Who Are We?
Who exactly is a Southsider? My friends and I sometimes engage in naming wars as it pertains to the areas south of the Rio Salado and/or south of Washington. Some folks like to call the area south of the I-17 South Phoenix. Others say that it is simply all South Phoenix south of Washington Street. South of Washington Street, all the addresses become “South,” north of Washington they become ‘North.” Still others will tell you unequivocally that south of the Salt (the Rio Salado) is the South Mountain Village and north of the Salt is the south side of Phoenix; so north of the Rio Salado is South Phoenix and south of the Rio Salado is the South Mountain Village.
That’s not all: then we have the various names that try to cover up the places. Let’s start with Ahwatukee. Here is a place in South Phoenix that had pretty much nothing in it until the Presley Homes Development Company decided to build there around 1971. The land was cheap and Tempe was quickly being bought up. But what about the name? No one wanted to try and sell new homes in South Phoenix. There was one landowner who had named her estate something that sounded like Ahwatukee, so the folks with the Presley Company jumped on it, that is, marketed it extensively and never looked back.
Then there is the entire area south of the Salt River from Tempe to about 75th Avenue, the River to the Mountain. In the early 1980’s this area became the South Mountain Village thanks to the efforts of the South Mountain Chamber of Commerce and the City of Phoenix Planning Department. With the combined efforts of dedicated citizens, a generous infill incentive and the salesmanship of City Councilman Cody Williams development started in the South Mountain Village.
In west South Phoenix, Laveen has been a community since the late 1800s. When developers realized there was another chunk of South Phoenix with a different name, they went hog wild buying up every cotton and alfalfa field, dairy ranch or fallow acreage. The boom was booming.
So, who are we? We can debate our place names: South Phoenix, Ahwatukee, Laveen, South Central, Baseline Corridor, Between the Sevens, SoMo, SoPho and the Southside. But a more interesting question is the relationship of the people who have traditionally lived here to the place whose history they have inevitably shaped. This is also a dangerous question as a friend of mine found out recently. To this day talking about race and ethnicity in the Southside, no matter what the context, is risky business.
Over the years people have developed code words to obscure meaningful conversation about who we are: for example in education we talk about “poverty” and children with special needs, rather than culture. In development we talk about “challenged neighborhoods” rather than looking at all neighbor hoods as unique communities.
Communities are not built of houses, designated by developer marketing or municipal boundaries. They are made up of people with families and histories, a million stories, different languages, unique dialects and slang, and, of course, many many skin tones.
As Jason Rose, of Valley-based Rose + Moser + Allyn Public Relations, pointed out at the Villages in Transition III earlier this year, our greatest asset is who we are: a diverse multicultural community. Let’s not be defensive about who we are. Let’s be proud of who we are.
Written by Greg Brownell