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Is Phoenix a ‘real’ city – and should I care?

LISTEN: Sharper Point

Is Phoenix a big city or not?

That is the question Republic writer Brenna Goth posed in an article Sunday entitled, “Phoenix is the nation’s 5th largest — but is it a ‘real’ city?” 

She said that a lot of people who grew up in the Valley – like she did – think that one day they’ll move to a “big city.” In other words, Phoenix isn’t a big city – or at least not thought of as one. 

Phoenix “proper” (the area that is within its legal city limits) was just named the fifth-largest city in the U.S. – again. So I guess we’re doing a bunch of soul-searching trying to figure out if we really deserve that designation before we go around crowing about it. 

In her article, Ms. Goth wonders, “Will Phoenix ever have the cachet of cities such as Philadelphia, Seattle or San Francisco?” Then she goes on to essentially show why we’re not. 

She suggests that Phoenix doesn’t cut the mustard because it anchors a metro area that’s not even a top-10 metro area in the U.S. But we are No. 12 – and if you’re gonna talk about San Francisco and Seattle, there are only 20,000 fewer people in the federally-designated Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale Metropolitan Statistical Area than in Greater San Francisco. And 150,000 people larger than Seattle’s metro. 

So, if it’s size that matters – we matter. 

There are many other arguments made in her article as to why we aren’t a big city before she gets to the question that everybody seems to get to: “Does Phoenix have Culture?” 

Somebody please cue me for my obligatory eye-roll! 

Ballet Arizona is one of the most respected troupes in the country, the Heard Museum possibly has the greatest collection of Native American art anywhere and have you been to the Arizona Science Center? I’m a member and it’s awesome. 

I could go on and on, but what’s really being suggested in this article (but is never really said) is that Phoenix isn’t enough like an East Coast or West Coast city (i.e. progressive) to be considered a big city. 

I left Los Angeles to come back to my home state of Arizona several years ago. There were many reasons why, but mountains in the middle of cities, wide-open spaces, unsurpassed beauty and liberalized gun laws don’t suck. I’m guessing the 33,000 people who moved to Phoenix last year (more than any other city in America), feel the same way. 

May I make a suggestion to the Arizona media people who continue wringing their hands asking, “are we are really a big city?” 

Please stop. 

The more you ask that question out loud, the more that people in “real” big cities don’t think we are. I’m assuming, of course, that these poor podunk-feeling media types care what the high-falutin’ big city folk think. 

Personally, I don’t care what their opinion is — they aren’t smart enough to live here. 


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