Monday, February 9, 2009

Modern Living

There are certain things in life that I think I will just never understand. One of those things is the "modern" or "contemporary" movement in architecture and design. I just cannot wrap my head around it.

I just can't see the appeal in bare, hardwood floors, track lighting, and wacky furniture. Who wants to live in a place furnished with $4,000 Swiss-designed ergonomic chairs and a wine bar? Why are people so eager to live in houses that look like art museums? It's ironic how the more "minimalist" an apartment is, the more it costs.

A perfect example of where you'll find such minimalist accommodations is the new Cityscape project currently under construction in downtown Phoenix. The developers behind the project are building two high rise towers of "living spaces," with prices ranging from $300,000 up to $3 million dollars. Yes, you read that correctly. Three million dollars...for a luxury condo in downtown Phoenix.

First, let's take a look at the term "living spaces." It sounds like a politically correct, sanitized term for "condominium." Who gets so offended by the word "condominium" that we had to switch to "living space?" People live in apartments, condos, and houses, not "living spaces." What a stupid made-up word!

The press is gushing with love and adoration for the Cityscape project, but I am still not convinced that it's a great idea. You might even say I am disgusted with the situation. I'll do my best to explain why.

The fact is, Phoenix was established in the 1860s as an agricultural community to grow crops for the workers of the now-defunct Vulture Mine near Wickenburg. It is and has always been a working-class city for everyday people. Of course, once word got around about the excellent climate and cheap land, the cat was out of the bag.

According to the US Census Bureau, the population of Phoenix increased by 35% between 1990 and 2006 with over 529,000 new residents. With a total population of over 4.1 million people, Phoenix is the 5th most populated city in America.

It should come as no surprise that our perennial blue skies and comparatively low cost of living are attracting people from other big cities in droves. The problem is that they're bringing their big-city ideas and attitudes with them.

New high-rise housing developments like Cityscape and the boondoggle light-rail project have invaded our humble, working-man's town! Next thing you know, our already-sprawling metropolitan statistical area will be even larger than the Beltway or Chicagoland. Every square foot of desert will be landscaped and paved over and we'll look just like all the other big cities out there.

Today, Phoenix has a bit of an identity crisis. On the one side you have the die-hard Phoenix natives who promote the historic preservation of landmarks, support museums and cultural centers, and seek to preserve our heritage. They're proud of Phoenix and its rich history of mining, ranching, agriculture, and water management.

On the other hand, you have hundreds of thousands of transplants who relocated to the Valley of the Sun to escape the high cost of living in other large cities. Their visions of concrete, steel, and glass monoliths towering over the desert with their "sleek, contemporary, and modern lines" just turns my stomach. So what if a couple of historic buildings have to get torn down? It's all in the name of progress.

These deep-pocketed developers see themselves as messiahs who will bring culture and contemporary art to the Valley and revive our struggling downtown neighborhoods. I wish they'd just pack up and go back where they came from.

We have our own culture here already. If I wanted the crowded feel of urban living, a bunch of overpriced boutiques and a coffee shop on every corner, I'd move to New York. Don't bring your pretentious, big-city ideas here.

The idea of a $3 million dollar condominium is simply absurd, and yet the Cityscape project will trump other luxury housing projects like the Grigio Lakefront Lofts in Tempe and the Optima Camelview condos in Scottsdale which go for a measely $1.6 million dollars. I was hoping the madness would not spread to Phoenix, but it looks like it's coming whether I like it or not.

The last thing I want in my hometown is a bunch of latte-sipping artists and interior designers squawking about dust devils blowing through their wine-and-cheese parties, scorpions in their boots, and the wicked hot summer heat.

Phoenix was never the shoot-em-up kind of stagecoach stop like in the old-Western TV shows and movies. It does however have its own unique culture and history. Phoenix has never been a "form over function" kind of place. Let's keep it that way.
[Note: This article was originally written February 1, 2008 and revised February 9, 2009.]