Thursday, November 23, 2006

Tear Down Town: It's a knock-down, drag-out for Phoenix's soul

[Source: Robrt L. Pela, Phoenix New Times] -- When the folks at Hasbro recently released a new edition of Monopoly, the world's most-played board game, they replaced the fictional Atlantic City streets of the original version with real-life American cities. Three cheers for Phoenix, the country's fifth-largest city, for making the grade: Our hometown appears in the pricier "red" section of the board, in the spot formerly known as Kentucky Avenue. But while most cities are proudly illustrated with man-made structures — Atlanta with a photo of its Centennial Olympic Park; St. Louis with its famed Gateway Arch — Phoenix is represented not by an architectural marvel or an historic icon of its city, but by Camelback Mountain. In other words, by something built not by crafty city planners or forward-thinking founding fathers, but by erosion.

Clearly, the Hasbro people are on to us. It's more than a little disconcerting to know that even people who make board games for a living are aware that, when one thinks of Phoenix, one thinks not of grand skyscrapers or gorgeous cityscapes, but of a pile of dirt. On the other hand, how apropos. Because what iconic structure could possibly illustrate Phoenix in any context? We're not known for our cohesive city planning or our rich history of structural design. Phoenix's architectural past has long been treated like the detritus of an ex-lover we're ashamed of — the mean guy who beat us, stole our money, and farted at the dinner table; the trampy, undereducated gal we stayed with because she had a big rack. Once they finally leave for good, we're so embarrassed we ever dated them that we destroy all evidence of their presence in our lives.

So goes Phoenix, wiped clean by a wrecking ball time and again. Except Phoenix never had a big rack to begin with; has never been a city sexy enough to fool anyone into loving us for long. Instead, we've been a place so concerned with being "small town" that we've put all our energy into reinventing ourselves, into becoming something we've never quite achieved. We've ripped out our foundation again and again, leveling landmarks like St. Mary's School, the Fox Theater and the old Ciné Capri movie house as capriciously as one would toss out a valentine from a former lover.

[Note: To read the full article, click here. Artwork by Jason Hill.]