Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Mothership: Centerpoint Condos and the Real State of Tempe Real Estate

by Ken Dahl (printed in Upheaval #1)

Two Tempe Town Lake penthouse condos recently sold – for more than $2.1 mil apiece. I guess some people just can’t pay enough for the smell of stagnant, rotten dam runoff.

And just down the street, something far smellier is wafting in: the Centerpoint Condominiums are slated to begin construction soon, an event which will begin the final, brutal assault on whatever shadow of life still lingers in the woebegone, robocorporate fluff-hole of downtown Tempe.

Once built, these luxury “mixed-use” condos will be weighing in at four towers and twenty-two stories, making them by far the largest structures in the Tempe landscape. And this won’t be your everyday block-long cluster of skyscrapers: with units starting at around $250,000, this is the kind of place even the Jeffersons aren’t likely to be moving on up to.

But hey, look at all the crazy, decadent rich-person shit you get: in addition to a 1,300-space parking garage (secured, natch!), residents get access to a wine lounge, a fitness center, at least two spas, yoga and pilates studios, an “electronic lounge,” two in-house movie theaters, “deluxe meal[s] cooked by full-time resident chef Troy Thivierge,” concierge service, and an “urban beach with sand and shaded patio.” Wow – it’s Beverly Hills in a box!

To get a better idea of just how bad Tempe will soon suck for normal people, here’s Ken Losch, principal of Avenue Communities and one of the project’s high priests:
We spent over a year researching and touring more than 200 properties across North America and there is no other project of this magnitude in the United States or Canada.... Centerpoint will have a spectacular international and cosmopolitan appearance, but it will also have a strong sense of community that is lacking in so many other developments.

Oh sure, it’ll have a “strong sense of community.” Just don’t ever dream of being a part of this community – that is, unless your idea of home is hanging out with pedicured, ruling-class caucasian golf enthusiasts in a fucking country club biodome.

And hey, maybe if the rest of us are lucky we can get hired at one of the dozens of Starbucks they’re sure to plant in every corner of the “exclusive amenity level,” so the yuppie fucks won’t even have to descend to street level to get their half-decaf skim McLattes.

All of this is already pretty nauseating; but, if you can stomach it, try sampling this last little nugget of corporate corpulence:
In addition, the Valley’s first true urban grocery will encompass the majority of the first floor of phase one. The 16,000 square-foot gourmet grocery, deli and café will further connect the residents to downtown Tempe by offering a service that currently does not exist.

If tears of incomprehension and rage are not yet streaming down your crumpled face, it is because you haven’t heard that, just down the street, another condo project (this one a mere 16 stories) has bought out the Gentle Strength Co-op’s parcel of land. Gentle Strength, of course, is Tempe’s current “gourmet grocery, deli and café”! But I guess there’s not much we can say about that now – the co-op’s own management negotiated the sale of their property to the developers. Thanks, y’all! Nothing says “community empowerment” like selling out an entire neighborhood to corporate greed.

For a better idea of the delusions and hypocrisy this town employs to justify such a stratospheric level of development, check out what Jan Schaefer, Tempe’s economic development administrator, had to say about the oh-so modest and historically sensitive architecture of University Ave’s Chase Manhattan building (just across the street from the future Cosmo Building and the Centerpoint Condos):

We knew that they wanted to build a very nice building... The intention was to look at historic buildings and build something that would mesh.

“Mesh” you say, Jan? Mesh, you flippant, facetious profit-face? Anyone who has seen the Chase building knows that the only way that soul-crippling monstrosity could ever “mesh” is if it was stuffed into the world’s most giant blender with one hundred million Lexus SUVs and the exhumed corpse of JP Morgan. This is what happens when you live in a city so eager and willing to sell itself out that it takes real-estate developers and multinational banking institutions at their word.

Of course, the sick irony of this is that soon, the entire landscape surrounding the Chase Manhattan building will be mutated and debased enough to “mesh” around this one awful building – as soon as these gentrifying land-pimps and spineless bureaucrats finally get around to burying the entire rest of our town under identically awful blue-mirrored peach & teal monoliths.

