All posts tagged “Phoenix


That Thing About Paradise and Parking Lots

Fairly often I have meetings in downtown Phoenix, and when I do, most of the time I park in a surface lot on the corner of First and Washington streets.

It’s in a convenient location and it’s really affordable—usually $5, though inflated to $10 when there’s a sporting event or some other sort of draw. At a certain level I know that surface lots are bad for cities. I know this intuitively and experientially, and I’ve dabbled enough in New Urbanist thought to have had those intuitions and experiences reinforced. But I had never really stopped to think about what was there—on the block of land framed by First, Second, Washington, and Jefferson—before it was a nondescript slab of asphalt overseen by a couple of fee collectors in golf carts.

I stumbled upon the answer while spending some time with the book Vanishing Phoenix, a collection of old black and white photos with commentary about the city’s former architectural glory by Robert A. Melikian. (Incidentally, the book inspired a now-defunct but still interesting blog by the same name.)

As it happens, what is now the place where I park my car was once the site of Phoenix City Hall. The book includes two photos of the original building, including this one, courtesy of the private Heberlee Collection (pardon the blurriness; it’s an iPhone photo of an old photo).


From Melikian we learn:

Construction started in November 1887 by John J. Gardiner for $15,580 and was completed in 1888. When the capitol of Arizona moved from Prescott to Phoenix in 1889, this building was used as the state house, the offices of the governor and secretary, and the legislature’s meeting place. They held their biennial sessions on city hall’s upper floor…

The description of the Phoenix City Hall in the 1950 Phoenix City Directory was that “the block of ground upon which the old city hall stood was known as the Plaza and was originally set aside by the founders of Phoenix (in perpetuity) as a place for rest and peaceful contemplation. Their laudable desire, however, was long since nullified and the ground is now used for commercial purposes.” A bell tower was added in 1905. The building was torn down around 1928.

This anecdote illustrates something profound about our cities and how they are shaped over time. What I take for granted as affordable and convenient has come at the expense of something far more valuable and far more difficult to replicate—an iconic, beautiful government building in the heart of the city, in the midst of an oasis cultivated with care “as a place for rest and peaceful contemplation.”

UPDATE: Since writing this post, I finished Vanishing Phoenix. And in the later pages of it, I learned about Fox Theatre, an ornate art deco gathering place that stood on this same block after the original City Hall building but before it became a parking lot. It opened on July 30, 1931 and was a vibrant place into the 50s, around the time people started leaving for the ‘burbs. It was razed in 1975. Over at the TRU PHX blog, an artist named Hector Primero has used Photoshop to superimpose the Fox Theatre over a photo of the intersection as it currently appears today. Incidentally, the angle here is more or less the same as the header photo above, facing southeast.


Anyway, Joni Mitchell, over to you.

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What Gives You Hope?

This summer, Comment Magazine is hosting a series of symposia in which they ask friends of the magazine a fun question and then share the brief responses. They asked the first group what they’re reading these days.  They asked the second group what rest looks like for them this summer. I was invited to participate in the third group, responding to the question: What gives you hope in your corner of the world? Here’s what I had to say:

This spring I spent a day at Fuller Seminary’s campus here in Phoenix, where N.T. Wright was speaking on the life and teaching of the Apostle Paul. During a wide-ranging Q&A time following one of the lectures, someone asked Wright how he managed to maintain a sense of hope while serving as Bishop of Durham, given the problems he inevitably encountered within his congregation, his diocese, and in the Church of England as a whole. Wright acknowledged that he dealt with his share of discouragement, but that being a bishop gave him a unique vantage point to continually see pockets of hope throughout the diocese—even when other challenges near and far would have prompted despair.

I’m not a pastor, nor am I a bishop, but I found myself resonating with his response as I reflected on my own work. Here in Phoenix, after all, we have good reason to be discouraged as well—and not just because it’s that time of year when temperatures hover well above the triple digit mark. Bad as that may be, even worse is the fact that our city and state have come to serve as punching bags. You may have seen the recent article, for instance, that declared in no uncertain terms that Phoenix is ”the worst place ever.”

