A Hopeful Return for Once Vibrant Downtown Phoenix


October 18, 2020






A laminated reminder covers an outdoor table in downtown Phoenix [Credit: Barbi Walker-Walsh]

(PHOENIX) –– On any given afternoon, downtown Phoenix is a madhouse of traffic and pedestrians heading home, to the gym, or to happy hour. The busy one-way streets share space with the light rail. But not today.

It’s 4:30 p.m. in the sweltering heat, and few people cross the street or crowd the buses and rail. Students from area universities are few and far between. Third Avenue is as quiet as a country lane on a Sunday afternoon.

Despite the heat, the green space in the center of the area has half a dozen people milling around. Most are wearing masks. A deeply tanned man drags his black rolling bag across the street as he yells and waves to no one in particular, his empty backpack flapping open.  

Even the Arizona Diamondbacks’ baseball field is eerily quiet. Usually, one couldn’t find parking at this time of year as baseball begins its home stretch toward the World Series. A stone’s throw from the field is the only outdoor shopping space. Recently retrofitted with environmentally friendly materials, the Arizona Center is a welcome oasis with its cheerily colored outdoor tables.

Cheeky, laminated reminders cover the tables spaced at more than six feet apart: “SOCIAL DISTANCE like a 6th GRADER,” one reads. “SOCIAL DISTANCE like you’re BIGFOOT,” reads another. And: “SOCIAL DISTANCE like you’re PERSONAL BUBBLE OVERINFLATED.”

A construction worker sits alone at the edge of the common outdoor space, his reflective yellow vest like a budding flower in the shadows. 

The sound of “Country Grammar,” by Nelly, is barely audible but still easily identified over the piped-in generic music. A young woman sits fanning herself. Three large black bags lay on the shiny cobalt blue table, covering the table’s social distancing instructions. She has several bags. It’s her small Bluetooth speaker that’s playing Nelly. Her thick, dark hair shines in the waning sunlight and hangs well past her hips, contrasting with her pale camo pants. 

Although she is outside, alone and in the sweltering heat, she is wearing her mask properly, over both her nose and mouth. Suddenly, she jumps up, arms held high above her head, and races towards a man and woman. He’s carrying his 35mm camera. The young woman he’s with is in a bright, body-skimming brocade dress, her hair is in tight little pom-poms, wearing impeccable makeup. The woman in the camo pants fans the model’s face, sweat glistening. After a few minutes, the model’s face, dewy instead of sweaty now, the photoshoot begins.

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