Downtown Lover

Craig OuthierAugust 19, 2020
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I have a secret Downtown mistress. She’s about 3 feet tall but tends to stand out, given that she loiters near street corners and sports a neon lime-green paint job.

Naturally, I’m referring to the identical GR:D bikes clustered throughout Downtown Phoenix and Tempe. Every June for the last four years or so, I’ve rented one of those Yoda-toned beauties and spent an afternoon exploring the urban core of the fifth largest city in the U.S., visiting restaurants, popping into galleries and warehouses, meeting shop owners and generally trying to experience Downtown from the ground up.

It’s sort of like that 1970s serio-comic romance Same Time, Next Year, only with me in the Alan Alda role and my GR:D bike as Ellen Burstyn… or maybe Downtown itself is Ellen Burstyn? In any case, it’s become a favorite ritual of mine.

Why do I do it? Well, wandering aimlessly through a metropolis, especially on a bike, is an excellent, time-tested way to collect story ideas, and covering Downtown is part of our mandate at the magazine. We are called PHOENIX, after all – putting aside the fact the city of Scottsdale has been delivering our water bill for the last 20 years.

But mostly, I just like the idea of exploring a bona fide American downtown with an open mind and a yen for discovery, going back to the days – only 10 years or so ago – when there was very little to discover in Downtown Phoenix. I remember driving down Central Avenue at night when I moved here in 1998 and feeling a slither of disquiet beholding the zombie-apocalypse-like stillness of the place.

Photo by Carrie Evans
Photo by Carrie Evans

“Will all this in mind, the PHOENIX staff embarked on this Love Your Downtown issue, which is exactly what it sounds like – a wide-ranging love letter to downtowns across the Valley, from Glendale to Gilbert.”

That all changed, of course, thanks to the rise – and eventual gentrification – of Roosevelt Row, massive investment by Arizona State University and other benefactors, blue-chip sporting events, an influx of culinary talent, etc. But it’s not just Phoenix. Stirred by the precepts of New Urbanism, the same phenomenon has happened all over the Valley. For instance, how many more locally owned restaurants are there in downtown Gilbert today than there were a decade ago? How many more waterfront condos are there in Tempe?

Will all this in mind, the PHOENIX staff embarked on this Love Your Downtown issue, which is exactly what it sounds like – a wide-ranging love letter to downtowns across the Valley, from Glendale to Gilbert. The street art, the startups, the history and – most critically – the people. Because the sobering fact is: Downtowns have been hit hardest by the pandemic. The density of people and culture that we love about them has been turned into a liability, real or perceived.

So we hope you read Love Your Downtown and use it by visiting and patronizing the places we’ve profiled – responsibly and safely, it goes without saying. For my own part, I’m thinking of upping my GR:D bike tours to twice a year. I guess that makes it a real relationship?

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