11 Nov My PHX Story: Chelsea Smith
Admittedly, Phoenix and I started out on the wrong foot. At the end of my junior year of high school, my father got a new job and my family moved from Pittsburgh to Phoenix. This meant spending my senior year at a new school, in a new city, and new state with no friends! It’s any teenager’s worst nightmare.
I tried to make the best of it. At the time, in Pittsburgh, I was following my dream to become a professional dancer. I would commute daily into downtown Pittsburgh via their light rail transit. I loved being in the center of the city and feeling the dynamic energy of the environment around me. I had aspirations to move to New York City someday and follow my passion. So when I found out we were moving to Phoenix, I immediately began researching dance schools and arts high schools so I wouldn’t fall behind in my training. This lead me to the Arizona School of the Arts located just north of downtown Phoenix.
Arizona School for the Arts – Counting the days until I could return to a “real” city
My first experience with downtown Phoenix was on my first day of school at ASA. I remember driving in on the I-10 and getting my first glimpses of the urban core and thought, “That’s it?” After a well-traveled childhood through many major cities on the East Coast, I was used to bigger buildings and more density. Phoenix was just beginning to grow and change, and to me it seemed far away from what I thought a “real” city was. I counted my days until graduation and leaving for college in an East Coast city.
Arizona State University and new encounters in Downtown
After spending a year back in Pittsburgh, living in their downtown and pursuing my dance career, I returned to Phoenix and applied to Arizona State University. I enjoyed my time spent in Tempe, and it was during that time that I started to experience downtown Phoenix through First Fridays and experiencing some of the music scene. This was when I would start to admit that Phoenix wasn’t so bad, but I still thought I would be moving away to go to graduate school or get a job in another more urban city.
Then I met the urbanist…
Not long after graduation from ASU, I met my boyfriend. At the time, we were both living in the East Valley. He had spent time on the East Coast, and like me wanted a more urban lifestyle. After a few months of dating, he started looking for a condo in downtown, and we started to explore what downtown Phoenix had to offer its residents. Through our dates getting to know the city and each other, I started to learn that I was an urbanist, and that many of the things I love about the city lifestyle can be found in downtown Phoenix. My boyfriend also taught me a lot about what makes a great city through the eyes of Jane Jacobs. It was then that I began to see how downtown Phoenix could be the urban community that I’ve always wanted it to be.
Thinking back to my time in many major cities, I loved that I could walk, bike, or use public transit to get around town. In downtown Phoenix, I enjoy being able to walk to local shops and restaurants, and if my destination is a little to far by foot, biking or light rail is an easy alternative. Cities also are home to a plethora events and happenings, and downtown Phoenix is no exception. On any given weekend there are at least a dozen different things to do from concerts to community events, art walks and the farmer’s market for residents to enjoy.
And while all of the above reasons contribute to why I live in downtown Phoenix, there is one other very important reason for why I choose to stay. Downtown Phoenix provides a unique opportunity for its residents to envision and create the downtown Phoenix that they want. I have watched as others have advocated for many improvements to our city, and after seeing the changes they created, I can’t help but be inspired. You could say I had my “This Could Be Phoenix” moment.
Fast-forward five years
After living in downtown Phoenix for the last five years, there is still a small sliver of me that would love to live in a different city. But after watching many advocate to change downtown for the better and experiencing my own baby steps to get more involved, the more I want to contribute to creating an awesome downtown Phoenix. Over the years, I have seen businesses grow, met people who share my same sentiments on living here, and have watched the urban core change in many amazing ways. True; we still have a long way to go to catch up other cities, but I love that sitting here writing this, I still get goose bumps when I think of what Phoenix will be in another five years.