But some of us genuinely enjoy living here, believe it or not. I happen to be one of those people. I love the big skies punctuated by desert outcroppings. I’m inspired by the can-do attitude I encounter among our city’s entrepreneurs, artists, and activists. I’m grateful for the abundance of flavorful Southwest cuisine like the carne adovada at Richardson’s. And the list goes on.

Phoenix has it’s share of challenges, to be sure, and complicity in this city’s brokenness is something we cannot ignore. But I believe there is good reason for hope, even here in “the world’s least sustainable city.” I sometimes find myself discouraged when I read the news, hear about the latest proposed boycott, or consider how few of my neighbors’ names I’ve actually gotten to know. But when I come across signs of life in otherwise hidden corners of our city, my imagination is stirred and my hope is renewed.

You can read the rest of the responses—which include goose droppings, pick-up basketball, and Thomas the Tank Engine—over at Comment‘s website.

If you’re not familiar with the magazine, I encourage you to check it out. Goofy symposia contributors like me aside, they publish a lot of thoughtful stuff under the rubric of “public theology for the common good.” And as I recently tweeted, the print magazine itself is a sensory delight to behold.

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Repaso: December 27, 2013

1. Phoenix ends chronic veteran homelessness
When Arizona makes national news, it’s not always for particularly happy reasons. But this time there’s some news worth celebrating. The city of Phoenix has announced it has now ended chronic homelessness among veterans—something that many considered impossible to accomplish, which no other city has managed to do. Kudos to Mayor Greg Stanton, who has led the charge, while continually giving credit to the many partners—from government, nonprofits, and businesses—who have worked together to achieve this. Eugene Scott reported on it for the Arizona Republic before national outlets like MSNBC and The Atlantic—not to mention the White House—picked it up.


2. Josh Garrels on NPR
Katie and I still have Love & War & The Sea In Between by Josh Garrels in our car CD changer, slot three, after a solid two and a half years (alongside the equally enduring self-titled masterpiece from Bon Iver in slot four). In any case, it was great to see NPR giving Garrels some love this week:

The music I make doesn’t tend to go there all that often, like, just in awe of God… More my music, I would say, is trying to peel back layers and find out where is God in the midst of this city that I live in, and this marriage I’m in, and these things that are going wrong and these things that are going right. Does that make sense?

3. 2013 Kantzer Lectures
Nicholas Wolterstorff gave three lectures at the Carl F.H. Henry Center. Video and brief summaries for each are available. Here they are: The God We Worship: A Liturgical Theology, God as Worthy of Worship, and God as One Who Listens and Speaks. Thanks to Jason Goroncy for sharing them on his blog.

4. The Blind Boys
Last week Religion & Ethics Newsweekly had a segment on the Blind Boys of Alabama and the spiritual dimensions of their latest album, which was produced by Justin Vernon of Bon Iver. Lead vocalist Jimmy Carter (not the 39th President) says, “We feel that we were called by God to do this work.”

[Image via an0nym0n0us]

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Repaso: August 23, 2013

1. Phoenix’s disconnected youth
Eugene Scott (@Eugene_Scott), a reporter for the Arizona Republic who participated in our Common Good PHX event back in April, has written an important report on the alarming number of youth in the Phoenix who are out of school and unemployed:

Nationally, one in seven young adults does not work or attend school. In metro Phoenix, it’s one in five. Experts say the reasons Phoenix has a higher disconnection rate vary — from students who come from communities that don’t place a high value on a diploma or lack educational options, to a weak economy where youths and young adults struggle to find work. Disconnected youths and young adults are more likely to lean on the government for services, such as welfare and health care, costing taxpayers. And they can hamper economic development as companies look to locate in areas with skilled workers.


2. Farmer’s markets, block parties… and institutions
On Monday, This Is Our City published an award-winning essay by Brandon Rhodes (@BrandonDRhodes) on how a local church is practicing “a long obedience” in downtown Tacoma, Washington. It’s a great essay, emphasizing the “local, highly ordinary gospel witness of Zoe Livable Church.”  And it sparked some great (dare I say edifying?) conversations from folks in various quarters about the extent to which great things like farmer’s markets, block parties, and yarnbombs can truly transform a city and help it flourish. Most notably, Jamie Smith (@james_ka_smith) says cities need Christians who practice micro acts of creativity, sacrifice, and faithfulness, but macro engagement matters too:

I read stories like Rhodes’ within earshot of the city of Detroit which now stands as a colossal disaster of municipal government. I have no doubt that yarnbombs on Woodward Avenue bring a furtive beauty to bombed out areas of an abandoned city—like the dove bearing fresh olives leaves as a sign and signal that the flood of judgment is receding. But farmer’s markets won’t rescue the city. Good government will. Those of us seeking to follow the Prince of Peace can’t abandon the call to bend governing to look more like it rests upon his shoulders.

