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Old Posted Jul 18, 2019, 7:15 PM
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Phoenix 101: What killed downtown

The other night I decided to look through my collection of DVDs which I haven't touched in a long time, and saw Alfred Hitchock's 1960 film "Psycho." I've watched that film many times, but I thought to put it in the DVD player and watch it again, at least the first hour of it or so, just to kill time.

Anyway, if anyone hasn't seen the film, the story starts out in Phoenix, and I do think they use an actual establishing shot of it circa 1959-1960 (I think the film was shot in 1959 but released in 1960). But anyway, it doesn't look at all like the Phoenix I think of when I think of Phoenix. Later, there's a shot of Janet Leigh, sitting in the car, waiting at a stoplight, after she steals the money from her boss (that then puts her on the lam and she ends up in a small roadside motel somewhere in Central California where she gets murdered in the shower, and this is all in the first 20 or 30 minutes of the film). I don't know if it was rear projection (Alfred Hitchcock loved using rear projection a lot) or if it was real, but if that scene was indeed shot in Phoenix, it showed a very vibrant city with lots of pedestrians and businesses in a busy downtown setting.

I've only been to Phoenix once, back in 2005, I think... and anyway, it seemed very much to me like a sleepy overgrown business park with some tall buildings, mixed in with maybe a few older housing, and other areas with postwar-era housing that was kind of run down. I'll admit I haven't been to all parts of Phoenix proper, but watching "Psycho" made me wonder if Phoenix really at one time was that vibrant busy place portrayed in the film (albeit briefly), so looking online, I saw this series of articles from 2013, which is in three parts, called "Phoenix 101: What killed downtown", by the Rogue Columnist. I thought it was an interesting read.

It would be interesting for me to hear some opinions from people who live in Phoenix, what they think.

From the Rogue Columnist:

Phoenix 101: What killed downtown, Part 1

The links to Parts 2 and 3 are in the Part 1 article.

Downtown Phoenix in the 1930s, facing south.

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  #2  
Old Posted Jul 18, 2019, 7:42 PM
Buckeye Native 001 Buckeye Native 001 is offline
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Jon Talton (Rogue Columnist) has opinions that I mostly agree with about the current state of the economy in Arizona and the death and resurrection of Phoenix as an urban city, but he does it in the most condescending way possible. Nothing is ever good enough for him.

That said, Phoenix was a relatively small city until the 1950s and unfortunately began to peak right around the time of urban renewal and mass exodus to the suburbs.
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Old Posted Jul 18, 2019, 9:04 PM
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It’s not just Phoenix, most American cities were decimated by urban renewal and the migration of families to the auto-centric suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s.

Check this out: http://iqc.ou.edu/2014/12/12/60yrsmidwest/

In Chicago, entire neighborhoods full of dense urbanity were destroyed to make way for the expressway and parking lots.
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Old Posted Jul 18, 2019, 9:27 PM
DCReid DCReid is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Handro View Post
It’s not just Phoenix, most American cities were decimated by urban renewal and the migration of families to the auto-centric suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s.

Check this out: http://iqc.ou.edu/2014/12/12/60yrsmidwest/

In Chicago, entire neighborhoods full of dense urbanity were destroyed to make way for the expressway and parking lots.
Agree about assessment of Phoenix. While Chicago suffer because of expressway building, it was unfortunately the African American neighborhoods south of downtown that bore the brunt of the destruction. I think that was the case for most expressway building in major cities. Back to Phoenix, the city basically sprawled, like most Southern cities. Just look at places like Houston and Dallas, which have downtowns that really are not hugely vibrant except for work days or even important expect for office and a few entertainment/sports venues compared to the whole metropolitan area.