This is the future, my friends – and you weren’t invited!

If you have computer access, this publication strongly recommends that you educate and enrage yourself about Tempe projects such as the Centerpoint Condos, the Cosmo Building, and the Chase building. For a start, check out and index.shtml#1> to get a firsthand look of what our town is going to look like, post-Centerpoint.

If you’re without access to the web, there’s another easy way to get information about the Centerpoint Condos: walk down to the parking lot on 5th & Farmer. On the east side of the lot – right in front of the patio seating at Z’Tejas – there’s a trailer-sized billboard covered with advertising for the condos, complete with a giant television screen playing a continuous loop of a commercial for the project. It’s the same ad that they show on their website, and it’s playing to passersby at most times of the day and night.

Sunday, June 5, 2005

Tempe Fought A Class War, and All I Got Was This Stupid Eviction Notice

by Ken Dahl (printed in Upheaval #1)

A couple weeks ago – in the middle of a generally low-income neighborhood and just two blocks from my house – they laid the foundation for yet another luxury “mixed-use” condo.

The website for the Merrion Square Lofts () claims that the area in which these “luxury two-story lofts” are located – the northwest corner of Beck & University – is a

dynamic urban setting that has produce [sic] some of the most sought-after real estate in the city. A magnet for new restaurants, art galleries, retailers and progressive business [sic].

This description seems a bit flattering if you consider that right now, Beck Avenue north of University is mostly just a “magnet” for cops... Oh, wait, you must be talking about Mill Avenue – that place where the pod people go to consume when they’re homesick for Burbank!

The literature sniffs on:

Refined amenities blend with your own panache for interior design to create a unique environment that lets you fully express yourself and your love of the arts.
Are you starting to get a hint of the kind of vermin this trap is trying to lure? Our neighbors will soon be the type of people who use words like amenities and panache with a straight face.

The Merrion Square condos also promise, in accordance with your generously well-endowed pocketbook and bourgeois affectations, a

place to dine, dream, entertain, and renew yourself in the company of like souls. Surrounded by deco-styled accents and comfortable lofts, provide [sic] all of the elements necessary for the perfect urban home.

Translation: “Don’t worry, folks – we’ve got a strict anti-beaner policy in this joint!” All this “refined” homeopathic psychofluff just reeks of LA-variety status obsession – the kind that's both New Age and old as the crusades. It’s Klan for the kappuccino set. “Renew yourself”? Shit.

The aristocratic smarm reaches its climax with this passage:
What attracts people and businesses here is an uncommon desire for a more active, urban way of living and doing business away from suburban sprawl, commuter traffic and the responsibilities of conventional home ownership. Tempe’s lifestyle is about freedom and creative living – following a path of your choosing.

“Tempe’s lifestyle”? “Freedom and creative living”? Now we’re definitely not talking about the same neighborhood. The last time I checked, people on my block hardly had the “freedom” to walk outside at night without getting interrogated by the pigs. Most people here are still hardly even “free” enough to pay their rent on time. They must be talking about that other Tempe “lifestyle” – the one over by that artificial new “lake,” in those half-million-dollar “mega-offices” nobody over here in the real world will ever see the inside of, unless we’re cleaning out their mega-toilets.

Please, let’s stop talking about this yuppie rampart like it’s some kind of summer camp, and see it for what it is: the latest chapter in Tempe’s ongoing war on the poor. Plain and simple, it’s gentrification.

The hidden code
Some people would make you think that real-estate development is a complicated economic process – but really, gentrification is easy to understand if you just learn how to translate the code.

For instance, the words “redevelop and revitalize” are used frequently by developers and city councils when they want to whitewash a new gentrification project. The city government of Tempe even has its own “Redevelopment & Revitalization Task Force.” Sure, peppy feel-good verbs like “revitalization” don’t sound like anything worth opposing. Who could possibly be against vitality?

But then, don’t they have to tear down existing stores and homes to “redevelop”? And why do these new, more-vital developments they build always seem to be priced so that only wealthy people can afford to live and shop in them? And don’t a lot of these new properties become secondary homes and “investments” that are likely to sit empty for at least part of the year?

