Dec 14, 2008

Who's buying?

Some observations on the state of north Tempe:

Six years ago, on the corner of Ash and University, there used to be a co-op grocery store called Gentle Strength Co-Op. To meet large outstanding debts, they sold their lot to a developer, and moved to a new location much farther from campus on Broadway. They failed less than a year later, after 36 years in the Mill ave location. The developer bought the rest of the block and planned a luxury high rise condominium. A Whole Foods, a national chain and competitor to Gentle Strength, will be located in the street level retail space.
But not anymore. University & Ash Llc, who are developing the lot, are attempting to file for bankruptcy. Who did they think was going to fill these condos, students? I've never understood any of it.

Le Meridian Hotel was going to go into the Hayden Ferry Lakeside development, but later pulled out. The mystery is the upscale appeal of Tempe. Mill avenue and the area have very nice pedestrian scale, good food, and a good dense mix of eateries, shops, and events. But its not Rodeo Drive by any stretch of the imagination. I don't lament the loss of public space on the caricature of a lake as much as I dislike the way they're shrouding Tempe Butte, a.k.a. A Mountain. City buttes are important landmarks, and surrounding it with high rises makes the city less distinctive, not more so.

Who is supposed to buy the luxury condos in Tempe? I'm not a real estate agent or even reasonably informed in the matter, I am genuinely curious. Is it a winter home for the upper middle class? Late 20s DINKs looking for an "authentic" small town downtown? LA Execs looking for a getaway? Saudi Prince cowboy wannabes?

Too bad Mill is at the front door of ASU, and there's all these poor ASU students hanging around.
What can be done with the masses of students who can't afford Abercrombie & Fitch or Urban Outfitters? First step, remove cheap entertainment.

The Harkins Theaters, which helped transition Mill from a college student street to a main street, closed its doors soon after the Harkins at Tempe Marketplace opened theirs, two miles from campus. The Borders bookstore (similar story, stifling a few independent booksellers when it opened) has followed suit, citing falling sales, and probably from increased competition from Barnes & Noble, also at Tempe Marketplace. The Tempe Orbit, ASU's unofficial transit system, conveniently reorganized and extended its routes to ferry students too and from there as soon as it opened.

Seizing all empty lots in Tempe and fencing them or turning them into paid parking also helps keep out the riff-raff.

Directly across the street from ASU, in a single story pedestrian complex called "the arches," most of the stores, which used to hold a subway and a pita pit, as well as a barber and an alphagraphics, is closed, with the buildings destroyed. The only tenant refusing to make a deal is the owner of Dave's Dog House, who claims he still has 5 years left on the lease and is refusing to budge. If not for Dave's, the site would be totally razed and construction could proceed on "University Square," which is a mid-rise complex consisting of a Westin hotel, offices, and of course, a condominium tower.

Another small complex on Terrace road which contained a laundromat, an Indian restaurant which serves the sizable Indian community in the neighborhood, and a few other small stores was bought by Avenue Communities Llc, a major developer in the Tempe area. They purchased the Mill which gave Mill ave it's name, a 100 year old structure, and are going to turn it into thier new corporate offices. I've seen the plans for the building, and while I applaud the fact they're going to build around it instead of demolishing it, the small Terrace complex owners are complaining that the company is letting the complex fall into decrepitude so it can be torn down to make room for a high rise. They have forbidden the sale of the tenant spaces to other vendors, told the tenants that the building was slated for destruction. The city of Tempe seems to be working towards that aim as well- Hungry Howie's Pizza was forced to take down a sale sign in the window as "graffiti" while the real graffiti scrawled on the walls of the sides of the complex go unchallenged and unchanged.

In this little rant/post I'm coming off as extremely anti-developer, which is more than a bit hypocritical given my chosen profession. I'm not against development- I'm against development which does not serve its community. I believe in architecture that benefits the people who use it, and who interact with it. I applaud the CVS pharmacy on the corner of University and Mill. If the Gateway project, currently dead in the water from lack of investor confidence, would rise, I think that would really be a big improvement as well. Turning everything in a mile radius of the ASU into high rise condos and luxury boutiques does NOT serve the best interest of the students. Even more fundamentally then that, it disgusts me to see this kind of quiet chicanery. People need to know what's going on in their communities, and it's wrong to take advantage of the four year collective memory of the students.

The Beaty's come to town

Saori's sister Ayumi and her husband Tim came to visit us for a few days while Tim inteviewed at one of the local hospitals.

We exchanged and opened presents on the first night; Tim and Ayumi got me a nice glass jar for tea, with a slate surface for writing in chalk. While they were here, we played a lot of Wii and bananagrams, and had a few really good dinners. Saori and Ayumi cooked us nabe which is a kind of Japanese hotpot, and then last night we had okonomi-yaki which is pronounced like "Economy"+ "yaki" which is like "teriyaki". It was pretty good stuff. The day after Tim's interview, the two of them borrowed Saori's car and drove up to the Grand Canyon for a night.

While they were gone friday, I went to the vet to pick up some more cat food, and then we hit the UPS store to send out some packages. Saori had a package she was sending to Japan, and the clerk told her that the lowest cost was about $140. "UPS doesn't actually do the international mailing," the clerk admitted, "we mark it up thirty to forty percent." We thanked the clerk for his candor, and decided to hit up the post office to send the Japanese package, although I still sent out a set of boxes for Salt Lake and also one to Oklahoma. That night, we drove to mom's house and grabbed burritos at the Ahwatukee Fillibertos before playing a few great rounds of Scattergories.