An interesting comparison to Phoenix would be Denver, which seems to have a more lively and important downtown. Is it because Denver is an older city or because it was a regional powerhouse while Phoenix was mostly a retirement and tourist place?
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Old Posted Jul 18, 2019, 10:00 PM
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Phoenix 1950 population was 106,000. That is about .063% of the present population of 1,660,000 in a metro of around 5 million. There is no reason to speculate too much about why downtown Phoenix failed to keep up with growth in population. Urban renewal played little or no role. Most of the lost buildings downtown (and it was a small downtown) were replaced with parking lots in the 50s. The car was king. People did not move to Phoenix to live in high rises and ride streetcars. Plus most of the metro development outside of Phoenix clustered around several other local cities such as Tempe, Mesa, Scottsdale, and Chandler. Downtown did expand a bit to the north along North Central in the 1950s and 60s, but that was pretty much a done deal by the late 70s or early 80s. It is worth noting that Phoenix did this rapid suburban expansion largely without a comprehensive network of freeways. Interstate 10 and 17 were built in the mid to late 60s, and that was pretty much it for freeways until the early 1990s when massive freeway building funded by a special local sales tax got underway. Before that time the Phoenix area was known to have most traffic moving on major arterial roads on the regular street grid, kind of like an LA or Chicago pre-war expansion without freeways. I don't think that happened anywhere else in the country in the post WW2 era. By way of comparison, major Texas cities and other cities like Atlanta engaged in a lot of freeway building as early as the mid 1950s prior to the advent of the interstate highway system.

Last edited by austlar1; Jul 18, 2019 at 10:28 PM.
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 2:31 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Handro View Post
It’s not just Phoenix, most American cities were decimated by urban renewal and the migration of families to the auto-centric suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s.

Check this out: http://iqc.ou.edu/2014/12/12/60yrsmidwest/

In Chicago, entire neighborhoods full of dense urbanity were destroyed to make way for the expressway and parking lots.
This.

Downtown LA:
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  #7  
Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 3:16 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Handro View Post
It’s not just Phoenix, most American cities were decimated by urban renewal and the migration of families to the auto-centric suburbs in the 1950s and 1960s.

Check this out: http://iqc.ou.edu/2014/12/12/60yrsmidwest/

In Chicago, entire neighborhoods full of dense urbanity were destroyed to make way for the expressway and parking lots.
And yet that didn't happen in San Francisco (and New York and some other places).

In San Francisco, the neighborhoods that were abandoned were fairly quickly refilled with newcomers, many of them famously gay, who renovated them and made them nicer places to live than ever. And the freeway construction was halted by citizen action. Whatever parking lots there have been in the city for decades have been almost entirely transitional--a way to make money from land intended for eventual development while money for such development was accumulated and/or the bureaucratic approval process was navigated.

The closest SF came to the process you are describing came in only two neighborhoods: The Fillmore and a portion of South of Market around 4rd and 4th Streets once known as "Skid Row". Both those areas were bulldozed for redevelopment like in other cities but have, by now, been pretty much rebuilt and are once again active neighborhoods (if different in character--the Fillmore's active jazz club scene has never really revived and Skid Row's low income housing has been replaced by luxury hotels and apartment towers along with Moscone Center).

The "old" Fillmore

https://www.sfmta.com/blog/22-fillmo...tten-funicular

Approximately same area today:

https://www.instantstreetview.com/@3....13h,-8.05p,1z

Last edited by Pedestrian; Jul 19, 2019 at 3:34 AM.
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  #8  
Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 5:03 AM
Obadno Obadno is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sopas ej View Post

From the Rogue Columnist:

Phoenix 101: What killed downtown, Part 1

The links to Parts 2 and 3 are in the Part 1 article.

Downtown Phoenix in the 1930s, facing south.

The "Vibrant" Downtown that Phoenix had was just the city center of any pre-war twon, it was a small city in a rural region much like any city in the central valley.

It wasn't so much that the city had a downtown that was lost, its that when the city boomed downtown got none of that, the demand and desire was 100% suburban. Downtown was a virtual ghost town until maybe 2013? at best? a standard 9-5 place that only had people in it for work or for sporting events. The improvements in the last 5-10 years have been nothing short of staggering.

