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In search of the Scottsdale I used to know

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Lately, I've begun to feel like a stranger in a community I've called home for a majority of my life. This sentiment seems to be shared by a growing number of residents of late, residents who can't be categorized as the usual suspects- those persistent , negative voices some are so eager to silence. Folks who fall in that all important under 40 demographic are often heard voicing their concerns about what they perceive as the " Scottsdale Attitude " , an attitude that often accompanies the affluent lifestyles that so many Scottsdale residents enjoy. Scottsdale has long prided itself on its reputation as an upscale tourist destination with picture perfect weather. That's all well and good but for residents, Scottsdale is more than a vacation destination - it's home. As Scottsdales elected officials work to transform Scottsdale for fun but mostly profit, they would do well to remember this minor detail. What had caused me to lose my enthusiasm for all things Scottsdale? Could it have been my ill advised decision to become involved in the community as a B list activist that had clouded my vision? Perhaps I simply misplaced my rose colored glasses. Maybe it was just time to stop and smell the roses rather than the political stench I feel confident can be found in most cities. New Jersey. Nuff said. Thank God we don't have bridges. Do trolleys count? Yes, it was time to reacquaint myself with the Scottsdale I used to know if I could find it - or afford it. If not, the Indian community located just a hop, skip and casino away from Scottsdale seems eager to satisfy the entertainment needs of disenfranchised tourists, families and folks who may not be as obsessed with Scottsdales sophisticated entertainment cocktail- Bars, bars- more bars. I've found that families love to explore the intricacies of a wine list and cocktail ingredients with a 5 year old in tow. The Indian community offers a more " eclectic " sampling of entertainment offerings- Butterflies, blackjack, booze - and soon an aquarium. Can more hotels be far behind?

It was time to find my rose colored glasses and head out on my road trip. I am but a simple hood dweller. I can barely spell cachet. Would there be a place for those of more modest means, those who drive a Kia and not a Benz in the new Scottsdale? Where to begin? The logical choice was Skysong, the catalyst for south Scottsdales revitalization and more importantly, the place I call home. South Scottsdale is a designation unpopular with local politicians because it conjures up images of residents who earn less than $500,000 a year. Shudder .For me, south Scottsdale is simply a geographic term. It is where we are - not who we are. Skysongs "iconic " shade structure sits perched like a giant vulture at the gateway to south Scottsdale. Nothing spells south - like a vulture ya know. As I gazed at this structure I tried to drive all negative thoughts from my mind - really. I tried to see it in a new light but although I grasp the concept of Skysong - I can't seem to get past its design. Seems we got shortchanged. Instead of the visionary architecture we were promised - we got something that seems to resemble a Disneyland attraction or a nuns bad " habit ". It's a bird, it's a plane. The KKK called - they want their sheets back. Note- Don't email me, twit me or hate me on facebook. This is merely a feeble attempt at humor. I can't help wondering what crime area residents committed that merited such a harsh punishment. Their support of a big box retailer for the site? Wait - isn't that what we got- a flock of big boxes? Shouldn't the punishment fit the crime? This is the equivalent of handing down a death sentence for a speeding ticket. At least we'll have something to look at as we sit cemented in traffic made worse by the 700 or so new apartments that will soon call the area home Hey - I'm trying out my positive attitude .I'm a little rusty.

Motoring on to the Tonalea neighborhood, the cradle of Scottsdale civilization and the place I attended elementary school. What better reason to close it? Well, among other reasons deferred maintenance and declining enrollment . When you allow an area to decline, the schools often follow suit. There are many pleasant memories associated with this school and I am not certain closing it is the best way to revitalize an area that has long been ignored. Seems the city and the school district use similar techniques - provide manufactured excuses to justify something you planned to do all along. Loloma Station? Looking at this in a - positive light (Am I getting better? ) think of what an artist like John Berry could do with a parcel of land this size. Can you spell - apartments?

Moving on - if I can navigate the traffic calming debacle that graces Oak Street. Thank God I didn't have to contend with this as a small child - on a bike. These public art showpieces that double as traffic calming islands are the pride of south Scottsdale. Recently, a Justin Bieber wanna be hit one of them causing significant damage and almost succeeded in doing what area residents have wanted to do for years. Hey - they were a steal at a mere $500,000. Maintenance and upkeep not included. Old timers often gaze at them, shrug their shoulders and with a knowing smile and a wink mutter " Taxpayer dollars at work . " How did we manage to navigate our streets all those years minus these marvels of modern traffic engineering? Well, we'd sit and wait for some unsuspecting speeder to hit the unmarked dip in the road and watch as necessary parts flew of his vehicle. We didn't have an entertainment district back then. We had to be - creative.

