Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Branding the city: ‘I Heart Phoenix’

'Copper Square's' not good enough?

As in an old fairy tale, maybe Arizona's urban "heart" is made of flint — easily cracked if too much feeling wells up

Perhaps to try to make up for one of its editors recently disputing the validity of the designation “Midtown,” the Arizona Republic a couple of weeks ago had one of its reporters cover efforts to brand—or re-brand—downtown Phoenix. Apparently “Copper Square,” the branding for 90 blocks of shops, hotels restaurants and sports and entertainment venues in the city’s core, has lost its luster, so Downtown Phoenix Partnership, always busily trying to justify the special assessment monies it receives from those constituents, has been working recently on a new campaign.
Reporter Jahna Berry, in the March 2 cover story, also noted that Phoenix is not a pioneer in this kind of effort. She pointed out that Las Vegas, Austin and Omaha—home of iconic tourist draws Warren Buffett, Mutual of Omaha and the fictional “Schmidt” of Alexander Payne’s film “About Schmidt” (predecessor to “Sideways,” his homage to the lesser winemaking areas of California) have also embarked on similar branding efforts. Berry cited these facts as evidence of success in that kind of effort: A 5 percent increase in visitors to Vegas over eight years, or 0.625 percent per year (which, to be generous, was about the same as the rate of population growth in developed countries during this period of an especially weak U.S. dollar—a boon to foreign tourists); a purely anecdotal testament to Austin’s unique live music culture, which may be found there “in some unlikely places”; and the city of Omaha’s own embrace of its new slogan, “O! so surprising.” (What may not be so surprising is that would-be tourists hearing of the slogan assume it refers to O!klahoma, and later need rescuing from mazes in fields of corn as high as an elephant’s eye, where they get lost seeking that state’s urban heart, memorialized in Neil Young’s ballad “The Last Trip to Tulsa.”)
Officials at DPP and representatives of other stakeholders were encouraged in their efforts to rebrand central Phoenix with the phrase, “Arizona’s Urban Heart,” based on surveys they did of East Asian tourists planning the itinerary of their U.S. visit. Leon Wong of Hong Kong, once a champion at ping pong before his early retirement following his college days, was already bringing his family to America for two-week vacation this spring. When he heard of the opportunity to include Arizona’s “urban heart” in the tour, he was quite excited. “But Daddy,” said his youngest daughter Peony, “I thought the Grand Canyon was the place to see in Arizona!” “Ah, but I see here in central Phoenix, they have the Grand Canal,” Leon assured her. “Plus, there’s a brand new city hotel, where we might get to meet other fascinating out-of-towners, like conventioneers!” he enthused.
“But what about the Painted Desert?” protested Leon Jr. “Well, according to an item I saw on a blog about Phoenix—I mean, ‘Arizona’s Urban Heart’—that I found, the Drop In Center (made possible with the collaboration of Native Health and Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS, and which provides youth ages 14 to 24 the opportunity to find jobs, get information and resources, meet with a life-coach, get involved in their community, and empower themselves to be better individuals in a safe environment) got a Fresh Coat of Paint recently,” said Leon, tentatively.
In addition to providing a low-key alternative to the crowds one has to elbow one’s way through for a glimpse at Arizona’s scenic wonders, taking in Arizona’s Urban Heart affords demographers and city planners, not mention regular urban appreciators of all sorts from around the world a thorough opportunity to take in a large and unspectacular urban area in a very specific—and special—stalled state of development, said Jim Flynn, DPP’s director of marketing. “You could visit many other cities—Boston, Chicago, Seattle, Atlanta, Washington, Charleston, St. Louis, Nashville, Dallas, San Diego ... even Omaha—for a sampling of a more mature, culturally vibrant American city. But only here in Phoenix can you find quite this precise mix of endless, near-identical strip malls, sporadic high-rise developments punctuating big-box retail and dining attractions, and dusty undeveloped lots in prime areas--all with a most amazing lack of shade and other pedestrian amenities conducive to the comfort of tourists, who would usually explore these phenomena close up, on foot.”
Plus, Flynn said, the city has perhaps the best preserved, most extensive—and youngest—officially designated historic residential neighborhoods, with dozens of styles ranging from Southwestern to Bungalow. “Isn’t saying the city has the youngest historic neighborhoods a little like saying someone is the world’s tallest dwarf?” asked Comedy Central’s vertically challenged Jon Stewart, upon hearing of the new pitch for Phoenix. “Well, I’m from Austin, and, as far as historic goes, well ... here I am,” said city Historic Preservation Officer Barbara Stocklin. “For now.”
Speaking of heart, “Arizona’s Urban Heart” takes on an entirely new meaning when you consider that between City Hall, the Legislature and even the state’s Congressional delegation, the city may have among the highest proportion of gay, lesbian and bisexual politicians anywhere! San Francisco’s Castro District, eat your urban heart out! (Even if you do have Rice-a-Roni, as part of your branding, keeping tourists coming back for seconds.—Wait—San Francisco’s part of Rice-a-Roni’s branding. Never mind.)
—David Tell

‘Stated income’ loans: Just a way to house homeless!

