremely social people) or start up a conversation at your local coffee shop or pub; downtowners are more than willing to share their impressions on what is going on in the communities and engage in constructive debates on where the city is heading.

The point is to get involved and get engaged in your community and neighborhood. Sitting back and cheering is just as bad as sitting back and complaining. After-all, it is only by acknowledging our shortcomings that we care able to address them and help realize downtown Phoenix’s full potential.

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Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.
  • Sorry, but I’ll never be convinced that Jon Talton is a helpful voice, and it saddens me that Phoenicians with whom I otherwise agree, including you, think he is. Derek and Tyler annoy me sometimes, but at least they’re here in Phoenix engaged in their communities. Talton is not. Relentless bashing from another city does not count as engagement. Hurling insults left and right is not engagement. A consistently smug and snide tone does not count as engagement. You asked for comments, and you’ve just received them, but we continue to disagree on this issue.

    Right now, I’m on the fence about attending this month’s Radiate event — not so much due to the troubling theme, but more because of personal circumstances. Regardless, you can be assured I would never attend any event at which Jon Talton is a speaker. To do so would only encourage his toxic rhetoric.

    As for the issue of “blind boosterism,” I continue to ask “what boosterism?” I still don’t see it. Phoenix has always had an inferiority complex. I come across very few people, other than a few PR professionals advocating a position for a paying client, who insist that all is rosy. In fact, I come across far more Phoenicians who say “Downtown is dead” and stay at home in their suburban neighborhoods.

  • The first step towards excellence is identifying deficiencies and creating an action plan to remedy them. Downtown Phoenix has a ton of potential and has reasonable momentum. Thinking the work is done instead of realizing it is just beginning is the biggest mistake supporters can make. It is refreshing to hear a voice of reason. It is what will be needed to take Downtown Phoenix to the next level.

    PS: Your content is too good to truncate the RSS feed.

  • I certainly agree with your points on engagement and critical, constructive discussions.

    I’ve never been to a Radiate Phoenix (although I do attend many other Phoenix events, downtown or not), but can you tell me how Radiate Phoenix actually impacts/shapes the future of the city?

    As mentioned briefly in this post and others, many Phoenix area events are held in other locations (Tempe, Mesa), supposedly due to the lack of an affordable venu location in downtown Phoenix that has WiFi capabilities. If this is such a big issue for some people, what is the plan to remedy it? Are there people in the community that are actually working with the City of Phoenix or some other private venue in Phoenix to try to improve it?

  • Tyler Hurst

    The first step toward recovery is admitting there is a problem. Second? Solving it.

    Sure, some of this requires sacrifice and/or compromise. Most people are not willing to make even a little bit. We all need to.

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  • Derek et al,

    If you want to see activism mixed with pragmatism, come to a Downtown Voices Coalition general meeting, held the Second Saturday of almost every month. More info on the website. I urge you to read the position paper of DVC. Many of its points were adopted into the city’s last Downtown Strategic Plan, and we are working on a re-examination of the current state of the plan’s points in a facilitated discussion to be held (tentatively)in January 2010. By the way, the very large open space of A.E. England has great video capability and wifi, and is a free city of Phoenix rental(if of course, the event is free)….or so said the Mayor at the State of Downtown.

  • Yuri, I love the points you make and have enjoyed following this topic lately. I’m looking forward to having a beer or two and listening to some reactions this coming Tuesday at Radiate.
    Of course, this discussion will continue for quite some time and I always enjoy hearing your take on things.
    See ya around…

  • In the wise words of my mentor, the former Vice Chairman of the Board of a large fortune 100 company…don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions. In my experience the biggest complainers are those whose hands never shoot up in the air when it comes to pitching in. Criticism is easy, however, getting involved and making a difference takes commitment and more than a little effort–something detractors rarely do. Have an opinion? Great, but get involved with your hands, not just your voice.

  • Wes,

    “but can you tell me how Radiate Phoenix actually impacts/shapes the future of the city?”

    This is a major problem with most of these groups. They have no “actionable” plan to make a difference. They just want to talk. I have never been to Radiate so I’m not sure where they stand, but your question is valid.

