25 years later, pioneer spirit marks Phoenix’s rise

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There is only one day left, always starting over:

it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.

Jean-Paul Sartre


Brenna Goth, The Republic | azcentral.com 5:01 p.m. MST May 15, 2015

When The Arizona Republican published its first articles about Phoenix in 1890, new construction, local businesses and the city’s water supply led the headlines.

The Odd Fellows lodge was finalizing plans for “one of the handsomest buildings in Phoenix” between Washington and Adams streets, the paper reported that May. An article titled “Plenty of Water” described $20,000 in improvements to the city’s early infrastructure.

From the first efforts to build a desert metropolis to today’s push for urban planning and innovation, a trailblazing spirit has consistently characterized Phoenix’s growth from a small territorial settlement into the country’s sixth-largest city.

The attitudes of Phoenix residents have changed drastically over the years, too, said Philip VanderMeer, a history professor for Arizona State University who has written about the area. But the early debates — over how to manage Phoenix’s environment, control its sprawl and find its identity — are conversations that continue today.

Still, the city remains a place that attracts newcomers looking for opportunity, VanderMeer said.

“There certainly is a pioneer sense,” he said.

Phoenix officially was recognized by the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors in 1868 during Arizona’s territorial days. Early settlers like Jack Swilling saw potential for farmland in the desert and engineered the canals to irrigate it, like the Hohokam before them.

By the time The Arizona Republican— now The Arizona Republic — became a daily paper in 1890, downtown Phoenix was bustling with stores, churches and dance halls. It had a telegraph line, and a streetcar system was just starting.

A high school and library came at the end of the century, with Phoenix starting the 1900s with more than 5,500 residents. The Capitol found its home on Washington Street with a dedication in 1901, about a decade before Arizona’s statehood.

George Hunt was the first governor of Arizona when the territory became a state on Feb. 14, 1912. And Phoenix started to grow, in 1913 becoming one of the first cities in the country to establish a council-manager form of government.

The city’s population nearly doubled between 1920 and 1930 to more than 48,000 people. The city had 120 miles of sidewalks and 161 miles of streets, according to “Out of the Ashes,” a history of Phoenix published by the city.

Then and Now: Phoenix-area photos through the years

The 1940s were a turning point for Phoenix as it evolved from a farming town and distribution center to an industrial city. Thousands of men came to Luke Field, Williams Field, Falcon Field and training centers during World War II.

When many of these men returned from battle to live in Phoenix, industries started to move to the city. According to “Out of the Ashes,” “It was the beginning of a greater prosperity than Phoenix had ever known.”

The sprawling Valley was taking shape by the 1950s, with 105,000 people living in Phoenix’s city limits at the start of the decade. Thousands more lived nearby.

In 1950, Phoenix was ranked 99th among U.S. cities in population, according to “Out of the Ashes.” Leaders started looking more broadly at urban development, cultural amenities and education during the city’s post-war growth, VanderMeer said.

The Phoenix Art Museum, for instance, opened its three-level building in 1959.

With the population growth came the start of Phoenix’s suburban sprawl. Phoenix was one of the first cities to see mass construction of large subdivisions. Developments capitalized on cost savings from building in bulk and using cheaper land on the city’s outskirts.

The spreading city caused some backlash in the following years, VandeerMeer said. By the 1970s, residents expressed concerns about urban sprawl and pushed for development of the center city.

People also began using desert landscaping on their properties, VanderMeer said, showing new ideas about how to interact with the environment.

“All of that reflects a changing awareness of Phoenix really being in the Sonoran Desert,” he said.

The previous years prepared the city for downtown development in the 1980s. Bonds approved by residents since then have financed some of the city’s biggest projects.

Voters passed more than $1 billion in bonds in a 1988 election, funding major developments including City Hall and the Burton Barr Central Library.

The decade also brought new infrastructure after voters approved a Valley-wide sales tax in 1985. It paid for hundreds of miles of freeways and the construction of Interstate 10 through the center of Phoenix.

By the early 1990s, some of downtown’s main attractions — including sporting stadiums — opened. The city grappled with questions of how to grow the economy, VanderMeer said, before deciding to pursue a biomedical corridor.

That decision brought organizations like the Translational Genomics Research Institute to Phoenix. Construction of more facilities is underway.

Residents continued to invest in downtown by approving a plan to develop a light rail system — funded by a sales tax passed in 2000 — and university campuses in the city center. A roughly $880 million bond issue approved in 2006 funded construction of Arizona State University’s downtown campus and the University of Arizona School of Medicine.

Though private development slowed with the economic recession starting in 2008, the market is recovering. Thousands of housing units are planned or under construction downtown and other infill construction within the city is revitalizing corridors with restaurants, retail space and residences.

Super Bowl Central, a multi-day event held in downtown Phoenix in January, was the city’s biggest event ever. The Valley’s light-rail system reached a record 126,000 boardings Jan. 31 during that event.

The city is shaking off stagnation from the start of the decade, Mayor Greg Stanton said during his State of the City speech in April.

“We have emerged from the rubble of the economic disaster of just a few years ago,” he said. “And today, Phoenix is on the rise.”




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Phoenix, Arizona





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