If you browse through a typical online newspaper or variety website, you will likely encounter a “top ten list” regarding the best cities to live in. Depending on the source, that list might have a particular focus – best city for finding a new job, locations with affordable housing, best cities for outdoor fun.
On the surface, I can appreciate the content provided in these infotainment articles. For those making decisions about job relocation or retirement – or for those simply dreaming of a better place – this information can provide a quick overview about the highlights of a given city.
The problem with these lists is the underlining “one-way” mindset – we are looking at a city or community with only one question in mind: “What does this city have to offer me and my family?” We want nice roads, reliable public transportation, robust employment options, good schools, safe streets, vibrant cultural and entertainment events, and short lines at the motor vehicle office.
And don’t get me wrong, wanting and desiring those characteristics in your home community is not a bad thing.
But rarely are people thinking about these two questions: “What type of people are necessary to cultivate a city with these attributes?” and “Am I willing to invest in and care for the community where I live?”
Cities are not merely composed of trendy restaurants, high-rise buildings, parks, apartments, freeways, sport stadiums, and office complexes. They are made up of individuals and families. So I would like to flip the script a bit and propose a different type of list: the characteristics that metro Phoenix is looking for in its people. Here are four:
1. Determination. Cities are majestic, but they are not easy to create and sustain. Cities do not leisurely coast along, but need passionate people to continually build, nurture, and steer them in a healthy direction. Living in such an interconnected manner creates opportunities for relationship and partnership, but it can also generate challenges. Water, pollution, education, and crime are just a few issues that threaten our city. Phoenix needs people who are committed to creative problem solving, with the resolve and flexibility to make things happen. Potential Valley residents should be well versed in cooperation, compromise, and grace.
2. The willingness to plant trees whose shade you do not expect to enjoy. Many people flock to cities for the amenities and opportunities afforded on the busy urban streets. No problem; we want you to enjoy the facilities and services of our wonderful city. But remember the generations before you that planned, labored, and sacrificed to put in place the infrastructure that makes the Valley so wonderful. This means changing the way we use our resources and our approach towards sustainability. This means thinking less about ourselves and more about the adorable toddler in the stroller.
3. Welcoming. Have you ever met a family or a group of friends that you admire? But then you try to enter the circle, and you find no entry point. We don’t want that analogy to represent Phoenix. We want our community to be a tight knit family, but we also want to be hospitable to new residents and visitors. The wonderful tourism industry of Phoenix can be a double-edged sword. Spring training, the hope of gridiron glory, world-class resorts, and a comfortable high temperature of 75 throughout the winter combine to bring the multitudes to enjoy our city. This reality creates traffic, increased pressure of civic infrastructure, and drives communities to plunge into debt in order to keep their piece of the tourism pie. We must look for ways to cultivate a great experience for visitors and still respect the long-term residents. We also need citizens who are willing to greet and care for visitors arriving as refugees. These families will arrive at our city not for the resorts or weather, but with the hope of starting a new life in a safe place.
4. No sacred cows. As mentioned before, cities are hard work, and therefore, they require immense work and the ability to adapt. Yesterday’s solutions won’t always work tomorrow. We need residents who are willing to roll with punches. You may love a given government program or community initiative, but there may be a time when those opportunities need to close in order for the city to thrive in other needed ways. If you ever find yourself thinking, “But life in Phoenix has always been that way…” remember that at one time, there was no air conditioning in the Valley. Sometimes change is a beautiful thing.
Advertisers might promote Phoenix with billboards showing sunshine, saguaros, and sports, and you know what, that’s fair. But I look forward to the day when Phoenix is organically known as a place where locals are not just interested in what their city can do for them, but have asked – and answered – the question, what can we do to serve our city?
Header photo courtesy of the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department (source)