    “As mentioned briefly in this post and others, many Phoenix area events are held in other locations (Tempe, Mesa), supposedly due to the lack of an affordable venu location in downtown Phoenix that has WiFi capabilities. If this is such a big issue for some people, what is the plan to remedy it? Are there people in the community that are actually working with the City of Phoenix or some other private venue in Phoenix to try to improve it?”

    I think that it’s silly to nit pick events calling themselves PhoenixXYZ or XYZPhoenix even when they are not in Phoenix. As Phoenix is the term used to talk about all of Metro Phoenix. In fact, when Tempe suggested making it IgniteTempe people threw a fit.

    Additionally, you are assuming the only reason events are not happening in Downtown Phoenix is because of venue, but in reality the organizers might be choosing other locations for other reasons.

  • Wes- it’s a start. Might you have a better idea? Feel free to share. Who cares where people are holding free events? While PodCamp, Ignite and TEDx are decently attended events (relatively), they don’t make a dime. Doesn’t matter where they are held until they actually affect more than the 200 people that attend.

    Tony- Great, but in order to fix anything, you have to identify your problems, see what inventory you have on hand and then figure out a way to get what else you need. Your comment here is even emptier than my complaining.

  • Good piece!

    I think most of the people you would call “cheerleaders” are also some of the first to admit short comings of our city. Many of them are also the people trying to change it for the better, they would not be trying to improve things if they did not see a problem with the status quo. I think what makes many of us work to try and improve the city is the idea that we can change it, that the potential is here.

    My problem with most of the “Haters” you say we should listen to more is they never offer constructive criticisms, rarely do they ever offer up suggestions on what they would like to see improve, or when they do they are such big picture complaints it is hard to see what they would like done. The same people who have spent the last 5, 10, or 20 years complaining about lack of public transit were the first to complain about the light rails shortcomings before they even road on it.

    There are very valuable conversations to be had on how we can improve this city that does includes the complaints and criticisms, but throwing your hands in the air and saying “Downtown is dead” or “Phoenix Suck” is not going to help that dialog in any positive way.

    PS. If you have read much on Local Firsts 10% shift campaign you would know that “eating dinner at a local restaurant” does far more good than most of the “haters” ever do. 🙂

  • I’m with Stephen – using critical thinking is important, however I believe “thinking” is the operative word, not critical. Talton et al. seem to miss that point and offer up at all criticism as if it were a new, smart, constructive thought.

    Also, check out ABCD (, yet another addition to the alphabet soup of community building. My biggest complaint about the complaints (hypocrisy intended) is that they are often comparisons to other major cities.

    I love Phoenix for Phoenix, not for the ideal of Phoenix. I love having a car culture mixed with a slowly growing movement towards mass transit. I like the pace of downtown development. I like the long stretches of vacant lots. It’s not perfect, but that’s what I like. Where most see empty lots, I see future opportunity. And I can wait for that to happen.

    So when I get frustrated with downtown “haters,” it’s not because they’re offering smart, critical observations of “what’s wrong with downtown.” My frustration stems from the fact that they are often insulting what I love: the imperfect, hot mess that is downtown and central Phoenix.

    Then again, my living room window looks right at the now-imploded wreckage of the Mountain Bell building in central Phoenix. And I always thought the skeleton, and now the wreckage, were beautiful. And so will some development if (or when) it happens on the site.

    And on the point about events being in other parts of the valley but retaining the “Phoenix” name, I think I am more frustrated by how little they try to bring these events to central Phoenix. We have venues downtown, even if they aren’t as shiny and new as Mesa Arts Center or the Tempe Center for the Arts. But, of course, they offer nice amenities and things Phoenix cannot offer, so maybe the events belong there.

    But Yuri, you and I had an email conversation about this and I think you’re right that the city of Phoenix needs to be more active in trying to lure these small, local events downtown. I’m just not sure they need it as much as Mesa and Tempe do since Phoenix has become a national conference destination with the opening of the new parts of the convention center.

    In the end, I think the negative voices have a place. It’d just be nice to hear some asset-building from the most negative voices, and some criticism from the most ardent cheerleaders.

  • This is wonderful Yuri. Right on. I love Jon’s writings and am now getting Tyler’s. All interesting and relevant. How do we bridge their points to the cheerleader and champion? That’s the work we need to do. Thanks for your thoughtful input.

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