Saturday, we had a late start to the day, but we drove around looking for ski pants since they're pretty essential gear for skiing. We waded through the masses of people at Christown mall to the Big 5 sports before I could tackle a sales rep as he sprinted down the asile. "Ski pants? We didn't get a shipment this year."

Listening to our stomachs, we continued to Carls Jr. Burger, for a change, and were pleasantly surprised. They've been reworking the menu and the restaurant concept- all the burgers are charbroiled now, the fries are better, and apparently they've been trying to beat their competitors for customer service. Overall a very good experience.

We decided to go straight to the source, and hit Ski Pro, where the selection is as high as the prices. There were a few good deals going on, after about two hours of trying on pants, looking at features, quality, price, etc. we both found a pair. I was really happy with mine- nondescript black ski pants from Columbia for about $60, down from $100. They're going to last me a long time.

Tim and Ayumi came back that night, and we played more Wii games and bananagrams.
It was a pretty quick trip, we drove them to the airport this morning before hitting the nearest available waffle house. I'm not sure if its in "stuff white people like" (it may fall under the breakfast restaurants category) but they do serve up a good quick breakfast without much pretense, and good friendly service.
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Dec 8, 2008

bathtub philosopher

Just ramblings to fill the bathtub of the web:

First I was an idealist.
As I got older, I was troubled to see patches of rust beneath a shining reality.
The harder I looked, within and without, the more I saw the taint of corruption and failure.
The idealist became a pessimist, which is really what you call a disgruntled idealist.
But when I realized that there is nothing that is absolutely pure, the corollary is that there is nothing absolutely corrupt either.
At this moment, you can see the glass is also half-full.
It a you-call-it kind of world, so I choose optimist.

Also, other things floating around in my head- Who affects the course of history more: radicals or moderates? I suppose you could say that radicals are sparks and moderates are firewood. Where would the world be today without Jesus? Equally, would he have been invisible from history without his apostles and the evangelists? Perhaps they stabilize each other, too many radicals and not enough moderates would either engulf the world in flame or violently flare out, and too many moderates and not enough radicals willing to start fires would lead to an unchanging state of inertia. Martin Luther King, Jr. condemned the moderates as smothering his cause for black rights. In his view, the people who said "Brother, I agree with your cause, but be patient and don't make big waves" were more harmful to their cause than the racists.

Progress is only achieved through discomfort, as any student or athlete will tell you. In business, reward comes primarily though risk. Society hates radicals because successful radicals light fires.

Dec 7, 2008


Saori and I went to a really interesting public lecture at the library this Saturday on the topic of sustainable growth in Arizona. They had four Voices:

The Voice of Nature- a famous natural photographer for Arizona Highways Magazine, who talked about the beauty of the desert and the Southwest, and quietly lamented the disappearing vistas, and the developments in front of natural arches.

The Voice of Reason- A noted professor, John Meunier, presented several compact desert cities in the middle east, Africa, and India, and discussed what elements of urbanism could be adopted and adapted from them.

The Voice of Idealism- the venerated and ancient Mr. Arcosanti himself, Paolo Soleri, although he didn't actually talk much, he left his lecture in the hands of his translator and another architect from Arcosanti. His talk focused on high density linear city in the desert, a kind of city/wall/energy platform.

The Voice of Pragmatism- The head of Arizona Departmet of Motor Vehicles's rail division ended the conference with a discussion on the evolution of transporation in the southwest, and the potential for light rail in the valley, along with a discussion of public funding.

Short lectures, geared to the general public, under two hours long total, good event.

Dec 6, 2008

stuff on my table

I can't believe they're re-releasing The Dark Knight six months after it's initial release. It's really not that good, although it probably looks like "Bridge over the River Kwai" compared to the rest of the Christmas releases this year. I should be happy they're not producing (yet) "Scary Movies: A Retrospective."

I'm glad president-elect Obama is calling for massive infrastructural investments by the government. Construction work is good news for my industry and industries related to mine.

We got a live tree this year, only a few feet tall and planted in a galvanized bucket. We've already decorated it with lights and ornaments from last year, including peruvian finger puppets, middle eastern carved wooden camels, a fake cockaroach, a silver prius hotwheel, candy canes, and other decorations.

They've put a tree up at work and a tiny tree on the conference room table. Goodies have begun trickling in from our contractors and consultants, mostly in the form of Tri-flavored popcorn buckets, and boxes of Russel Stovers. Happy holidy cards have also started appearing. Saori was telling me that in Japan, all the Christmas cards are delivered Christmas day, so people have to send them out at the beginning of the month to give the postal service time to get all the cards togather and sorted and distributed to the local post offices. Companies will recieve giant boxes of the most elegent (and probably expensive) Christmas cards of any country.

We're back into the four-seasons-a-day swing of Phoenix in winter. Its winter when I get up to walk to work, spring by mid-morning, a warm summer day for lunch, and I walk home in the cool fall air.

Last night, I was in a driving mood, so we drove down to Awhatukee and surprised mom and Tay with bananagrams and cards. Mom ordered a pizza and we played games for a few hours until Tay had to leave for work. Afterwards, I decided to take the scenic route back, and drove around the mountain the other way, which took about twice the normal amount of time it takes to get to mom's house. It was nice, quiet deserted desert roads.

Today we slept in until 10, and then got donuts and coffee. We ate them while watching a Nova special on mountaineering. A very indulgent morning.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to, a more writing-centric website.