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In defense of Sunnyslope, Arizona


A part of Phoenix that has always fascinated me is called Sunnyslope. It's north of the Arizona Canal, and goes several blocks east and west of Central Avenue, and up to the slopes of the Phoenix Mountains. And I've often had to defend it, and I'm here to do it again.

The first time I saw Sunnyslope was in 1989, when I had just moved back to Phoenix from Los Angeles. And I was shocked by the amazing mountain views, and just how, uh, less-than-fashionable the neighborhood was. This puzzled me, as anywhere in Southern California with a mountain view is premium property, with gates and fine-trimmed lawns.

While I was working for the marketing department of Bank One in the early 90s, I found an old map of the Phoenix area which had identified the Sunnyslope area as "blighted". That's a word that isn't used anymore, but really, the term applied to what I saw in Sunnyslope.

My girlfriend lived adjacent to Sunnyslope, near the Pointe, and I would often drive through Sunnyslope and look at it. In the early '90s there were still a lot of the tiny little cabins that hardly seemed big enough for dogs to live in, let alone human beings. And of course there were a lot of people wandering around, possibly from one of the half-way houses, or maybe just because Sunnyslope had a lot of people wandering around, usually pushing shopping carts.

OK, I don't want to go into more detail, you get the picture. I was told to never stop at the Circle K there, even during the day, so of course I did. I didn't ever actually see chalk-marks around where bodies had fallen, but the area had that feel.

My research on that area surprised me - it had originally been a place filled with tents, going back to the 1800s, and since it was north of the Arizona Canal, there was no irrigation water. And without water, desert land is cheap. So south of the canal land was expensive, and north of it, no one wanted to invest in it. And over the years, even after Sunnyslope had water, and had become a part of the city of Phoenix, the stigma lingered. It wasn't a place for, ahem, "polite society".

If you're following me here, polite society turned their back. But Sunnyslope never did. It had started as a welcoming place for people who weren't welcomed elsewhere, and it continued that way. It was a place for hospitals, and places where people could recover. Not fancy spas, or resorts, but places where someone with "slender means" could have a chance.

Nowadays, of course, gentrification is chipping away at Sunnyslope, and soon its reputation as a welcoming place will be just a memory. Gates will be built, and HOA rules applied. And for people who like that kind of place, it will be wonderful. For the rest of the people, they'll just have to move on.

Image at the top of this post: Ad for Steve's Furniture and Appliances in the 1950s, 9th Street and Hatcher, Sunnyslope, Arizona.

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