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Beyond the Banks

The Turf Markers of New and Old South Phoenix

The Old South Phoenix, situated north of St. Anne between 5th and 7th Avenues, visited by our group of four students, was the same general area as we had visited before.  We found the neighborhood to be a charming display of older houses painted many different colors.  These are smaller homes, of perhaps 1,200 square feet, maybe three bedrooms and one or two basic baths.  This is a neighborhood inhabited primarily by minorities, who, of course, in this neighborhood, represent the majority.

Chain link fences surround front yards, to easily facilitate interactions between neighbors to which front porch swings and clusters of plastic chairs gave mute testimony to. 

We also found that this older neighborhood was concerned for security.  There were bars on the windows and signs declaring the names of alarm companies situated alongside cars parked behind the same fences that allowed neighbors to interact.

Despite this, the neighborhood had an aura of protecting itself and all that lived there, as was evidenced when, once again, we were sitting parked on the street in the van.  This time, however, a woman approached us to inquire why we were sitting there, apparently doing nothing.  Her concern stemmed from the fact that she had just left her young child with her elderly father while she taught at a local elementary school.  She was unwilling to leave until she was sure we would cause no problems.  When she discovered our purpose and that we were from her alma mater (ASU West), she was more than happy to answer a few of our questions.  She gave us some friendly advice about parking in the “projects” which she described as a few streets over, off of 7th Avenue and Southern.  We asked her what she thought of the new houses going up in South Phoenix and her answer was, “In that area, (East of 7th Avenue and St. Anne) not a good idea.”  This was because of the projects she had spoken of previously.  She did, however, think the homes going up on Baseline were fine.  Unfortunately for us, we were unable to get this generous lady’s name, as she was late for work.

Previously when we had wandered this neighborhood, we had discovered that the asking price for homes in this area was around $99,000.

To compare neighborhoods,, we then went over just south of the projects that we had been warned about to view a new community there.  The subdivision is Vineyard Hills Estates, and the homes are Mediterranean in style, each adorned with tile roofs.  Unlike the bucolic image evoked by the name, there was not a vineyard or hill to be found unless you counted the not-so-near South Mountain.  Or perhaps the builders were referring to the tiny dip found by the community areas that prevents traffic from zooming too quickly through the subdivision. 

These homes ranged in price from $118,000-$151,900 when we did this survey. When we went into the model homes in order to view the newer community, we asked the prices of the homes that are found there.  We discovered that the highest priced home, which sold for $174,900, was unavailable to be viewed at this location, but if we were to go over to 27th Avenue and Southern, we would be able to see this more expensive home there.   Three weeks before, however, these same homes had started in the “upper $90’s”. The homes themselves were between 1157-1738 square feet.  We stopped and asked a construction worker, Tom (he did not share his last name), why the dramatic increase in price in such a short time.  His reply was that it was because the subdivision was now almost completely sold out.  When we asked Tom what the predominant ethnicities were in this community, he deferred to another of his workers, a Hispanic gentleman, who informed us that he believed it was filled with primarily Hispanics and African-Americans.

The “turf markers” that we found here, as described by Blake and Arreola, included the tiny front yards.  Unfortunately these homes had not been built long enough to have very much landscaping yet, but what we did see was xeriscaping, desert and some grass landscaping.  All of the homes were very similar in size and elevation, being predominantly on the lower end of the model homes, with a few of the larger, two-story homes interspersed among them.  They were very homogenous in appearance, with their tiny front yards and brick enclosed back yards, all painted similar earth tone colors.   However, they did all have ornamental carriage lights on the garages. The only other personalized image that we found was in the classic car being worked on in the open garage of one of the homes.

 The common grounds were small grass areas separating two groups of homes.  Found on every street, these areas were edged all around with meandering bricks.  On the outside of these bricks, was gravel with several small plantings.  Although they were tiny, they were pleasant areas.  There were also trees planted in the middle of the road, requiring a motorist to slow down to maneuver around them, substituting speed-bumps with quaintness. 

There was a surprising difference in the feel of both neighborhoods that we surveyed.  The older one was concerned about crime, but there was an aura of watchfulness exhibited by the community.  The newer neighborhood was also concerned about crime, but the feeling of community was absent.  This could be explained by many things.  One of which is the newness of the subdivision.  In such a short time is it realistic to expect a sense of community to occur?  It could also be explained by the similarities of the individual homes and lack of mature landscaping as found in the older neighborhood.  As is mentioned in “Residential Subdivision Identity in Metropolitan Phoenix”, Blakely and Snyder suggest “structural segregation”.  Structural segregation is a concept in which those who live in either a high crime area and cannot afford to move to a different location that may be safer, install alarms and gates to afford themselves a sense of security from their surroundings.  This security is often necessary to avoid homes being broken into and other things, but may also be just another way of segregating those that are different.  This is also found in highly desirable locations, such as beachfront property or in the case of South Phoenix, the areas directly beneath South Mountain.  These are areas that could be seen as threatened by creeping poverty.  The privileged people that live in these otherwise desirable neighborhoods, instead of leaving, “fort up” or surround themselves with gates and other forms of false protection, thereby keeping out the undesirables or those the privileged deem “undesirable”, this could include those who are poor and various ethnicities.  Undesirables could also include realistic threats such as gangs or criminals that inhabit certain areas, too.  In providing this false sense of security that is given by the fences and gates, however, Metropolitan areas have become divided into the haves and have nots’ and also into the safe and the unsafe.  By separating our communities by this and other factors such as age and ethnicity, there is no hope of developing any sort of a sense of community.

            The concepts of “forting up” and “structural segregation” mentioned by Blakely and Arreola seem to account for the differences in our old and new neighborhoods in South Phoenix.  There is evidence of people having lived for a long time in this area and it has become necessary to add security alarms and bars on the windows in order to protect themselves from the crime that must be in the area.  The newer residents, who are just moving in, are buying the homes with the high block walls and a more exclusive atmosphere that may be providing a feeling of security.  This may also be an attempt to keep out the same crime that those in the older, less affluent neighborhoods are trying to minimize by the bars and security systems and chain link fences.

To link to the other pages of our group: Magdalene, Debbie, Irene


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