Friday Five: Updates to A Brief History of Midtown Phoenix

In this installment of The Friday Five, it’s time to dust off the slides and update A Brief History of Midtown Phoenix

Back in April 2019, I prepared and delivered my lecture, A Brief History of Midtown Phoenix. The lecture spanned the past 1,500 years of midtown Phoenix history and included a survey of Midtown’s buildings. The thesis of that lecture is that the abrupt end of World War II in August 1945 caught Phoenix and Arizona leaders by surprise, thus setting up developers to build a new city that fit what they wanted. That was the North Central Avenue corridor, which is what we now call midtown Phoenix.

In the two years since that lecture’s creation, there have already been a few things that need revising as Midtown’s changed or as recent scholarship has found new details. In that spirit of continuous improvement, and also because it’s been awhile since I’ve done one of these, here’s my Friday Five of revisions to A Brief History of Midtown Phoenix.

A quick content warning: One of the items contains news and subject matter that may be distressing to Native Americans. As a courtesy, the content of this point is after the jump.

5. COVID-19’s effects on urban life in Phoenix. At the start of COVID-19 a couple of years ago, columnists and pundits were wondering if this was the death of urban living. Offices were vacated as WFH (working from home) became the urgent norm. Urbanites living in smaller apartments decamped to sprawling estates on the suburban or exurban fringe. Restaurants struggled to continue. But the rapid acceleration of home prices in central Phoenix seems to show that living in the central core is still a thing people want, so maybe we’ve weathered that storm?

4. New apartments under construction. The story in Phoenix in the past couple of years has been the proliferation of new apartment buildings going up in and adjacent to the Central Avenue corridor. Since the 2019 presentation, at least three new apartment buildings have opened and a few more are under construction. While their effects on the urgent housing shortage and the rapid acceleration of housing prices remains to be seen, it does seem to show that central Phoenix isn’t dead.

3. There finally is an urban-centric transit-oriented grocery store in central-city Phoenix. While it’s in downtown, the downtown Phoenix Fry’s opened in October 2019, enabling those who want to use light rail to do their grocery shopping, or maybe in conjunction with commuting to a downtown job, to be able to do that. (Yes, I know about existing suburban-style grocers at various points along the light rail line or slightly removed from it. The downtown Phoenix Fry’s is a different interpretation of a grocery that the other stores don’t seem to have.)

2. Creighton University’s new building at Park Central. This was mentioned in brief passing during the original lecture, because Creighton’s new building at Park Central had just been announced. Creighton’s Phoenix Health Sciences Campus building finally opened for the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, and it looks really quite nice. Further developments at the Park Central Mall site are also underway.

1. Recent developments surrounding the Phoenix Indian School site. You might recall back in 2021, mass burial sites were found near Canadian Indian residential schools, institutions that were similar to American Indian boarding schools like the Phoenix Indian School. Earlier this week, 12 News reported that an investigation will take place to see if the plot of land immediately at the northeast corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road was a mass burial site for deceased Native American children. Especially in light of what was discovered in Canada, it always seemed to be possible that we might have a similar situation here. What was once a site set for a billion-dollar development anchoring the corner of Central Avenue and Indian School Road might instead be a site of unspeakable sadness as we reconcile this country’s treatment of Native Americans.