A Letter to the Residents of Phoenix


            At Arizona State University, I took a class in urban anthropology.  The title of the class is “Learning from South Phoenix.”  Rather than spending our time in the traditional “classroom” setting, we learned by doing fieldwork on location in South Phoenix.  One might wonder, “What could you be doing for eight hours a week in South Phoenix?  What could be learned?”  Actually, I was surprised by how much I could learn from South Phoenix in six weeks.  By interviewing residents, speaking to community leaders, visiting interesting locations, and sampling the culture of the area, we learned about gentrification, planned projects, unique contributions from this community, census information, crime, and cultural diversity. 


            This class interested me because I have always appreciated the diversity of the people and places of South Phoenix.  Furthermore, this class provided me with a great opportunity to explore this area in detail.  I was born and raised in Phoenix.  My family has always had positive experiences in connection with South Phoenix.  My father is a Phoenix police officer and during his career, he learned about some of the great restaurants and shops in South Phoenix.  I can remember loving any trip to the airport, because that would mean that whoever came along was able to go out to eat at one of our favorite eating spots.  I knew the crime rate was high in South Phoenix, but I also knew of another area, just a few miles from my house in North Phoenix, that had almost the same amount of crime.  So, to me, South Phoenix had both positive and negative attributes, just like any other area of metropolitan Phoenix. 


            Even though we learned about numerous topics, the most interesting topic to me is how South Phoenix is showing signs of gentrification.  Gentrification happens when an aesthetically unsightly or aging neighborhood is renovated into a more affluent middle class area.  When gentrification occurs, the property values rise and the impoverished inhabitants are displaced.  When looking at South Phoenix, a desire to develop this area seems natural.  This district has so much to offer its community.  It has the stunning South Mountain Preserve on one end of the district and the nearby downtown Phoenix business sector at the other end.  Already, the conversion has begun.  On the south side of this neighborhood, the base of South Mountain is home to many recently built estates, and new home developments are creeping north.  On the north end of this sector, the Rio Salado Project is already underway to beautify the dried-up riverbed.  This project will spend $80 million to transform the Salt River into a magnificent park, complete with biking and rollerblading trails.  The Rio Salado project will most likely increase interest, and more prosperous citizens will want to move into the area. 


I’ve learned in this class that gentrification has been in happening for decades in many large cities all over the world.  As much as I would like the community of South Phoenix to stay intact, I don’t think gentrification can be stopped.  However, maybe the displacement of the families that live in South Phoenix can be made easier by the support of other Phoenicians.  People who are upset with the gentrification of this area can involve themselves in organizations helping the people of this community.  In so doing, when the time comes for the original landowners to move, the landowners might be more informed as to how to make that move a positive one.


This class was incredible.  Please visit all of the individual web pages from this class, or better yet, take the time to explore South Phoenix yourself.  The experiences I have had and the information I have learned will stay with me for years to come, and isn’t that the point of education?  So, cheer up, your tax money was well spent this year!


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