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Urban Essays

Phoenix, not Arizona: Geographical Ambiguity, Aiding, and Abetting

friday essay logoThere’s a certain level of geographical ambiguity in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  Everything is branded as Arizona, which although it is technically correct, it is not exactly precise.  Or we’re the Valley of the Sun, which reminds us of endless summer.  I’m a strong believer in city identity: so we are (and we should be branded as) Phoenix and the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The local NHL team recently abandoned the name Phoenix Coyotes to become the location-agnostic Arizona Coyotes, despite having played in suburban Glendale (and possibly wrecking that once-great city, but that’s another essay) from 2003 to 2014 as the Phoenix Coyotes.  The NFL team, the Arizona Cardinals, were the Phoenix Cardinals from 1988 to 1993 despite playing in Tempe at Sun Devil Stadium.  I don’t think anybody was confused by these city-centric names.  The Phoenix Suns of the NBA enjoy fan support from all across the state.

So why is there this desire for geographical ambiguity?  Why must we be “Arizona” and not “Phoenix”?  There are several thoughts going around.  The erstwhile columnist for The Arizona Republic, Jon Talton, has argued that there is a hatred of the name “Phoenix.”  Others say, especially in the context of sports, say that this is an attempt to “broaden the fan base,” whatever that means.  (I don’t buy this.)  A third line of thought says that since most people in Arizona live in the Phoenix metropolitan area, then we essentially are Arizona.  (Note to everyone: Phoenix is not Arizona and Arizona is not Phoenix.)

Here’s how I see it: We’ve lived in a media landscape in the Phoenix metropolitan area that has historically branded itself as Arizona and not Phoenix.  We don’t know better; we’re just following this precedent.

With the exception of the website URL for the local Fox television affiliate (KSAZ, ch. 10), all of the news stations, the radio stations, the newspapers, and their programming makes reference to Arizona, not Phoenix.  We’re inundated with references to the state in which we live and not the city or metropolitan area within which we live.

Television stations call themselves things “Arizona’s Family,” “Arizona PBS,” and “ABC 15 Arizona.”  Their programs are called, as examples, “Good Morning Arizona,” “Arizona Horizon,” and “Arizona Midday.”  Our local newspaper, The Arizona Republic, joins forces with KPNX channel 12 as “AZCentral.”  There is no Phoenix.  And there hasn’t been for quite some time.

Arizona’s other metropolitan area, the Tucson metro, has their own set of media outlets, many of which carry that city’s name.  We must remember that Tucson and southern Arizona has had a strong skepticism of what happens here in Phoenix and Arizona, mainly in the contrast of political ideology.  Remember Baja Arizona?

So if we want to create a true city identity here in Phoenix, it has to start with the media.  How about we call it “Good Morning Phoenix?”  Or “ABC 15 Phoenix?”  And what about bringing back, even if it’s just an online publication, The Phoenix Gazette?

In the future, it will be cities and metropolitan areas competing against other cities and other metropolitan areas: Phoenix’s competition isn’t Washington or Colorado, it’s Seattle and Denver.

Note to Media: You’re mainly serving Phoenix and the Phoenix metropolitan area.  Please rebrand accordingly.