Commentary on Whats Wrong With Downtown Phoenix

Last week Tyler Hurst made a post on what’s wrong with downtown Phoenix. There is certainly one thing he got absolutely right,  “Downtown Phoenix isn’t about businesses, buildings or parks. It’s about people. Those that live, work and/or play here make this place what it is.

Here are my thoughts on Tyler’s list.

1. Anything fun is spaced too far away. We have small little hives of activity connected with long, dark patches of absolutely nothing.

This is problematic.  There seems to be little factions popping up all over.  Hell many can’t even agree on what the boundaries of downtown Phoenix should even be.  Concentration of people and activity is extremely important.  Even the ASU downtown campus isn’t connected to itself.

2. Most of the people living here are liberal artists. They don’t make much money, don’t understand how to make money and seem content with First Fridays for selling anything. Yeah, good luck with that.

There definitely seems to be a lack of understanding of how basic economics work among many of the biggest proponents.  This is preventing real attraction of people who will support the area financially.  In time, when the economy picks back up it will also mean rich land developers mowing down what is being worked so hard to build.  The city will support this because while “vibrant” the current model does not show economical significance in comparison to what big land developers offer.

3. We have tons of groups, yet no one talks to each other. Go ask the marketing person at the Phoenix Art Museum and he’ll tell you the same. We all have our own thing on our own day, and they’re all sparsely attended.

Unity is so important.  People need not like one another, but they need to learn to support one another.  Creativity/Innovation is not a zero sum game.

4. Everyone wants a creative class down here, but no one understands what the hell that even is.

See item #2.  The basic misunderstanding of things such as social classes is just one sign that there are basic misunderstandings of how things effect the economy.  Until the struggling artist understands they need that corporate creative professional bringing down 200k a year to support them, it will be painful to see things collapse when big developers start their engines again.

5. Most are against anything corporate or chain, yet they don’t understand that’s where the money comes from.

See item #2 and item #4.  The theme here is that while local is best for sustainability, downtown needs to be sensitive to what the people with money are willing to participate and support.  The right mix of things is necessary to get things in full swing.  Even “real cities” have chains and non local owned businesses.

6. Everything is shiny happy unicorn rainbows all the time. THE BEST EVENT EVER! First Friday was a blast! The little scavenger hunt we had changed my life (okay, that last one was actually fun)! It’s called perspective. Try it.

To be excellent you must constantly seek improvement.  The only way to improve is to find deficiencies.  If everyone thinks everything is perfect already, then no improvement occurs and one is destined to mediocrity.

7. No one looks around. Nice Twitterhunt last week, CenPho businesses. Didn’t bother to check that many of the people using social media had their own GeekWeekAZ and were too tired to participate, did you?

Im not sure you can blame the businesses here.  What are the people doing to engage the businesses?  Everyone should be in it together.

8. Too many businesses think A) Twitter is the answer or B) don’t have a fucking clue what the internet, much less social media, even is. I live downtown and I don’t hear a damn thing about what goes on down here, and I’m constantly searching social media channels. It’s about BALANCE.

There certainly needs to be community OUTSIDE of technology.  While technology helps get the word out in many ways it retards the relationships that are vital to building real and sustaining community.  Turn off the technology for a while and really get to know people.

9. Everyone bitches, but no one bitches out loud and in public. Pissed about Modified Arts? SAY SOMETHING. Want to start a music venue? ASK AROUND.

You are victim if you passively complain and don’t stand up to voice things or are unwilling to get involved.  I think the biggest faux pas that creative class has made in downtown Phoenix is not getting involved in the right organizations and making an impact.

10. We want our downtown to be just like someone else’s. Doesn’t work that way. While I love the Gaslamp District, our city leaders seem too concerned with north Phoenix to make that happen. You want to improve your city? DO IT.

See #9. Also, be fucking unique.  Don’t be what someone else is.  The people here are unique, as is the weather, the culture and the history.  Make downtown phoenix representative of that uniqueness.

