Open Letter to the Residents of Phoenix


South Phoenix is alive and well!



Sherre Lieder

Arizona State University, West



          In the course of our lives, we sometimes form impressions based on little data and never look back to assess the rightness or wrongness of these impressions.  The case in point, the area south of Rio Salado and north of South Mountain in Phoenix, Arizona.  Looking at a map, it would appear to be just the kind of alluvial plane that junior executives would flock to right at the foot of South Mountain Park.

          Many residents of Phoenix have not ever ventured south of Rio Salado, or if they have, it was a quick drive down Baseline Road to get to some other location.  To many people in Phoenix, this culturally rich area is thought of as a waste dump, or a series of flower gardens, or the run down homes of minorities and gangs.  Whichever impression fits your stereotype, I want to encourage you to take another look.

          South Phoenix is a kaleidoscope of cultures.  Unlike some areas, color abounds with the promise of life that it holds.  Restaurants promise excellent food at reasonable prices.  Families often find homes near each other so that three and four generations can visit.  These families live in the same established neighborhoods and frequent the same businesses as their mothers and fathers did at their age.  Take for example Bob Burk and his wife.  Burk’s Automotive has been in business since 1980 just 1 block north of where Mrs. Burk started elementary school in 1948 when she arrived with her family in the valley.  Bob bought a going automotive business that had been in the building since 1950.  Just down Central Avenue from the Burk’s is a treasure, South Mountain Park.  

          South Mountain Park is unique It is the largest municipal park in the United States and boasts mile after mile of walking trail as well as two riding stables if you prefer four legs to the usual two.  On any summer evening, families can be found all along the overlook road, munching and playing and then watching the lights of Phoenix come on as the sun sets majestically in the West. 

Another example of uniqueness in South Phoenix I a completely different vane is the development done by Habitat for Humanity, a non-profit organization creating affordable housing for families who have never owned a home.  A neighborhood, a community has been created on 40 acres.  The donated land is the first 40-acre site ever developed by Habitat for Humanity.  Normally, they build a house here and a house there where lots can be found in older established neighborhoods.  In March, 2002, they will celebrate the completion of 195 homes in the new neighborhood.  The volunteers and Habitat crews created a new community with a park and a lot of community spirit.  Homes are by volunteers built for families willing to invest more than 400 hours of sweat equity.  When they complete their hours they qualify for the building site and the volunteer help to build their own home.  Habit for Humanity is a non-profit organization that relies on donations from the community to pay the few people who run the office and coordinate the program. 

          Many of the residents are proud of South Phoenix.  Many are also angry about the indifference and unfair practices that have made it impossible for them to fix up their homes and business.  Businesses used the Salt River for a dump and no one stopped them.  Businesses dumped chemicals into the ground and many people looked the other way.  When these incidents become news, the banks red line an area and from then on, property values go down and getting a loan in the area can be impossible.

          In spite of all these things, residents of South Phoenix will tell you that it is a wonderful place to live nestled between South Mountain to the south, where lightning dances in a thunderstorm and the downtown Phoenix skyline to the north, sparkling in the rising sun.  Both of these views add to the property values under normal conditions.  The time has come for South Phoenix.  Developers are looking at these views and finding sites to build new homes by the dozens.  This is part of an urban movement known as “Gentrification.”  Families are moving into South Phoenix in record numbers and the face of the landscape is changing rapidly.  The open yards and streets with individual designs for each house are giving way to block walls surrounding cookie-cutter houses with a sea of coral tile roofs.  Not everyone sees these developments as an improvement.

          The concern of many at this time is the preservation of the variety, the kaleidoscope that is South Phoenix.  The poor are not the cause of crime; they are the victims of crime.  A new day is dawning; new residents will demand protection, stores, and services.  The people who have lived through the dark days of South Phoenix are at a crossroads.  Will they be given loans now so that they can fix up their homes?  Will we help the elderly to repair homes so that they can stay in their neighborhoods rather than be displaced to apartments and nursing homes because their homes are condemned?  Look to the City of Phoenix to exert an even hand in the face of this new prosperity and see to it that the long time residents are not displaced by circumstances they have no ability to control.  America should stand for a fair days pay for a fair days work and a home for every American who is willing to work.  United, we can make this happen.  We can each pay a little more for what is from our neighborhood and from our country.  We can each pay a little more and always buy from the local people so that the people at the bottom can feel us reaching down to give them a hand up.  We can encourage the neighborhood merchants to pay a little more than minimum wage so that their workers can live in the community they serve.  Many minds and many hearts beating as one will MAKE IT SO. 






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