City Shocked: The Experiences of A Seattle Urbanest Moved to Phoenix

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The warm sun beat down upon my face.  It was my first official day living in Phoenix.  January is a good time to move to this city in the desert.  On this particular day it was around 76 degrees and extremely sunny.  Having just left Seattle where it had rained for 18 days in a row, the sun hurt my face.

Despite the blinding ball up in the sky trying its best to kill me, I pulled my hat down and walked down the busy 7th avenue near downtown.  As I walked my way towards the Safeway grocery store to stock up my new apartment, cars whizzed by me nearly hitting me as I used a cross-walk.  I thought to myself, “watch it Crites, watch it.  You are not in pedestrian friendly Seattle anymore”.  The people don’t understand what you are trying to do here.”

I made big commotions as I entered the next cross-walk.  I waived my hands about like a madman catching the eye of the driver of a massive F-350 pickup truck.  He waived and I made my move.  Success!  I bonded with this driver and he will spread the word that there is a walker in town.  I made my way to the next crosswalk and entered in.  As I walked in, a massive truck started making its turn and the passenger yelled out as I jumped out of the way:

Hey! Get a car you stupid faggot!

I felt a little dejected.  Someone had not told that passenger that using that word just might be offensive to a lot of people.  Not to mention he obviously did not respect the walking game I was trying to put into place in this neighborhood.  Before I move on, I will say I have not experienced anything close to that since it happened. I should also note that everyone I tell that story to in Phoenix was horrified.  This blog is not meant to paint Phoenix in a negative light.  Ok, lets explore the changes taking place in my world.

Seattle Splendor:

I lived in Seattle for almost 8 years and fell in love with it from the beginning.  Coming from Ohio, I loved the idea of walking to the store, to the coffee shop to the bar.  I lived in Queen Anne which is nestled pretty close to the Space Needle.  Within a few years, I got very used to the idea of walking to everything I needed.  In fact, if I had to turn on my car I often got angry.  I quit driving on the highway a few years ago.  Then I decided I would no longer drive at night.  My ex-wife used to tease me and say, “What are you going to do when you are 70 years old if I am not around?”  I basically gave up on driving and enjoyed an urban existence.  If I needed to go to Tacoma, I hoped on a bus and headed down.  If I needed to get to another part of town, I would use an Uber and eat those costs.  Everything was within my reach and in scale.  I could take a bus to my German meetups or meet a friend in Capital Hill to walk around and practice German.  Once you experience this type of lifestyle, you realize how much urban form can transform your life.  I even got to the point where my job was in my neighborhood and I walked to work.

Blitzkreig in Phoenix:

I wont get too personal here but some life changes led me to move to Phoenix.  I had zero doubt about going there.  I was offered an amazing job to take a role in providing oversight for homeless programs for people with mental illness.  I started shopping for an apartment.  What would a true urbanest do.  I drew a one mile circle around my new employer’s address and looked up all the apartments in that sector.  I found one less then .5 miles away.  I looked at pictures, spoke to property management and signed a lease without physically seeing it.  I don’t regret my choice.  For Seattlites check this out:

1 bedroom- 850 square feet, swimming pool and hot tub, massive fitness center, 300 cable channels which I don’t watch, dry cleaning picked up onsite for…Under $1,000 a month!

Scale Issues:

I decided not to have a car.  Upon arrival to Phoenix, I tested my commute to work and it takes 8 minutes on foot.  Sure in 120 degree heat I will bake, but screw it.  I can use my Seattle umbrella to help shield me from that nasty sun.   The trip to the grocery store gave me my first pause into going car-less.  It is about 1.3 miles away.  That is a nice walk but the urban form of Phoenix is a lot different than Seattle.

I used to take a 1 mile walk to Trader Joes in Upper Queen Anne all of the time.  During that walk, I saw beautiful views, wonderful old homes and interesting dense neighborhoods.  Time seemed to fly by.  It was a an enjoyable way to spend the evening. See view below

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When I get off work in Phoenix and walk to the nearest store, I walk on a busy road with traffic roaring by.  There are a few strip malls and restaurants but nothing that would be classified as relaxing or enjoyable.  See below for example.

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I decided a few days after my trip to the grocery store to go to a German meetup.  I grabbed an Uber and figured it was within city limits so it should not be too far away.  25 minutes later (mostly highway) I was at Panera Bread on Bell Avenue speaking German.  I enjoyed the German group just as much as I did in Seattle.  The food was the same as Seattle.  The drive out to this location was a shock to my system.  The scale of Phoenix is beyond imagination.   The city blocks seem longer.  Everything is in a shopping plaza.  If you want to go to Macy’s, you need to get in a car and drive there.  Once there, there are a billion other stores around all tailored to someone with a car.

Learning How to Fall In Love With My New City

With everything said, I love Phoenix.  I love the fact that everything I need is here.  I cannot think of anything without finding it on google within minutes.   I went hiking a few weeks ago and was amazed by the monster cactus’s and strange plant life.  Sorry Seattle, the people here seem a little friendlier and less “Seattle Freezy”.  Is that a word?  I still walk to work and I still walk downtown on a Friday or Saturday and have some drinks and walk home.  I will go to baseball games which are about a half mile away.  I will take an Uber to spring training games and see my Cleveland Indians play.  I will run up to Flagstaff during the summer to cool off.  I will make ritualistic trips to Sedona multiple times a year to chill out and sip wine.

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Life is about adaption.  Those who can do so evolve, prosper and thrive.  Those who do not, bitch and complain about long walks in Seattle and sipping lattes in the rain:-)

Author: jcrites

Josh Crites is an American social housing professional with both practical and research experience. He has worked at 3 social housing companies in the USA in roles ranging from policy and operations to process improvement and strategy. Josh is a former Alexander von Humboldt German Chancellor Fellow. During that fellowship, Josh researched and worked with social housing companies in Germany, The Netherlands, Portugal, Scotland, England, Estonia and Spain. He is an avid writer and advocate for the provision of social housing around the world.

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