To South Phoenix residents,
Last semester as I was looking through the spring schedule of classes, I came across a class called Urban Anthropology. At the time the only information on the course was that it was going to last six weeks, and that all of the class time would be devoted to South Phoenix. Since I had professor Koptiuch at the time, I asked her what the class would consist of. She told me that it was going to be a hands on experience involving studying varying aspects of South Phoenix. It sounded really interesting, so I signed up.
When the spring semester came around, I could not wait to see exactly what it was that we were going to be doing. I have lived in Phoenix all my life, and grew up visiting my grandparents and relatives in South Phoenix. As a little boy, my dad used to take me and my two brothers to his barber down on Central and Baseline. Many years have passed and that barber shop is still there. For the first day of class we met on campus and eagerly awaited to receive the syllabus, so that we could see what we were going to do the following week. The next week, we all met in South Mountain Park. South Mountain Park is the largest municipal park in the nation, with many miles of hiking trails, picnic areas, and horse back riding. South Mountain is also famous for people driving to the top of the mountain and overlooking the breath taking view of the entire city. We also learned about the wildlife in the area such as javelin, coyote, rabbits, scorpions, and rattle snakes. Another interesting thing that you will find are the ancient petroglyphs. Petroglyphs are rocks that have markings on them, that were made by the Indians at the time.
In the following weeks we met with several city officials and a Phoenix police officer. The officer that we met with had worked basically his entire career in South Phoenix, so he told us about all the changes that he's seen over the years. He told us about how when he first joined the force and found out that he was going to be assigned to South Phoenix, he was not too thrilled. As the years passed, he got to know the area and the people in it. To this day, officer Snodgrass told us that he has had to go out on calls that involve the grandkids of some of the people he put in jail many years ago. Officer Snodgrass says that South Phoenix doesn't deserve the reputation that it receives. Just like any other city in Arizona, South Phoenix has its problems with crime, but because of its "reputation", you're more likely to hear about the crimes that go on in South Phoenix.
South Phoenix has alot to offer its residents as well as those that are considering moving to the area. For one, the city is full of cultural diversity. All along Central Avenue starting from Buckeye to Baseline, you can find many places to eat authentic Mexican food, Chinese food, American food, etc. If there is one thing that South Phoenix does not lack is it's own personality. Every where you look there are many brightly colored buildings just drawing you into them. One store in particular is Hip Hop Hair and Cafe. The outside of this store is bright blue with the store name written in graffiti across the top. Inside the store you can get your hair cut, eat some good old fashion catfish, buy a cell phone, and find literature on safe sex.
If I had to pick one experience that stood out in my mind it would be the day we spent working with Habitat for Humanity. Habitat for Humanity provides affordable housing for low income families. The process to obtain one of these homes is long, but worth the wait. First you have to qualify, then once you qualify, you have to put a certain amount of "sweat equity" into your house. Sweat equity means that you have to actually help in the building of you home, as well as other people's homes. This helps to give the home owners a sense of pride in their home, knowing that they helped to build it; it also builds a sense of community. The community is like a Home Owner's Association, in that the owners are responsible for keeping up their property. The good thing about this community is that no all the houses look the same. Some of the houses are painted bright colors and some more traditional. Within the community their is a place called the Star House. This is a place where working parents can leave their kids to be taken care of while they go to work (this service is free). The Star House provides meals for the children, as well as helping them with homework, and a safe place to play. They even offer scholarships and financial aid to parents who wish to return to school. It is really amazing all the services that they provide for its residents.
South Phoenix is currently undergoing a major increase in real estate development. This can be seen either as a good or bad thing depending on whose point of view your discussing. Many of the neighborhoods are undergoing what is called gentrification. This is when old neighborhoods are "phased out", so that new homes can take their place. This has a lot of the long time residents of South Phoenix upset, because they do not want to leave their neighborhood, but at the same time cannot afford to purchase one of the newer homes in the area. On the side of the developers, phasing out these older neighborhoods is going to help raise their property values.
Overall I learned to look at South Phoenix in a different light. Like I said I have lived in South Phoenix all my life and growing up hearing about all the supposed bad things that go on down there, you can't help but form opinions in your head. It's up to us to explore the area for ourselves and see if whether or not all the hype is true. If you are like all of us who spent quality time in South Phoenix, I have no doubt that you will find that it is just that, hype. South Phoenix is no more a worse place to live than any other city in Arizona. All she is asking for is a chance to prove herself, and if given that chance you will not be disappointed.