Knocking down affordable housing; tearing down trees; paving green lots; and replacing it all with a bunch of locked, empty, overpriced rooms – how exactly does this bring vitality to a neighborhood? Does kicking poor people out of a neighborhood develop it into a better place to live? Or are redevelopment and revitalization just code words for plain old destruction, theft, and greed? Who and what is getting “revitalized” by this process? Who is going to benefit from the development? Will it be you?

I guess the answer to all these questions will depend on who you’re asking – the rich people making money off the new condos, or the poor people forced from their homes and businesses because of them.

Now, think about Merrion Square’s “dynamic urban setting.” No one can really imagine what these words actually mean – but whatever it is, it sure sounds like fun, doesn’t it? The words are just vague enough to promise everything and define nothing.

But notice the word dynamic – what exactly is in motion here? The answer is, as usual, just money. Poor people are moving out; the rich are moving in. Take off the PR spin, and in “dynamic urban setting” you’ll find a more honest, hidden message to the upwardly mobile: It’s time to invest. It’s a subtle guarantee that property values will continue to rise – good news for people playing the real-estate market. Maybe a better way of expressing it might be: “We haven’t yet completely finished hosing the mud-people out of sight. We’ve kept just enough of them around to leave a little ‘ethnic flavor’ and a couple of decent Mexican restaurants. Don’t worry though, you won’t have to actually talk to any of them – unless you’re telling them how to park your car.”

As for a Merrion Square’s “lifestyle” of “freedom and creative living” – well, some people have a “lifestyle” and a “creative living”; the rest of us can only afford “rent” and a “job.” Do you really think the future inhabitants of Merrion Square are actually going to hang out with the people who live in this neighborhood now? Do you think they’re going to stroll over to the Rollins Food Mart or the River of Life food ministry to get their groceries with the rest of us? Do you think they’re going to be buying their socks and wrenches from the 99-cent store? Will they hit up the Multigenerational Center to check their email, or barbecue with the ballers at Jaycee Park? Of course not. Cheap food, laundromats and check-cashing booths – i.e., the plain facts of actual urban life – just aren’t a part of their “active, urban way of living.” They’ll walk from their apartment doors down to their secured indoor parking garage, get in their Escalades (lock your doors kids, it’s a bad neighborhood), and whisk themselves away to Whole Foods, or the Pottery Barn, or LA Fitness, or Fashion Square, or wherever other fucking place up in Scottsdale they go to find “the company of like souls.”

Of course, the real plan is to bring Scottsdale down to us. And believe me, they’re closer to doing this than you might think. Look around the block – have younoticed all the rich-people crap being built lately? Merrion Square is just one of a whole infestation of gentrification projects in this town. There’s another on 1st & Beck. There’s that “Abbey Lane” cluster just above the future Merrion Square, and those awful new dayglo office buildings on University between Beck & Hardy. They’re going to build luxury condos on the empty lot at 5th & Roosevelt. They have big plans for that whole plot of land between Roosevelt and Wilson below 5th. That “Regatta Pointe” bullshit around 1st & Farmer has almost swallowed up the Sail Inn. And there’s all those new weird condos just above the “lake.” We’re surrounded, and the seige has only begun.

Tempe’s class war
Not too many people realize that the word gentrification is just a synomym for displacement of the poor. The dictionary calls gentrification “the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle-class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces earlier usually poorer residents.” There’s another term to describe that – class war – and certain people profiting from gentrification would prefer that you didn’t ever make this connection, because the building of “luxury” condos is directly related to the raising of your rent. There is a very real effort, through carefully chosen words like redevelopment, revitalization, and creative living to ignore or distort simple facts about the war the rich wage on the poor. Gentrification is just a continuation of the same old bullshit the rich have been dealing to the poor since the day they invented the game.

A couple years ago on KAET, Phoenix city council member Tom Simplot spelled out the essential requirement for a “revitalized” neighborhood in unusually plain language: “You gotta have some folk.... Not just folk. Folk with money.” It’s important to understand this simple point. For all the rhetoric and cheerleading the profit-heads are throwing at us, gentrification remains a very simple, cruel economic equation: poor people out, rich people in. The people that profit from this math already understand all this very well. They know which side of the class war they’re standing on. Do you?

