Post Date: August 20, 2014

In Defense of Phoenix

Not too long ago, an article made the rounds on my Facebook feed, dragging with it a comment thread filled with vitriol and passion of mixed opinions. Some agreed whole-heartedly, while others fought back with matched enthusiasm. Like most Facebook quarrels, a few of the arguments got too petty and personal. I avoided the whole thing altogether and didn’t dare follow the link. That is, until today.

Yes, I’m late to the bandwagon, but I’m talking about the VICE article, “Reasons Why Phoenix is the Worst Place Ever.”

Talk about cheap shots! As a relatively recent resident of Phoenix, I can see some truth in the article’s stereotypical jabs at my city. Summers are hot (but let’s not mention the perfect weather the rest of the year). It is a snowbird destination (we get seasonal visitors because of the aforementioned perfect weather; again, I’m not sure this is a bad thing). Urban sprawl is rampant (even though the grid-like streets and highways make easy commutes). Some political figures make poor decisions out of fear rather, than values of mercy and equality (though perhaps this is a commentary on humanity in general).

I get the author’s complaints. I’ve heard them before, and maybe even made some of the same ones myself.

Several years ago, my husband and I planned to move to California to be near my family. As we thought more seriously about moving, we made a bucket list of things we wanted to do before leaving Arizona. It was in the process of going through the list that we realized just how much we’d miss this place.

We hiked Camelback, Piestewa Peak, South Mountain, and the White Tanks—all easily accessible trails within the city. We took day trips to Tucson and Prescott. Weekend trips to Flagstaff and Bisbee. These destinations showed me the diversity of the state’s geography. I learned to enjoy the desert’s harsh beauty, but traveling just a couple of hours north, the flat desert plains give way to mountainous forests of pine trees and aspens.

Speaking of outdoors, I’ve never been anywhere with more spectacular sunsets, especially after monsoons. I knew that Phoenix had become home when I started to eagerly await the annual monsoon season. I drew comfort from that first breath of air after the rain, mingled with the smell of creosote leaves.

No good bucket list is complete without a lengthy restaurant section: Pizzeria Bianco, Gallo Blanco, Carolina’s, and Matt’s Big Breakfast, to name a few. We discovered a fast-developing Roosevelt Row, with new galleries, coffee shops, and restaurants popping up every month. While Phoenix is not as ethnically diverse as say, Los Angeles, good authentic cuisine of nearly every culture can be found if you’re willing to drive to Chandler, Mesa, and beyond.

Going through our bucket list was certainly an enjoyable experience, but what we ended up with was a deep appreciation of the culture and people who make up the city. If you want to be somewhere that caters to your cultural preferences and desires, join a country club. Being part of a community has its perks and benefits, but it also demands your attention and care.

It was and still is exciting to be in a city that’s bubbling with potential. Phoenix is a canvas waiting to be filled in with creativity and ingenuity for the good of everyone who call it home.

Through my work in the nonprofit sector, I know very well that Phoenix is not a perfect city. We lag behind in our funding for education, social services, and other crucial resources to support families, children, and other vulnerable populations. But that’s why we need more people to speak up, lend a hand, and give generously to support the values they believe in.

Are there places that are more pleasant to live than Phoenix? In some ways, sure. But instead of standing idly by, wishing for greener grass somewhere else, you could pick up a shovel and get to work. (Yes, things grow here. We are blessed with a year-round gardening season, including summer months. Did you know that?)

As you experience the city, get your hands dirty, and contribute to the common good with your neighbors, you’ll find that the city you idealized, the place you used as comparison, the home you always wanted, was here all along.

Photo by Tim Hoiland

Mary Chou-Thompson

Communications manager at St. Vincent de Paul. Reluctant coffee snob. Taiwanese American.

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