The Future Inside
A community’s survival is dependent upon how it responds to change. A healthy community is one that is constantly recreating itself. There have been many frontier communities that have come and gone, preferring to settle into the dust, rather than remain in a continual state of flux, but South Phoenix didn’t settle. It has continually met change by reinventing itself, reshaping its landscape to accommodate the new needs of the community. South Phoenix emerged on one of the many edges, of Metropolitan Phoenix, and grew into a diverse community whose landscape reflects its member’s cultures, values and history…and it is flourishing. But the term “flourishing” is subject to interpretation, agreement largely dependent on whether you’re on the inside looking out, or on the outside looking in.
Assessing quality of life is always a subjective undertaking. Unfortunately in our attempt to understand another’s world, we often compare it to our own. But this is a mistake, because comparison is rarely an accurate, equitable measure of growing things. Comparing South Phoenix to anywhere else would be as foolish as comparing one child with another. Each is unique, each has a different familial background and history; different parents, stewards and support systems; different economic stature and different opportunities. None is better than the other, just different. Because of these differences, each develops differently, and reaches maturity at different times. It is for this reason that each should be valued and respected for where it is, at any particular time.
Where is South Phoenix right now? Well, she is a work in progress, a maturing frontier that is still defining itself. How do frontier communities define themselves? Through actions of trial and error, through a generation of individual’s value decisions about the best way to live, work, play and create home*. But the best way to live, work, play and create home is different for different communities. A suburbanite in Arrowhead would probably be quite uncomfortable in South Phoenix, and vice versa, at least right now. The fact is, we each define comfort and livability differently.
Is everyone in South Phoenix comfortable, pleased with his or her community, and for that matter proud of it? Do they all find it livable? Probably not. But those individuals who are discontent will either move away, or try and fix it. It is man’s nature to create comfort for himself. I have faith that whatever is uncomfortable or unlivable will be resolved simply by the dynamics of opportunity, and constraints working within the community. All successful communities are walking a tightrope, maintaining a delicate balance between unlimited opportunity and rippling chaos… that happens to work so well*. It is the nature of nature. Is this ambivalence, or simply patience to let a thing work itself out?
There are those that look at South Phoenix and see only her struggles. They view newcomers to the community as intruders and are ready to mount rescue efforts to protect her honor. My opinion differs, primarily because I believe wholeheartedly in diversity. History has shown us time after time that diversity is what makes a system resilient. A community’s viability depends on new blood. The heterogeneous community that is South Phoenix today, became that way because its doors were open to new members.
South Phoenix is just like any other healthy community, in that it is evolving to meet the needs of its members. If I were to describe South Phoenix today, using human characteristics, I would say that she is full of personality, vivacious and anxious to get moving, not wanting to stay anyplace too long. Would I call her helpless, absolutely not! She has something her younger siblings haven’t yet acquired …a bit of history. Not a lot, but enough to demand that some toys and precious mementos don’t get thrown away in the clumsy, yet fragile process of growing.
*Garreau, J. 1991. The search for the future inside ourselves in Edge City: Life on the New Frontier. Doubleday: New York.