So the issue isnt "why did downtown go away" its "why did downtown never develop to begin with"

And the answer to that is the same for LA, Dallas, or any other large sunbelt city Sprawl was the order of the day.

As you said you were there in 2005, it would be night and day compared to now. However there is still a very long way to go. Luckily as downtown never really developed we basically get to start with a blank slate instead of dealing with the carcass of some old downtown.

Here are some street views I cobbled together. Not just of downtown but just to give an idea of the changes within the last 10 years (most of it in the last 5)







Then:

https://goo.gl/maps/hL9rbzwbJsDiZQo68

Now:

https://goo.gl/maps/s8ikkBSHGQBsVyfd9

Then:

https://goo.gl/maps/XC6wTLazvQmRcxLs8

Now:

https://goo.gl/maps/M95oN5aa57VRTiEeA

Then:

https://goo.gl/maps/2QcNncEncftarvUt5

Now:

https://goo.gl/maps/PGGhEgheDYRKBSNz6

Then:

https://goo.gl/maps/x5buFP3Zxo3va4m58

Now:

https://goo.gl/maps/uYJRerszFNuXPqtR8

Then

https://goo.gl/maps/TJ1tVfYMjkDKgtEU6

Now

https://goo.gl/maps/f61oQpQt3W9DLFrQA

Then

https://goo.gl/maps/3LeUBLTpJpaRmxof9


Now

https://goo.gl/maps/dtZa8ciaWzjZiZAt6

Last edited by Obadno; Jul 19, 2019 at 5:28 AM.
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  #9  
Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 5:07 AM
Obadno Obadno is offline
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Originally Posted by Pedestrian View Post
And yet that didn't happen in San Francisco (and New York and some other places).
San Francisco is a very rare exception. And new York did suffer from Urban Renewal madness, they lost Penn Station, Nearly lost Grand Central and almost had a massive highway network across Manhattan.

The cities that didnt get reduced to massive parking lots were already extremely dense, but even those had terrible mass housing projects that created horrible crime and blight for decades in the 50's, 60's, 70,s and 80's.
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 5:25 AM
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What was demolished in San Fransisco still looks like renewal today so no the city did not leave unscathed.
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 5:45 AM
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Did Phoenix ever have a downtown?
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 7:04 AM
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Originally Posted by The North One View Post
What was demolished in San Fransisco still looks like renewal today so no the city did not leave unscathed.
Nobody said "unscathed" but it didn't have it's downtown destroyed or any important neighborhood and that doesn't mean the Fillmore, which was the principal neighborhood affected wasn't changed for the worse. But the changes were minor and marginal looked at from the perspective of the city as a whole.
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 1:33 PM
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Did Phoenix ever have a downtown?
In the traditional sense? Yes. But that was in 1950 when the population was just 100,000. It was a place where people would dress up, take the trolley and shop.

Like most other downtowns it became a place for local, county, state and federal government complexes, law firms and banks -- some of the most boring professions in terms of urban vibrancy. After 5:00pm, it would empty out to the newer/safer parts of the city.

As mentioned above, this wasn't a Phoenix phenomenon, it was nationwide. Unlike New York, Phoenix didn't have 7 million people living in the city, it had 100k. It's downtown has never had a large footprint and there wasn't much of a reason to either.



Bunker Hill, L.A.

http://www.mparchitects.com/site/tho...-los-angeleses

1969:

https://la.curbed.com/2018/11/28/181...opment-history

Scollay Square, Boston

Boston Globe

Government Center, Boston

https://beautifulbuildings.wordpress...rnment-center/
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 1:35 PM
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The cities that didnt get reduced to massive parking lots were already extremely dense, but even those had terrible mass housing projects that created horrible crime and blight for decades in the 50's, 60's, 70,s and 80's.
And some still do, like Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore and many other midwestern cities both large and small. Then and now of Detroit is astonishing.
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 2:28 PM
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Luckily as downtown never really developed we basically get to start with a blank slate instead of dealing with the carcass of some old downtown.
What is lucky about this? Lucky you have next to zero surviving pre-war development to restore and that's lucky? Hooray for your sterile new autocentric podium hotels and apartment donuts, so lucky.

