This week I finally broke down and bought an iPhone. I bought it because it just works. For the last few months, I have been rotating between Android phones, then bought an iPod Touch and a Verizon MiFi so that I could have an iPhone-like experience without actually giving in to the AT&T machine. By the time I put my phone, iPod Touch, MiFi, my wallet and my keys in my pockets as I walked out of the house, they were literally overflowing. God help me if I tried to squeeze a Metro pass or some change in there.

Sure, my Android phone plus iPod Touch plus MiFi combination had the features I needed to check in on Yelp, read Facebook posts and check my Google Voice messages, but it was a real pain in the ass to find a place for everything, not to mention the trouble that went into managing three different sets of batteries.

This electronic experience caused me to reflect on my recent post about why people move away from Phoenix to places like Seattle, Portland and San Francisco. I think the reason people move from Phoenix to these cities is because, like an iPhone, they just work. In Portland you just jump on the streetcar to get wherever you want to go in the central city. Need to go further? Hop on the extensive light rail system. Restaurants, bars, and shopping are all oriented around public transit and dense neighborhoods. It just works.

In Phoenix, things are a bit more like the Android phone, iPod Touch, MiFi combo. Sure you can make it to a dense neighborhood, but that is a rare experience, and almost considered an oddity by those who aren’t committed to the city’s central core. Public transport connections outside of the single light rail line are sparse and unreliable. And don’t even get me started about the light rail segment between Phoenix and Tempe, on which I am generally asked to disembark and get on the next train at least 30% of the time.

Is this a standard Phoenix bitch session? Not at all. There is a charm to the Android ecosystem. It is complicated, it asks a lot of you and you feel clever when you master it. But, it is a hell of a lot easier to just get the phone that everyone has, that everyone has apps for and just works.

The goal of a thriving Downtown in Phoenix should be to make our town an iPhone. Get businesses, people, leaders, kids, neighbors and friends talking about how we can make living, working and shopping Downtown an enjoyable experience. And, for the love of God, let’s keep the trains running on time.


  • Good post. I always enjoy technological similes.

    I think the need to disembark and transfer to another train is a byproduct of the location of the maintenance and operations center near Sky Harbor Airport. All trains finishing their runs for the day return there for the night. If you are traveling after 7 PM, when peak hours end, then every other train is going to end its run near the Airport because service frequency is going down from every 10 minutes to every 20 minutes. The only way METRO could have avoided this would have been to place the maintenance and operations center at either end of the line, but it was near the Airport that land was available, and in many ways it makes sense to have the trains housed in the middle of the line. From a passenger’s point of view, when traveling between Tempe / Mesa and Phoenix at night, it’s best to look at the destination sign on the train or consult the schedule at Valley Metro’s Web site to see if it’s better to wait for the next train.

    On the general theme of your post, I think your thoughts align with the “Phoenix ain’t easy” slogan I’ve heard at times. It’s true in a way, but I also think the “culture is hard to find” mantra is sometimes exaggerated by negative voices. It may be not so much that the attractions of Phoenix hard to find, but instead that Phoenix has such a high proportion of residents born elsewhere that there are always a large number of people trying to find their way and complaining when they don’t. Many of these people would probably complain as much if they moved to Portland, Austin, or whatever the cool city of the moment is. We don’t hear them as loudly because there are fewer of them, though. By the way, given the size of the Phoenix Metro Area, it’s probably too big to become an iPhone. Maybe we can make it into an iPad — preferably the 64GB version?

    • It’s funny that you make reference to some people just having a general lack of awareness of the great things that are available in Phoenix. Just last night I was talking to a friend about the great local burlesque troupe, Scandalesque. His reply was, “Wow, Chad you always know so many cool things in town that I have never heard about.”

      There is either a willful ignorance of, or just general disinterest in, things that are going on, and I don’t know if that is, like you said, a product of so many new residents, or a general cultural tendency in Phoenix to stay cloistered in one’s own little world.

      I hope this didn’t sound like a general bitch session about Phoenix, because I do love living here, as evidenced by my previous article, http://www.phoenixdowntownjournal.com/2010/01/08/insecure-critic-phoenix-home/

  • Do you know when we first started working on reviving the downtown? 1985, when I did the PR for the first highrise to break ground downtown in 11 years — One Renaissance. I officed in Two Renaissance at one time, and I marketed Central Avenue in something called “The Heart of the City” Report throughout the 80s. However, the City planning department cut the City into “urban villages” some time during that time, and in an effort to spread resources equally among the villages, it robbed downtown in the name of saving commute times and gas by allowing people to live and work closer to their homes. That’s why there’s high rise around Metrocenter and 24th St. and Camelback.

    That one decision, IMHO, did the most to screw a re-developing downtown. That and the continuous sprawl in the suburbs with its drive-till-you-qualify mentality. Now that homeownership can’t be viewed as an investment, I predict that downtown will grow more quickly. But ironically, Chandler, Mesa, Scottsdale, Glendale, etc are busy developing their OWN downtowns now.

  • Jay Moh

    Phoenix screwed the pooch by ignoring it’s lack of downtown forever, and just moving it’s borderline out, until, finally, the end is in sight. ONLY now do they give a toot about infill development.

    Personally, I think that long term (thinking 100-200 years out), the Phoenix metro area did absolute irreparable harm to what could have been, by plowing every inch of natural landscape that was flat. The only “real”/natural Arizona parks are mountains that they could not plow over, and those are jewels. People don’t realize this today because they want green yards like they had in California, Georgia, Floriduh/whereever.

    I’d take scorpions in my home any day, if they came with the quail, coyotes, cactus wrens, and natural landscape artifacts that have been obliterated in the valley.

    As for phones, the Droid and Nexus One are awesome. Skip the G1/MyTouch — too slow.