Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My iPhone and the Phoenix Recession

I've started taking daily walks around my neighborhood, anywhere from four to eight miles depending on my schedule at work. I don't take my cameras with me on the walk but I do have my iPhone 4 with me where ever I go, so I've started using it to document my neighborhood. 

Driving the city streets at 40 miles an hour you don't realize how distressed the city is. When you get out of the car and start walking though, you see the signs of the so called "Great Recession" everywhere. In the closed businesses on every block. Abandoned buildings, and, in the shadow, abandoned people. The ones who have fallen through the cracks of the social safety net and are now living on the street. 

What's particularly distressing about this is that our neighborhood is not a bad one. By Phoenix standards it's doing pretty well. We have a good selection of family owned restaurants, office towers, retail (including an always packed Apple Store just three miles from our house) and a couple of grocery stores nearby. But the recession is everywhere.

Head out to Avondale or Queen Creek, the communities that 12 years ago were farm fields and eight years ago were booming suburbs and you can see the economic malaise up close. Blocks of abandoned homes. Others in foreclosure. These are the communities most devastated by the recession. Farmers sold their land in the good times. Developers started building during the boom, and people of limited means bought with no down payment, adjustable mortgages or subprime loans. Then the house of cards collapsed and the Phoenix economy along with it. 

Jon Talton, a Phoenix native and former business columnist at the Arizona Republic, had been predicting the collapse for years. His column roiled against what he called the "real estate industrial complex" that controls the Phoenix area economy. He wasn't popular with developers or the real estate industry but he was right. He now calls Phoenix "Detroit in the desert" because Phoenix is a one industry town. The industry is home construction and just as Detroit collapsed with the auto industry, he claims Phoenix will collapse with the collapse of our unsustainable real estate industry. I thought Talton was the best business columnist at the Republic. I wish he was still writing at the paper. 

There are more photos of the recession and Phoenix in my archive or available from ZUMA Press