I think I'll still prefer a downtown Buffalo or a Cleveland that had a "carcass" to clean up.
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 2:33 PM
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Originally Posted by Pedestrian View Post
And yet that didn't happen in San Francisco (and New York and some other places).

In San Francisco, the neighborhoods that were abandoned were fairly quickly refilled with newcomers, many of them famously gay, who renovated them and made them nicer places to live than ever. And the freeway construction was halted by citizen action. Whatever parking lots there have been in the city for decades have been almost entirely transitional--a way to make money from land intended for eventual development while money for such development was accumulated and/or the bureaucratic approval process was navigated.

The closest SF came to the process you are describing came in only two neighborhoods: The Fillmore and a portion of South of Market around 4rd and 4th Streets once known as "Skid Row". Both those areas were bulldozed for redevelopment like in other cities but have, by now, been pretty much rebuilt and are once again active neighborhoods (if different in character--the Fillmore's active jazz club scene has never really revived and Skid Row's low income housing has been replaced by luxury hotels and apartment towers along with Moscone Center).
]
Yes that's great! Of course the same level of destruction didn't happen in every city, but many (maybe most) suffered due to the wholesale demolition of buildings and neighborhoods to build expressways and more car-friendly businesses. Just check out hte link in my original post--you can view other cities outside the midwest as well here: http://iqc.ou.edu/urbanchange

Quote:
Nobody said "unscathed" but it didn't have it's downtown destroyed or any important neighborhood and that doesn't mean the Fillmore, which was the principal neighborhood affected wasn't changed for the worse. But the changes were minor and marginal looked at from the perspective of the city as a whole.
Right. My original point exactly... the original post was simply saying what happened to urban America in the 1950s and 1960s, it certainly wasn't mean to be a pissing contest of which cities suffered the most lost density during that period. Phoenix may have suffered MORE than San Francisco, but that's beside the point--both saw changes in their urban landscape due to a shifting attitude towards urban density.
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 2:42 PM
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I think I'll still prefer a downtown Buffalo or a Cleveland that had a "carcass" to clean up.
agreed.

it's much easier to revive a downtown carcass than to create a downtown from scratch on a blank slate.

just look at what downtown detroit has be able to accomplish over the past 10, with so much more exciting stuff to come.
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 2:49 PM
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Originally Posted by Pedestrian View Post
And yet that didn't happen in San Francisco (and New York and some other places).
NYC actually had the nation's largest urban renewal program, multiples bigger than any other city. It just isn't as obvious because NYC had so much urbanity to begin with, and because much of the urban renewal was denser than in other cities.

Many neighborhoods, like East Harlem, Brownsville, Coney Island, and the Rockaways, are mostly postwar urban renewal. But they don't have the desolate feel because the projects were built denser and the surroundings remained dense.

And I'm pretty sure SF had major urban renewal with Fillmore/Western Addition/Japantown, and downtown projects like Embarcadero Center.

I also doubt Phoenix had much urban renewal. Its downtown just died as the region transformed into a Sunbelt giant. I don't think the Phoenix mayor was pushing mega-housing projects and the like back in the 50's-60's.
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 4:06 PM
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It's weird to hear that SF didn't suffer effects of urban renewal, since many urban planners point to SF as the leading pioneer for undoing urban renewal damage.
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Old Posted Jul 19, 2019, 4:19 PM
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Originally Posted by Sun Belt View Post
And some still do, like Detroit, Chicago, Baltimore and many other midwestern cities both large and small. Then and now of Detroit is astonishing.
Chicago razed pretty much all of its public housing between the 90s and early 10s. I don’t think there’s much left in Detroit or Baltimore either.
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