South Phoenix has a connotation to it for most residents outside that area. That connotation is that the area is poor, downtrodden, and ruled by gangs that exist for violent crime and the defacing of property. It is a place that people don’t want to go to. I have heard people say they wouldn’t even leave their car anywhere “down there” for any reason. A reputation for crime that attaches itself to an area name and travels into the local urban legend stream is a powerful thing to overcome. South Phoenix has this stigma.
South Phoenix is not alone in this plight. South Central LA, The Bronx, and Boston’s “War Zone” all have and do carry the burden of being perpetually and nationally known as “bad areas”. In “’South Central’ off the map” Robert Jablon writes of the attempt in LA to rename South Central to “South Los Angeles” in order to “give a community its identity back.” But does changing the name of an area really help the situation? What comes first, the changes or the name? Jablon writes that indeed, a name change in South Central LA is not going to fix all the problems that area has, but he suggests that it will get rid of some of the negative coding that the black people there suffer. It is difficult to say what affect if any it will have. People could just learn to associate the same issues with “South Los Angeles” that they did with “South Central”. Changes to that area would have to be swift after the change in the name. And what changes are we talking about?
South Phoenix seems to be going the other route. They have begun the changes and now they are changing the name to reflect the new face of southern Phoenix. The changes we are talking about are summed up best as gentrification and urban sprawl. The new developments and renewed interest in investing in South Phoenix has reached a point where the stigma of “South Phoenix” is no longer wanted by the new middle class element. In “What’s in a name? ‘South Mountain Village’ label good for all.” George Young writes glowingly about how the “South Phoenix” area is due for its new name, “South Mountain Village”.
The difference between this name change and the one in LA is that the gentrification and establishment of a middle class presence in what was previously a poor and perpetually declining neighbourhood. Now young writes “We are very proud of our village and what it has accomplished as one of the places to live, play and work in the valley.” Well, the “we” he speaks from is this new middle class. He isn’t talking about the strong and vibrant Latino culture that has been there for all the history of South Phoenix. Young’s “we” is driving out the local culture and visual presence that has existed there before this new influx of nationwide stores, chain restaurants and tan/grey HOA operated housing developments.
So what’s in a name? Good or bad, the name does carry a certain amount of identity. I think it is smarter to help the people in these famously “bad” areas and get the old names to a new place of better reputation. Investing in education and community programmes in these areas would go farther in promoting the areas without displacing the occupants. Unfortunately that is not what is happening, and I personally believe that to a large if not complete degree, South Phoenix will lose its flavour, and its current residents will find it harder and harder to afford to stay. When everyone calls it “South Mountain Village” and “South Phoenix” is a memory, the ousting will be complete.
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