I have made no direct references to written materials in this piece because I think that South Phoenix deserves recognition from an individual. One man’s experience turned into an expression. I don’t want to parrot other writers, or throw support behind someone else’s theory. I believe that emotion is a quality, and the human ability to express their thoughts in a mode for others to see and understand is precious. Reactions to what we see should be recorded. So here are my thoughts... my own thoughts on the experience I had in South Phoenix.
After the readings, lectures and guest speakers, as well as the six, six hour Fridays spent exploring South Phoenix, I feel that I have scratched the surface of this diverse and culturally rich neighbourhood. I have been repeatedly surprised at the positive experiences I had in an area known as the “Bad” side of town. South Phoenix is in fact a good place to visit, experience and grab a bite to eat in. At least on a Friday afternoon! After the exposure to the history, and to the Latino culture of low riders, murals and markets, I have a deep appreciation for what this part of Phoenix has to offer without further change at all.
What I have learned about gentrification and what I have seen first hand of the new developments and the Fry’s shopping plaza have saddened me. Previously I would have applauded the “recovery” of “bad” areas into “productive” and “nice” properties. Now I see it all in a different light. Just during the weeks that I attended this class, a mural along Central Ave was painted over with the same bland beige paint that sides almost every new house in every new development all over the wide city. As a class, we couldn’t believe that could happen so quickly and with no warning or explanation. But that is a small version of what is happening to the entire area. The culture and colour will be washed away and monochromatically replaced with no warning and no explanation.
I now see a people that are methodically on their way to being displaced. I see a bit of land that has been polluted and shoved off by the middle and upper classes for many years. But the expansion of the city could only go so far before starting to look in on itself for desirable places to refurbish. What better spot to take from the poor but the foothills of South Mountain. Foothills are reserved for the wealthy, right?
So now they come in under the banner of “South Mountain Village” and say things that imply that the changes are good for all residents of South Phoenix whether they are new or have been here for years. What they really mean is, it’s a better investment and eventually will be better for the wealthier people who move in as the ones that lived here before are forced out by rising property taxes and a loss of familiar community.
Maybe some will find a way to stay. Maybe this area will retain a touch of the rich culture it has now. I am saddened to know that it is unlikely, but it is nice to think that the area could be “flavoured” by its history and the memory of the people who gave the area its character along the way. Perhaps there will still be a single place where you can get a haircut and carwash, or a restaurant that also sells tires. Maybe a mural or two will remain in tact. One can hope. I can’t believe that no one who hasn’t been to South Phoenix as recently as a month ago will be able to go down there now and see even as much as I saw. The murals disappear so easily with beige paint, the houses are built so fast, and the businesses change in the blink of an eye.
They will create the illusion of a pristine Rio Salado through the old wash, and the river walk will come in a swampy version of San Antonio. The planners hope that businesses and homes will spring up around it. The problems inherent in that plan are deep. The artificial grading has already washed away once, and they can not be confident that mosquito’s will not be a problem. To listen to the planners talk about this huge version of a backyard koi pond as if running and maintaining it is going to be a piece of cake, is like listening to a 3 year old explain how they will take care of the puppy all by themselves. There are also industrial buildings along that stretch that are not going to move away so easily, not to mention that if they do, they will take their jobs with them.
Overall, I am feeling that this well intended (if not closed minded) renovation of South Phoenix is tainted with sadness and delusion. I enjoyed what I have seen and experienced of the real South Phoenix. I’m glad I got to see what I did before it is gone, or fully changed to South Mountain Village.
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