Growing up, I used to tell people I lived in downtown Phoenix. They would usually have a pretty terrified reaction and would soon respond with questions about whether it was safe or not and if I ever left my house after dark.
In grade school, I had friends who were hesitant to sleep over at my house and, in high school, would continuously check to make sure their cars were still safe parked on the street.
I lived off of Seventh Street and Thomas Road, across the street from the Phoenix Country Club. I did not live downtown.
Over the past four years though, I’ve gotten similar reactions when I tell people that I go to school in downtown Phoenix. Safety would always be their first concern, but the second would be fun and what I’d do on the weekends.
I was born and raised in, let’s call it, central Phoenix. The farthest I would explore into downtown when I was a kid was Roosevelt Street to brave First Friday, which I did maybe twice during high school. And I say ‘brave’ because I truly was terrified of being harmed, walking from gallery to gallery.
I had lived 2.4 miles away from ASU’s Downtown campus for 18 years, but when I first decided to attend the Walter Cronkite School, I was asking those same questions about safety and things to do and looking forward to moving to a ‘real city’ once I graduated.
I feel foolish now for thinking that I would get mugged at gunpoint walking back from class at night or that I would be left to spend every Friday night in the dorms because there was absolutely nothing to do downtown.
Downtown is Phoenix’s greatest hidden gem. This statement seems ridiculous to say, but it’s the best way I can describe it. It’s almost embarrassing, though, calling the downtown of the sixth largest city in the country a hidden gem.
But a Phoenician who simply comes downtown for a concert or game wouldn’t know about a little place on Fifth Avenue that houses some of the best pizza I’ve ever had, the bookstore on Fifth Street where I heard poetry that brought me to tears or the food truck that I hunted down and ate at every day one week last year.
Phoenix doesn’t know downtown, and they are missing out. But downtown is missing out because of this, too.
Last month, USA Today listed downtown’s Roosevelt Row as one of the top 10 neighborhoods tourists have yet to find. Many downtowners rejoiced about this news, and I did, too — at first.
A shoutout from a national publication? How amazing! We’ve got the nation’s attention, so why can’t we get the rest of Phoenix’s?
Why aren’t people flocking in from around the city to grab up a recently built Roosevelt Point apartment? Why do most other Phoenicians have such a misconstrued opinion of downtown? And why isn’t Phoenix talked about as a premier destination by fellow soon-to-be college grads like Portland, Seattle, New York or Los Angeles are?
I honestly don’t have an answer, but I think there are people in downtown Phoenix who do.
On April 9, I had the pleasure of hearing several of those people speak at The Downtown We Want community meeting and, looking around the audience, I saw dozens more. Nothing has given me more faith in downtown and hope for its thriving future than what was discussed and the passion expressed in that meeting.
I had to duck out of that meeting early to run over to The Manifesto Project’s midtown Phoenix event at Seed Spot just as the discussion was turning to the key role that young people would have in the bolstering of downtown.
I walked in the door at Seed Spot and was floored by the number of young people there, talking about their concerns, desires and potential solutions for the city. Here were the young professionals that the leaders of downtown had just been talking about the need for.
Both events were inspiring, but I went home that night disappointed that those two groups of people were not at one event, talking with each other and developing actual plans for the dreams that both groups shared.
CareerBliss.com recently listed Phoenix as the ninth happiest city for young professionals and after seeing and meeting some of those happy young professionals at the Manifesto event, I believe it.
However, as I talk to my fellow seniors at the Downtown campus of the largest university in the nation, it’s clear that they don’t. For many of them, staying in Phoenix is not even on their radar.
I don’t know if this is more the fault of the downtown community or the university, but the message that downtown is open to and wants these students to stay is not getting across. If this city is going to keep the nation’s interest and gain the interest of the rest of Phoenix, this message needs to be broadcast loud and clear.
I wish these students and the rest of Phoenix could see the growth of downtown that I have seen, not only in the last four years but also in the last 22 years.
It has gone from a ghost town on the weekends to a place that can draw thousands of people to fill a half mile-long table. It has gone from a community worried about losing its newly forming identity to a university campus dropped in the middle of it to a community working with that university to have discussions about the needs of both parties. And it has gone from a place from which I was hoping to flee to a place I am proud to call home and tell people about. In fact, I’m sad that I can no longer claim, in good faith, to have grown up downtown.
Back in high school, as I begrudgingly decided to attend college in downtown Phoenix, I vowed that I would be there for four years and then I would get out. I actually kept this plan in mind really until early April, despite discovering the city’s seducing restaurants, events and culture over the past four years.
Now, I am fighting to stay, not only in Phoenix but specifically downtown. I know downtown is on the cusp of a vibrant future, and I want more than anything to be around when the dreams of those people at The Downtown We Want and The Manifesto Project are realized.
I can’t guarantee this will happen, but I have been inspired by the growth I’ve seen and the people I’ve met to believe that downtown is worth fighting for.
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Evie Carpenter is a graduating managing editor of Downtown Devil.