First Impressions of South Phoenix

Just driving through south Phoenix can be a confusing experience, one second you are next to old dilapidated homes and the next you could be in any new master planned community in the valley. One of the first things that is obvious about South Phoenix is the tremendous variety.  There are stores that exist only there and nowhere else in the valley. Another thing that is obvious as you drive through the neighborhood is that unlike the rest of the valley (that has exploded in new growth of seemingly infinitely replicated home models in the last few decades) not all the buildings are alike.

            As Phoenix has developed too many of the building structures have taken on generic boxy forms. Stand in the parking lot of any Wal-Mart in the country and the setting is so generic that you could be any place and no place in particular in the country. The subdivisions that pop up around Phoenix offer two or three home styles and absolutely nothing to help distinguish your house from your neighbor’s (which in any case is against the rules to do so in many of these communities). If you drive through most of Phoenix you can get lulled into paying attention to traffic because there is usually absolutely nothing interesting to look at. 

            South Phoenix does not have that problem. Since people have been living in that area for a relatively long time (by Phoenix’s standard) the area is home to many different types of architecture that have been in vogue over the years, some good and some bad.  

 On one corner is a dilapidated home in which the walls have fallen down (or had never been built) and carpet or tarps have been draped down from the frame making a makeshift wall. The roof of the house was damaged at some point in time and the occupants created a new roof using a variety of colored tarps.  Across the street from the house just described is a large wide house which looks as though it may have served some other purpose originally. It has a wide angled roof and large flagstones appear to have been set into the walls of the home giving it a classic masonry look.


Just a few houses down from that house is a very modern styled two story house on a single lot. The square boxy house has a flat roof and is painted a grayish purple color.  The same area is also where you can find a home made out of what appears to be the remains of some small type of aircraft hanger. The home is a long half cylinder of some type of metal construction (aluminum?) and the body is painted a reddish tan color. Windows have been added to the sides of the home and the hanger door has been replaced by a typical door.

            There are also neighborhoods that offer homes with large front and back yards where the whole street is lined by fully grown palm trees. These streets also offer a variety of styles.  You may find a craftsman home from a different era situated next to a long flat house slightly reminiscent of a hacienda. One home in the area had a very large American flag painted onto the back and in these neighborhoods the residents appear free to paint their homes as they desire. A person would be hard pressed to find a new subdivision where the owner could paint “their” house orange if they felt like it yet in south Phoenix it is possible to find any number of brightly colored homes. To the eyes of most Phoenicians, (eyes that have been lulled into colorblindness by huge monochrome subdivisions) this can be quite a shock.

            As of the last few years South Phoenix is no longer exempt from the building frenzy the rest of the city is experiencing. The large “master planned” subdivision now exist here too.  The subdivisions are new, it is plain enough just by driving past them. They appear to corral themselves off from the rest of the area with homes hidden behind  six foot high tan brick walls that disclose only roofs, but any Phoenician could probably give a very nearly psychic description of the  appearance of the neighborhood without ever stepping foot past the brick walls.

When I drive into the new neighborhoods it feels as though I have entered a ghost town. I have driven through entire gated communities without ever seeing a person. An article by Blake and Arroela entitled “Residential Subdivision Identity in Metropolitan Phoenix” describes problems with the development of Phoenix’s new neighborhoods “Phoenix has been said to lack neighborhood identity and one authority asserted that newer cities like Phoenix have less identity than old ones like Tucson.” (Page 1)  When I drive through these new neighborhoods in South Phoenix I feel that they do lack an identity.       

            To my eye the South Phoenix architecture is more visually appealing than many other places in the city. There are many different styles to see. The buildings of the area are quite diverse and offer styles that range from early in the last century to the present.  In many areas of South Phoenix the old homes and neighborhoods are in danger of being replaced with new subdivisions. It remains to be seen whether the new homes will push out all older homes, but from the architecture it is probably not likely because south Phoenix’s built environment bears both the scars and the flowers of other architectural invasions.       









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