Chris Brown's Project Pages
Chris' South Phoenix Project Wrap-Up Letter
This letter is meant to address any audience that may be viewing our class web pages, and to bring together what our class as a whole has learned about South Phoenix. In such a short letter with so wide a range of topic, it is hard to put together strong points with substantive support. However, I will attempt to summarize seven weeks of field work in South Phoenix, mentioning any final observations or life lessons that I have taken away. It is important to mention that this letter represents my opinions entirely. It is not meant to use specific evidence to make factual arguments, but is rather an interpretation of such arguments formulated into general opinions.
South Phoenix is definitely an area undergoing major change. New businesses, residents, and services are arriving every day. Some of these new arrivals are occupying previously empty space, but a good number of them are displacing previous businesses, residences, agriculture, or community space. One important lesson I have learned is to pay attention to what is lost in the name of progress. Few if any changes occur without any impact on the previously existing state. That is why they are called changes. In South Phoenix, residents, planners, and observers should recognize that these vast changes that are occurring could drastically alter what we and everyone else recognizes as South Phoenix, for better or worse, no matter how you see it now.
As a part of the greater changes that are occurring, new chain businesses such as Starbucks and Target are building new stores in an area that has long maintained independently owned and operated small businesses. While this change may or may not be for the worse, it does represent a shift in the lives of South Phoenix residents; perhaps a shift that most of the country has already accepted and become accustom to. Living in a world where, no matter where we travel, we can find a McDonalds or a Starbucks and expect to encounter a product that we already are familiar with, we might lose some of the flavor of life. Eating in a McDonalds in Virginia is the same as eating in a new McDonalds in South Phoenix. The place may be different, but the food, atmosphere, and service is designed to be exactly the same. While this unity and conformity may prove comforting, allowing us to know what to expect anywhere, keeping the fear of the unknown at bay, it may take something away from life. Virginia and Arizona are no longer as different as they used to be. We are designing a country, and a world, where as much as possible conforms to a well known image. What is to happen to the culture and the idiosyncratic pleasures that make travel and discovery so wonderful? In twenty years, will there even be a point to traveling to Paris, or will it simply be the same old place in a different location?
Connected to these fears of conformity and sameness is the essay I created entitled "A Village Divided." In this essay I discussed the different ways housing developments can create a sense of community. As I postulated, newer communities built in the era of this conformity and expectedness are built to make everyone feel like they have important things in common with their neighbors, without having to get to know their neighbors. Everyone has the same house, in the same color, with the same TV stations and the same yard. In contrast, older developments house people who live in a system where they expect to get to know one another, discovering similarities through old fashioned socialization. People spend time in front of their houses, on display for friendly conversation of a simple hello. They do not live in fortresses of solitude, expecting out of conditioning that everyone is just like them and will leave them alone.
Perhaps the new way of creating conformity and sameness is really what human beings want and can tolerate best. Perhaps we have simply been doing things the wrong way for millennia out of ignorance or inability. But perhaps we are moving too quickly for our minds and our social systems to catch up. Technology and culture have changed so rapidly in the past decade, let alone the past century, that I do not know if most people really know what kind of society, culture, or history they are a part of. South Phoenix might be a good representation of how that change has passed by some people, and how, when it targets itself on these left behind areas, the true differences in the two social systems really become evident. There is no denying that South Phoenix has new and old culture, and new and old development. By taking a good hard look at what is happening, perhaps we can learn what society we really live in. Perhaps the only way to truly see what America is today is to put modern society in direct juxtaposition to an older way of life we have left behind.
Now, to switch to a different topic, I would like to discuss the environmental and social justice issues that present themselves in South Phoenix. It is sad that an area of our city, so close to downtown and all that is being trumpeted as a great oasis in the desert, has been taken advantage of so many times. Polluting industry presenting serious health and safety consequences is disproportionately located in poor areas, including most prominently in Arizona South Phoenix. The factors that create this fact are numerous, including cheap land and the low social and economic power wielded by South Phoenix residents. In a perfect world it would be great to see this problem ameliorated, but this is not a perfect world. Questions as to the necessity of dirty industry, alternate locations for such industry, and the consequences of empowering large portions of the population are important, making the issue of environmental justice a difficult one to resolve. Perhaps all I can say to resolve the issue is that I hope we keep working toward a time and a society where everyone is important, and where everyone has the ability to stand up for themselves. Perhaps this can occur with technology, such a clean industry, but perhaps we have to rethink how our society works. America has had at least one major shift in its social system, and it took a long bloody war and decades of hard work to do away with slavery. While modern social injustices are not of the same scope or importance as slavery, the possibility that we may need change cannot be ignored.
The history of South Phoenix is interesting. It is a study of our history and society to see how the area has been consistently left behind and overlooked. Now of course much attention is being directed to South Mountain Village. Nevertheless, it is important to realize what has happened in the past, and how this new attention might not be flawless. Without learning from our mistakes, and without taking an honest look at what we are doing today, we can never avoid the mistakes of the future.
Much is happening in South Phoenix. I know I have had a particular focus in my work, and in this letter, but I believe that South Phoenix makes you focus, because everyone brings in their previous experience and their personality to direct what they find interesting in a situation. I encourage everyone who is looking at our web pages to look around at all the points of view that are explored and expressed by the different people in our class. I also encourage people to do some investigative work of their own. Only through personal experience can we truly form informed opinions.
Take a look around. You will be amazed with what you see.