The good news
The good news is, the only way these people can keep making money off of our poverty is to keep us complacent, ignorant, and divided enough to control. That’s why everyone who lives in Tempe today should take the time to learn how local real-estate developers work. Learn how to read the hidden code in their lingo. It might even help to learn something about the business of real estate itself – property laws, tax exemptions, market indicators and all that. Sure it’s dull as hell – but have you ever wondered if there’s a reason why it’s so boring and opaque? Maybe if the jargon was easier to understand, people other than developers might start forming opinions of their own about what should be done with the land they live on.

The important thing is to get involved, however you can. Push, and see who pushes back, and how. Gradually it will become much more obvious who profits from this system, and who pays for it. The veil of lies covering gentrifications like the Merrion Square McCondo is pretty flimsy really, and you can see through it best if you read between the lines of passages like this one, from Merrion Square’s website, where they take a moment to speak candidly to potential investors:

The urban rebirth [of Tempe] can most logically be tied to the investment potential of the area. With the recent announcements of new construction throughout Downtown Tempe and Phoenix, like the new Hayden Ferry Lakeside mega office, retail and hotel development, the new Performing Arts Center on the Lake, new hotels and the Papago Park Business Center, it’s clear that if general property values go up, lofts, condominiums and housing values should go up as well, despite what is happening in today’s stock market. Whether it is the purchase of a new loft or office condominium, buyers can feel secure in their investment choice.

Hotels, mega offices, and business centers, oh my! Somebody’s about to make a lot of money evicting a lot of poor people out of Tempe. Nowhere in their sales pitch will you find a single mention of anything that would make life liveable for people who don’t have lots of extra money. When “property values” go up, small businesses get replaced by corporate chains. When “housing values” (our rents) go up, we get kicked out of our homes. This makes way for the yuppie “rebirth” of what was once our neighborhood, but is now just another vacuum of yuppie condos and generic sprawl, another concentration of privilege and excess where you aren’t allowed to live. It’s a process that’s already happened time after time in this city, and in other cities across the continent. And it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down today.

Don’t forget, property is theft – and this kind of crime pays well, if you’re on the right side of the class war. And what about the rest of us? No one’s going to invest money in a community garden, or neighborhood solidarity, or affordable housing for the homeless and unemployed, or any other facet of human life that can’t be manipulated and exploited for the sake of a few extra thousand bucks.

Remember all this the next time you pass by the big sign on Beck & University, the one hailing the arrival of Merrion Square Lofts. They’ll try and tell you that they’re doing you a favor by building another pricey, pretentious condo; that their war on the poor is an improvement rather than an affront. They’re lying to you. Remember that none of these people are a part of your community.

Remember that every last one of these profit-addicted investors and developers are coming to town for one reason: to make a fortune off of your poverty. Every last one of them. Everyone who drafted the business plan for this abberation; every well-intentioned architect; every weak-minded and naive city planner; every opportunistic investor and franchise-holder; every real-estate agent and property manager who stepped on our heads just to grab a little profit. We’ve got nothing in common with these people, and they’ve got no desire to cut us an even break. This is war, whether you realize you’re fighting in it or not.

To the “folk with money,” the people who now live on Beck Avenue – and in poor neighborhoods everywhere – are just obstacles to their crusade for endless profit and sprawl.
So when do we start fighting back?

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

The Arizona Counter-Recruitment Coalition Wants YOU

by the Arizona Counter-Recruitment Coalition (printed in Upheaval #1)

You have fewer civil rights enlisted in the military than you do in prison. As a detainee, you have the right to test the legality of your detention as many times as you want – but once you’ve enlisted, you have no legal right to contest your situation. One-third of homeless men are veterans. Many veterans are ill with Gulf War Syndrome.

Myths told by military recruiters lead teens to exchange their lives and civil liberties for promises of college funds, travel and adventure. Here lies the military’s Achilles heel – if they were given enough information about the truth of enlistment, most people would never join the military.