11. Phoenix thinks it has an image problem, when Phoenix IS THE PROBLEM. It’s foot-burning, nose-drying, armpit-sweating hot five months every year here, and we have a downtown WITHOUT ANY SHADED SIDEWALKS.

Please.  Shaded sidewalks while nice are not the problem.  Phoenix is not the problem.  Remember Tyler, it’s the people.  The people are the problem. 🙂  They need to be united in trying to transform where they live.  They need to have a vision with clarity that they can get behind and they need to be ruthless in executing it.  No whining, no complaining.  Less talking and more doing.

12. You built a park in the middle of the city and didn’t bother to shade it. Instead, we got a floating cervix that only looks good at night. How fucking stupid are you people?

The shade it provides is less than stellar and we can argue about it’s looks.  Im not sure it has anything to do with what’s wrong with downtown Phoenix.  It’s better than the pile of shit erected in front of Skysong.

13. The AZ Republic still exists, apparently above questioning. Does anyone even read that rag anymore? Arpaio met with Biden? WHO’S REPORTING WHAT?

I read that rag cover to cover every weekday (along with the Wall Street Journal).  I think it is in dire need of some help, but right now it’s all we got.  Someday I will get frustrated enough to get passionate about trying to change how we report news here to try to change things, but for now it’s better than nothing (albeit not by much).

14. Businesses think Light Rail is the answer. No, being amazing is the answer, Light Rail is just a more efficient way of bringing people to you.

Light rail has positioned well for an economic future that didnt exist before it.  However, the cost and operations are probably something that will be problematic for years to come as local governments involved are so poorly under funded.  However, you are correct it is not THE answer.  Being awesome (read being excellent) is the answer.  Downtown will never be awesome until it learns to criticize and respond to criticism with improvement.

15. Too often, criticism is passed off as complaining. Ever try asking a critic if they’re willing to help? I bet they are!


16. ASU has been allowed to grow in the middle of downtown, without any sort of clear plan as to what role it will play in the community. Right now, it offers residents limited WiFi. Woohoo.

ASU brings more harm than help in the long term.  Ask Tempe what it’s like cleaning the cage of the 800lb giant.

17. There’s always talk about shopping local, yet no one actually does it. Ever seen unmanageable lines at the Farmer’s Market? Me neither.

I can’t speak to this one, but if people aren’t shopping local, downtown Phoenix stands little chance.

18. That people probably haven’t even read this far.

no comment.

Agree or disagree, get down to Local Breeze on Tuesday, November 24 from 5:30-7:30pm and get your point across. You don’t count if you don’t show up.

What is sad is that there will probably be more people there arguing for what to do that DO NOT live there, than there are people who actually do.  If this is the case.  If even 10% of the people that are there don’t currently live or operate businesses down there, then downtown is hurting much more than I expected.  I would love to attend and give an opinion, but honestly I don’t have a dog in the fight.

Disclosure: I live in Queen Creek and operate businesses in Chandler.  I am committed to improving both of the communities and the southeast valley. However, I would love to see the entire metro area and even Tucson succeed.


  1. Derek,

    Great article!

    Phoenix is an awesome place for start-ups, mid-range companies (less than 1,500 employees), and large global enterprises. We have over 3M residents and (outside of the 5 months of 110+ degree summers) beautiful weather year-round. Don’t forget the ski slopes just 2 hours north of us plus a world wonder (the Grand Canyon) as well.

    I see two problems:

    1. Phoenix is too spread out geographically. You can no longer tell where Phoenix ends and Scottsdale of Glendale starts. Commute time is starting to feel like a little LA. Impromptu business meetings and events require planning.

    2. Venture capital is limited and mostly occupied by Angel investors that don’t understand technology. If they do get the technology, they are too short-sighted to see long-term vision and invest appropriately.

    Many other cities have similar problems. (Not all but most.) I’m not sure we can solve the first problem but the second one seems simple. In my opinion, we have yet to have a true success story (start-up) come from Phoenix. I believe that’s what it will take to change the Angel community.

    Chris Matthieu

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