3. Beyond eclectic Christianity
A good word from Kevin White on the value of being rooted in a Christian tradition with theological particularity as a basis for engaging with other views:

I mean to say that a robust, positive theology has to stand on something rather than nothing. If theology is to be more than a nerdy pastime, a proxy for power games or cultural dueling, or the basis of endless abstract disputes, then we each need to stand within a particular theology, following the example of particular sub-apostolic teachers, and correctable at first resort by a particular range of teachers in light of Holy Scriptures.

4. Another Self Portrait
NPR Music’s “First Listen” is streaming a full 45 minutes of material from Bob Dylan’s new collection of 53 – yes, 53 – previously unreleased songs from the late 60s and early 70s, the Self Portrait and New Morning era. This probably wasn’t Dylan’s finest moment, but if you’re a devoted fan, you’ll love at least some of these new songs.

5. Everything Will Change
Another music video from Derek Webb’s new record, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry & I Love You (which I blogged about the other day).

[Image via]

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Repaso: August 9, 2013

1. Phoenix, then and now (simultaneously)
This week I stumbled upon TRUPHX, a blog curated by people committed to celebrating what’s good in Phoenix and the locals who make it so. Curious how the Phoenix of yesteryear compared with the city today, Hector Primero dug up old photos and then went around town taking pictures of what those places look like today. He then photoshopped them together, and the results are a truly fascinating way of seeing how the city has changed.


2. Taking responsibility in Haiti
The Yale Law School and the Yale School of Public Health have jointly published a report on the responsibility of the U.N. for the cholera epidemic in Haiti, “one of the largest cholera epidemics in modern history.” Though details about the outbreak’s origins are pretty clear, and while the U.N. has called for efforts to combat the spread of cholera, it still hasn’t accepted responsibility for causing the epidemic in the first place. It may not be light weekend reading, but reports like these are essential for the sake of accountability.

3. Beyond economic solutions to poverty
The editorial team at Shared Justice has introduced a new series on poverty and opportunity. The first piece looks at the relational, spiritual, social, and institutional aspects of poverty, and considers what this kind of a holistic understanding means for us:

Our work as Christians extends beyond church walls when we reach out to foster healthy friendships with neighbors—many of whom may be lacking healthy social connections. These efforts encourage the healing of broken relationships that perpetuate poverty. Whatever other directions we take in seeking to alleviate poverty, we must never abandon our primary task: attesting to Scripture’s fuller vision of flourishing that encompasses the wholeness of our humanity in right relationship with God.

4. Krista Tippett, public listener
My friend Katelyn Beaty (@katelynbeaty) recently interviewed Krista Tippett (@kristatippett), host of On Being (formerly Speaking Of Faith) about “the ministry of listening,” among other things. I especially loved this part:

I’m interested in recovering the idea of public theology. Ten years ago, when you would talk about Niebuhr, people would say, “Well, who is the Niebuhr of our day? It’s all fine and good to talk about how great Niebuhr was, but we don’t have Niebuhrs anymore. Whom can we point to?” There can’t be any more Niebuhrs. I don’t even know if we could have a Martin Luther King now. The change makers are dispersed and plural; they’re in local communities, and they’re not all white Protestant guys. Public theology is very different. We have to look for it a little bit more. It’s not just going to declare itself and be anointed on the cover of Time. But that’s good, because it puts all of us back in the equation, both to be leaders and to seek out the people who we want to have that authority.

5. Eye of the Hurricane
Here’s the latest video from Derek Webb’s (@derekwebb) new album, I Was Wrong, I’m Sorry, and I Love You. It’s a great stripped down, acoustic version of the recording.

[Image: Corner of 1st St and Washington St, Phoenix (then and now) by Hector Primero via]