The Arizona Counter-Recruitment Coalition
The Arizona Counter-Recruitment Coalition (AZCRC) is a group of students, teachers, parents, veterans, and workers from the Phoenix metro area who provide information and perspectives to counterbalance the one-sidedness of military recruiters. We advocate for a society that is truly secure, through the principles of cooperation, conflict resolution, and sustainability. We organize to replace the current order of exploitation, conquest, and domination. We recognize the need to work with other like-minded organizations, while exploring ways to connect with those who may initially be opposed to our motives.

In the struggle for control over a young person’s life, the military has the upper hand. Military recruiters have access to a student's personal information from their school, and they use this information to target the poor, minorities, the young and naïve.

They lie and mislead to meet enlistment quotas. Further, they’re about to be delivered the ultimate advantage: conscription, i.e. a draft, which will mandate involuntary servitude and provide the military with a demographic database on an entire generation. After enlisting, or being drafted, personal autonomy is lost. Instead, it becomes mandatory to kill and be killed if ordered to do so, and to serve the interests of corporate elites who value money and power over humanity and life itself.
Enlistees who are not killed are likely to be maimed and sustain lasting damage to their physical and mental health. Veterans of war in Iraq have a special name for their diseases: Gulf War Syndrome. This may be caused by forced inoculations, and/or exposure to depleted uranium, which has devastating effects on soldiers, the environment, and the innocent civilians who live in these war zones.

The lives of military personnel and the human rights of those who live within US military targets are sacrificed to keep the world in a stranglehold of US economic hegemony. Upon returning, soldiers often bring home the violent culture of war, beating and sometimes killing their spouses and kids, and suffering the anguish of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.

Students, parents, and teachers must reclaim control of their schools from the military and work to inform people about the dangers of militarism. We want to empower parents who wish to invoke their legal right to withhold their child’s contact information from the military. We are reaching out to students with flyers and presentations, informing them of their rights, and helping students create counter-recruitment clubs on-campus.

We are continuously seeking teachers and administrators who see a need to provide a broader and unbiased examination of the military, past and present, in the world and in their schools. We believe that the students’ best interests are served when educators teach them to use critical thinking when presented with the slick marketing campaign that recruiters use to attract possible recruits.
Lastly, we demand that school administrations provide us with equal time and space to present our point of view at assemblies and job fairs, and to place our alternative literature in career counseling centers.

Security: We believe our society will never be truly secure so long as we enjoy a much higher level of consumption than the rest of the world, based on military conquest and exploitation of the poor and the environment. Only when all people are recognized as free and equal, with access to affordable education and adequate resources to meet their basic needs, in ways that preserve a heritage of natural resources for future generations, can we live in peace and safety.

Economics: Military recruiters often target economically disadvantaged young people with promises of college money, job training, and a ticket out of their financial dead end. Not only are these promises in most cases misleading, we have found that when given enough information, most young people don’t feel that the gamble of risking their lives and long-term physical/mental health is worth the possible benefits. However, we must acknowledge the lack of local sustainable community-based economic opportunities that can make “three hots and a cot” in a battle zone seem tempting.
If we want to build an effective movement to oppose the militarization of society, we need to seek out, support, and even create more job opportunities that are truly productive, locally owned and locally controlled, so that the money generated stays in our community. We also need to help young people get access to alternative sources of college money and job training if we wish to successfully challenge the “poverty draft.”

-Decentralized networking of counter-recruitment groups, including on-campus student groups who are working to stop military recruitment
-Building draft resistance through education and networking
-A network of support for veterans – one that acknowledges their situation and illnesses due to service
-The repeal of school policies such as the No Child Left Behind Act and ASVAB testing, as well as the replacement of JROTC programs with electives.

-Distributing counter-recruitment literature to those who are targeted by military recruiters
-Speaking at and organizing community events where people can meet other like-minded individuals interested in military and draft resistance
-Speaking and tabling at events where our perspectives would otherwise be unheard.
-Demonstrating in the streets to show our frustration and opposition and to bring pressure on those who support war and recruitment.

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