Next on the nostalgia tour - my old neighborhood. Yes there are many fond memories associated with this neighborhood. including memories of friends long gone from the area and memories of a house transformed into a home by grand parents , a mom and multiple pets. The area seems to be enjoying a renaissance of sorts with some homes being turned into businesses while others have been updated and still others seem to be preserved in their original state. Since it is an area that was not offered the protection of historic status it may also be fair game for redevelopment. It remains an area that families of more modest means call home. As developers, investors, flippers and realtors flock to what they hope will become the next hot area, another trend seems to be developing. In an effort to update these older brick homes, flip them and make a tidy profit, these folks are transforming homes that once had character into one size fits all, cookie cutter, homogeneous, sterile, beige clones of homes that can be found in any new , stucco covered housing development .The irony is that in a recent letter to the Republic, a local architect and member of the Scottsdale Gateway Alliance commented on the unique character of south Scottsdale homes. Then why are we working so hard to erase what made these homes special.? If you somehow find your way home after enjoying a few cocktails in the entertainment district, you might not be able to distinguish your home from your neighbors. Your neighbor might not appreciate your late night habits or your inability to locate your own bed.

Time to leave the hood and head down Scottsdale Road. Seems public art, Scottsdales favorite guilty pleasure, is making what some would describe as an unwelcome appearance down south. Some of the offerings have been greeted with comments like - " What the $%^& is that? " Hood vernacular for - HUH??? The piece located near Scottsdale and Oak near Discount Tire seems to provoke the most outrage. It resembles a melting snowman and will , I predict, become the target of the hoods own public artists who work under cover of darkness and come equipped with cans of spray paint . Some residents wonder of this is a step in the right direction or a high priced version of art we used to get for free in the form of graffiti and shopping carts. Possibly the city should provide field identification guides to accompany these masterpieces so residents who stumble upon them at night won't be frightened or think they are having some kind of flashback - minus the benefit of mind altering substances. On the positive side, south Scottsdale is seeing an improvement in culinary offerings with Oreganos, Chipolte and Smash Burger being the new kids on the local dining scene. Never fear. For those with less sophisticated palates or those who are philosophically opposed to paying $9.00 for a burger, the Golden Arches still reign over the intersection of Scottsdale and Thomas Roads. Yup - We're almost civilized. All we need is some entertainment.

Speaking of the Entertainment District- and who isn't, I'd finally arrived at The Gates - of Hell .( AKA - The downtown entertainment district ) . Some feel more bars are a luxury Scottsdale can't afford. Others seem to enjoy those impromptu interactions with law enforcement officials who frequent the area. Now it was time for me to take a walk on the wild side, to unleash my inner party animal. Back in the day, that meant a trip to the Sugar Bowl with Grandma where we indulged in calorie filled ice cream concoctions before phrases like sugar free, lactose intolerant, glutten free, rained on our parade. We celebrated one basic truth - guilty pleasures were good for the sole, not the figure. Alcohol seems to be Scottsdales new guilty pleasure except no one feels especially guilty about it - even elected officials. One thing I am certain of though is that Grandma was never pulled over for consuming one too many Banana Splits. The downtown entertainment district seems to be a hodge podge of architectural styles with no real unifying theme. Not only that, it has provoked more heated arguments than a General Plan Task Force meeting. On the positive side ( Are ya listening Mr Kidder??? ) at least we have a new Benz dealership. My Kia simply screams unsophisticated hood dweller.

Cruising on down the road. Cocos Restaurant, the place where everyone knew your name instead of the color of your credit card - gone. Loloma Transit Center - almost gone. It was traded in for a western museum, a far more compatible neighbor for those high end condo dwellers and galleries next door. You see, Scottsdales elite support mass transit as long as they don't have to live next to it or associate with those - who do . Sniff.

Ahh, the Valley Ho was on the horizon. When I was growing up, the Valley Ho allowed you to use their pool for a fee of $2.00 much to the delight of neighborhood kids. Somehow, I doubt neighborhood kids could get past security now.

As I motored on towards North Scottsdale, new development in the form of apartments is sprouting faster than desert wildflowers. Condos will replace the Borgota , a one of a kind shopping experience for folks far more financially secure than I - but it was sure fun to window shop. Benzes on my right, BMWS on my left. I was about to break out in a cold sweat.

As I sat buried up to my $%^& Happens bumper sticker in traffic, I couldn't help thinking that there seemed to be a prevailing theme in everything I had observed - money. Had anyone given any thought to our climate? To the fact that our average temperature seems to be climbing every year ? That we just experienced the warmest January in recent years? Dare I utter the phrase- climate change? Is any thought being given to the ramifications of adding all this cement ? How hot is - too hot for golfing tourists? Oh well. Let's live in the moment. Besides, the politicians that created the mess will be long gone by the time the consequences hit - the fan. I decided I'd seen enough for one day. Besides, the Kia suffers from low self esteem and thought the Benzes were making fun of her bumpers. Not big enough apparently.

My conclusion? Yes, you can go home again but don't be surprised if you can't recognize it even with your rose colored glasses. At least we'll always have our memories - of the Scottsdale we used to know.

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