Subprime: When even the homeless could get a home loan!

Guess who’s coming to dinner! and for aperitifs!

A couple of alert readers noticed that three upscale Midtown restaurants were listed in Wine Spectator magazine’s annual dining guide last August. Durant’s even got recognition for its “inexpensive wine pricing,” while it, The Compass and Cheuvront Wine & Cheese all received the list’s one-wine-glass “Award of Excellence” rating (the lowest rating in the list: two glasses indicates the “Best of Award of Excellence” and three signifies the “Grand Award”).
After noting the “inexpensive” designation, Snatch and Scriff, Midtown’s most carefree and cultivated homeless couple, headed over to Durant’s, where they’ve regularly been enjoying their own special Happy Hour ever since. “They don’t have Thunderbird or Mad Dog, but we make do,” said Snatch. “I’m not drinking any fucking Merlot!” yelled Scriff, then noticing Snatch furiously scratching an instant lottery ticket to the usual disappointing outcome. “Hey, clean that gunk out of yer fingernails,” admonished Scriff. “You know we got to keep up appearances to sit at that nice bar we go to now.” “Yeah, well, you got potatoes growing out yer ears, so mind yer own bizness,” replied the lady. “Yeah, well, my hair covers ’em up, but yer fingernails show through where you wear those mittens with no fingers!” Scriff said.
“Yeah, anyway, we can usually make enough panhandling at the Arco over at 7th and Thomas to drink at Durant’s a whole evening,” he went on. “Although, they close too damn early; this whole town shuts down at like, 8! We started to check out that Cheuvront place, but we woulda had to roll a few junkies on top of our other earnings to drink there reglar. Plus, it looked like the Sheriff’s guys had stopped in there while transporting inmates on the light rail, so then we kinda didn’t feel that welcome. Plus, I did take a sip of some red wine and burned my tongue. Dude needs to keep it at cellar tempature, you know you can’t serve that good stuff at this city’s ambent heat!”
“So yeah, we headed up round the corner a bit to have some grub over at that My Florist eatery,” chimed in Snatch. “Did you know, it’s vertically integrated with that bread place next door?”
“How can it be vertical if it’s next door, my haggy honey?” interjected Scriff. “But yeah, everything on the menu is carbs, so we’re not going back. Snatch has to watch her figure; her boobs are already down to her ubiquitous. You know, her nagel.”
“It’s my bellybuppin, you boob, and you need a mansiere your own self,” Snatch retorted. “But yeah, that menu: bread this, bread that. They had a bread samwich--bread with bread in the middle I mean! They had a crouton omelet, bread pudding, pumpernickel soup. They had bread dip served in a bread bowl with toast points, French toast stuffed with bread crumbs.”
“Yeah, they had a lot of bread stuff,” Scriff agreed. “So, we also decided to check out that Compass place at the top of the Hyatt, but you know, it turns, and Snatch lost her cookies, so we hadda leave.”
“Bread cookies,” mumbled Snatch. “So, they was mostly able to sweep it up, chunks.”
“So, yeah, I’m kinda proud to be homeless where we got those three fine bars; that list was of dozens of places all around the state,” Scriff said, adding wistfully, “Maybe someday we can get a car and check ’em all out. I wanna get one of them Chevy Volts, when they come out—well, they were supposed to come out this year, now it’s next. So maybe when they really do, we’ll be able to get one.”
“Yeah, my stinky sweetie, when my AIG stock ever gets out of the dumper, we can,” Snatch soothed him. “But we can’t get a Volt, we got no place to plug it in! Ahh, too bad your investment guy’s feeder fund was invested with that Madoff a-hole.”
“Yeah, that sucked,” agreed Scriff dolefully. Then he perked up as they rounded the corner at 3rd Street and Monte Vista and noticed their former home, in the posh Los Olivos Historic District. “New owners seem to be takin pretty good care of it,” he said. “Course they are! Banks don’t let that stuff, nice property, go downhill, you know,” Snatch agreed, shielding her head from a rare sprinkle of rain with her tattered copy of Town and Country.
—David Tell