As Nate continues his journey in Central Phoenix, he is simultaneously rediscovering his roots in the part of town some call The Avenues. For those unfamiliar with the general layout of Phoenix, Central runs north and south in the center. Streets run parallel to Central and count up going east. Avenues also run parallel to Central and count up going west.
Nate recently heard from his friend Marc, “I have never been over there. I really have no idea what is in the avenues”. To hear statements like these is both astonishing and affirming. The astonishment lies in the fact that Marc has no concept of what lies in an entire HALF of Phoenix. The affirmation lies in the fact that Marc is localized and involved in his immediate community, and is living a life that is reminiscent of the great neighborhoods of Chicago, New York, and Pittsburgh. Marc wins.
Granted, the avenues are not exactly a destination. They consist largely of seemingly mundane housing developments and strip malls that were built between 1970 and 2000. They are well kept, nonetheless, and are neighborhoods where people do everyday life.
Last Thursday Nate was invited to watch the Arizona Cardinals football game at the Swizzle Stick (not to be confused with the Swizzle Inn) with his dear adopted parents. Skeptical to spend time at a likely-to-be-dive bar in the avenues but excited to enjoy the company, Nate ventured out of downtown into unfamiliar territory. While Nate knew exactly where the bar was geographically and had passed it countless times, he could not picture the establishment due to the lack of placeless-ness that is the amalgamation of Glendale, West Phoenix, Peoria, and Surprise.
Despite the lack of architectural character, one thing became apparent to Nate immediately. These strip mall storefront establishments are the Phoenician parallel to a dark, brick-laden, tin-ceilinged bar in Chicago or New York. Locals gather without pretense for cheap beer, loud football, and quaint company. While downtown Phoenix is doing a lot right, they are actually lacking something the seemingly placeless sprawling zones are doing well – a place to meet your neighbors and come as you are.
Not only can one come as they are, they can test the waters and push themselves to grow without the fear of judgment or embarrassment often inherent in “the scene”. Point in case – with little coaxing, Nate was able to get his adopted Dad to sing karaoke for the first time at the ripe young age of 67- an evening not soon to be forgotten.
Coming back to a point to ponder as downtown transitions and Nate establishes – what is the perfect blend of going-out flare that will attract people to downtown and gritty local comfort that will cause people to stay? How can Nate contribute to this as an architect and prototype citizen? The places that people “go out” are easy to spot and abound, but the places people stay are not as so evident as learned through the Swizzle Stick experience. The next challenge will be to overlook the flash on “the scene” and determine if the next level of life exists downtown so he can kick it as would the Beastie Boys - Root Down.