An Image Reformation

By Jennifer Roberts




An Image Reformation

Rio Salado Project

What's in a name

Sprawling out of Control

Acorn Housing Project

Memory Map



    Proudly posted on the corner of 12th St. and Sunland is a sign that reads “Drug and gang free youth community.”  This sign stands right on the invisible line which separates an older, predominantly Latino and black neighborhood, from a new housing development that has recently been built on the very next street to the north.  Traveling north on 12th St from southern I had seen the older neighborhood and thought I’d see if I could guess anything about residents from the homes.  But alas, there was no need to guess, the residents were outside in their yards playing cards, playfully chasing their kids around, or talking to their neighbor over waist-high fences.  Juxtaposed against this neighborhood, about 30 feet to the north, is a brand new housing area that is a great example of the development that is leaking into every crevice across South Phoenix. The beige and taupe desert colors of the new two story homes on Sunland drive stand between the vibrant pink, yellow, and blue homes on Pecan St and their former city skyline view.  These tightly packed, infinitely replicated, and monotone homes seem to loom over the colorful neighborhood, casting their foreboding shadow on the backyards of the Pecan street residents.  It is more difficult to guess anything about the residents of this neighborhood but apparently, considering the sign that is posted as you drive from the older neighborhood to the newer one, they are “drug and gang free”.

    The sign seeks to re-assure prospective buyers of the new homes.  It also reflects the negative images that mainstream middle-class Caucasians typically associate with neighborhoods such as Pecan St and those all across South Phoenix.  Developers are trying to sell a different image of South Phoenix now.  The Arizona Republic has been exploding with articles about the changes, reformation, re-investment, and new development that South Phoenix is currently experiencing.  One such article, South Phoenix on the Rise, authored by Daniel Gonzales, Catherine Burrough, and John Davis, explain that the old ‘rollup your windows and lock your doors” image of S. Phoenix is being replaced by the new image that developers are trying to sell.  “Developers are capitalizing on spectacular mountain views, short commutes to the airport and downtown, and new recreational and shopping opportunities.” (AZ Rep. 8/18/2002)  Part of this new image includes a name change from South Phoenix to South Mountain Village, which seems to promise the new residents that the area is not “just affordable housing and dangerous thugs.” (Wingett, Yvonne, S. Phoenix hopes name alters image, AZ Rep. 8/27/02)

    Is that what the mainstream middle-class sees when they look at Pecan St, ‘affordable housing and dangerous thugs’?  Does the sign posted, before entering the newly developed area yet upon exiting the older neighborhood, mean that while the residents on Sunland Dr are ‘drug and gang free’ that the residents of Pecan St are not? The sign just seems to reaffirm the negative stereotypical image.

     S. Phoenix is getting a face lift, or perhaps cosmetic surgery, when it comes to development; there are golf courses, big new homes, Starbucks, Target, the works. Developers have been successfully selling the ‘new image’ of S. Phoenix to the middle-to upper class. But the reformed image they are selling pertains to the physical area of S. Phoenix, not to the old residents.  These residents are slowly being pushed out of the area as old homes/neighborhoods are bought out and new development moves in.  As the friendly people that live in lively neighborhoods such as those of Pecan St are forced to look at signs that categorize them as being overcome with ‘drugs and gangs’, and as the new development creeps closer and closer eventually forcing them to move we should ask ourselves if this new development is worth the cost.  Perhaps, we should concentrate less on reforming the physical image of S. Phoenix and more on reforming our negative image of the people that have occupied it for decades.                            



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