Why Does Downtown Phoenix Seem to Have Two Downtowns?
Excerpt from Valley 101: A Slightly Skewed Guide to Living in Arizona, a collection of Clay Thompson’s columns for The Arizona Republic. (Originally published March 12, 2000.)
Q: Why does Phoenix seem to have two downtowns — one “downtown” and then another grouping of high-rises farther north along Central Avenue?
A: Because many years ago, the city fathers and mothers thought big.
Unfortunately, they also thought wrong, or at least incorrectly.
The result is today we have a downtown downtown and downtown uptown, although we know of people who think of anything south of Northern Avenue as being practically the inner city.
According to Dave Reichert, head of the Phoenix Planning Department, back in the 1960s, when we only had one downtown and it was downtown, the city’s leaders had dreams of grandeur.
“They wanted to create a new downtown, almost like a Manhattan, and they expanded the (core area) all the way to Camelback Road between Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street,” Reichert said.
Several banks and other businesses promptly trotted off up Central to raise new offices, the idea being that the rest of the corridor between them and downtown would soon fill up with soaring highrises.
Obviously, it never quite happened, and between 1972, when Reichert came to work for the city, and 1985, when a new general plan was adopted, enthusiasm from theWashington-to-Camelback, Seventh to Seventh idea waned.
Today, the official vision of downtown is narrowed to First Avenue to First Street and north to Camelback.
A number of factors dimmed the original vision, Reichert said.
For one thing, the air pollution and traffic problems came to be bad enough as they were. Jamming thousands more people and cars into acres and acres of high rises would have strangled us.
For another thing, new technologies, new economies and new corporate structures meant companies didn’t need huge high-rises to hold everybody they needed to do the job. A midrise building now may do where a 30-story high-rise was called for before.
“A number of factors dimmed the original vision, Reichert said. For one thing, the air pollution and traffic problems came to be bad enough as they were. Jamming thousands more people and cars into acres and acres of high rises would have strangled us.”
– This wouldn’t have been a problem had they built transit (like we have now) and built uptown the way they built downtown: pedestrian friendly. Then you wouldn’t need so many cars…
“For another thing, new technologies, new economies and new corporate structures meant companies didn’t need huge high-rises to hold everybody they needed to do the job. A midrise building now may do where a 30-story high-rise was called for before.”
– I suppose Manhattan emptied out once these new technologies, economies, and corporate structures were developed. oh….
Dave Reichert doesn’t seem to understand (good) city planning very well.
In the ’60s, there was a distinct difference between “downtown” and “uptown”. “Downtown” was the old area of town, around Washington and Central, and included the Deuce, which was, in the minds of many, the equivalent of “skid row”. “Uptown” was the area between about Thomas (around Park Central mall) and Camelback (Uptown Plaza) roads. We always heard anything north of Camelback referred to as “north Central”. If you heard that someone lived on “north Central”, that meant the area of very nice older homes, bridle paths, etc., where there was no business section at all. It was the next best thing to having a home in Paradise Valley or on Camelback Mountain.
One of the factors that “dimmed the original vision” was that the downtown shopping area died. With the construction of Christown Mall (at Bethany Home and 19th Ave.) and Thomas Mall (at 44th and Thomas, razed several years ago and replaced by the inferior [IMO] Arcadia Crossing) lured shoppers away from the shabby, unsafe downtown area. Major stores such as Korricks (later Broadway Southwest > Macy’s) and Sears (in the old days, when Sears was a strong giant) left downtown and moved to malls. Why should shoppers trek all the way downtown when they had convenient shopping, with plenty of free parking, at a nearby shiny new mall? In spite of the revitalization of the old downtown area, in the minds of some old-timers, it is still a bad part of town.
My father worked in 3 different Phoenix high rises, in the ’60s and ’70s. I take issue, to an extent, with the idea that the high rises were built in downtown (and later uptown) Phoenix because they were necessary to accommodate many employees. One of the main reasons for a company’s ensconcing itself in a high rise is the notion that it gives them prestige. If their building is bigger than any other business’s building, they must be a better company. The high rise becomes a big fat expensive bloated advertisement that otherwise does not best serve its occupants or the community.
As for “had they built transit”, that’s probably at least partially true, but mass transit was rejected by voters time after time after time. Most of the Valley’s population still doesn’t use it and probably never will. Politically correct or not, many people do not want to be, and refuse to be, pedestrians.
For those who were born in or came to Phoenix after the 1960s 0r 70s, Phoenix could have more than one “down town”. In those days one of our female city mayors, mayor Hence (?, had the “bright” idea to tear down all the old buildings of down town Phoenix to develop a world class Metropolis, and subdivide the city into “villages” with their own “down towns” or village cores. Around these centers would be build High rises with business centers and banks, such as Central Ave and Osborn Road is the village core of the Encanto village. On Central Ave one can see a “canyon” of High rise buildings. Otherwise, not much came of the idea of a “world class Metropolis. Recently the city of Phoenix has been filling in all the vacant lots with high end Condos and apartment buildings. And plenty of Hospitals and medical facilities, because the “baby boomers” have done their booming and are getting of age and are retiring, so they need places to retire to and get taken dare off when their bodies stop functioning properly. Let’s not forget the sports arenas and sport facilities for the young at heart and the necessary watering holes. Phoenix has changed from a sleepy “cow town” into a place of fun. Remember the areas of 24th and 32nd Streets and Camelback Rd? If you have not been there in a long time you should see it now. Remember the Town and Country Village at 24th St and Camelback RD? That’s all it is now, memories. All this and more. That’s why Phoenix does not have a Down town like other big cities have with shops and restaurants and other quaint places where the average family can hang out on the week end without spending tons of money to enjoy a day in down town. Because of a “bright” idea. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lZzo9MxWfy8
“Jamming thousands more people and cars into acres and acres of high rises would have strangled us.”
If I hadn’t lived in Phoenix for two years, I would never understood this statement. Phoenix is the least dense major city in this country and yet, density would “strangle” it. It encompasses so much of average Phoenician’s thinking. They would rather spend an hour more in a car per day than to give up of that extra room or two that they really don’t need to begin with….
“For another thing, new technologies, new economies and new corporate structures meant companies didn’t need huge high-rises to hold everybody they needed to do the job. A midrise building now may do where a 30-story high-rise was called for before”. What???? One might consider researching if companies weren’t building huge towers around the country.
I know this post is more than ten years old, but the official designation of “downtown” did not extend north to Camelback. I dungy think it ever has. The City Fathers & Mothers adopted a “Village” concept years ago whereby each “village” would have its own core of density. Villages include North Central, 24th & Camelback, PV mall area, etc. In my opinion, it was a dumb idea which fractured the city. If you were to take every midsized to high-rise building in the City of Phoenix (not including Tempe, etc.) and consolidated them downtown (south of I-10 from 7th St to 7th Ave), Phoenix would have a much denser core, despite its propensity to sprawl.