Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

One of the sad realities of living in a southwestern desert is the necessary compromises that must be made to sustain life here. One such compromise is the destruction of the natural flowing rivers that flow through out most of the west. Over the past century several dams were built in the mountains north of the desert of Phoenix creating man-made reservoir or "lakes" as we call them here. These reservoir provide the Valley with most of its water but it has left the former rivers that were fed with the mountain run off dry. These rivers flow occasionally when there is unusually high rainfall and water needs to be released from the reservoirs. But for most of the time the river bottom are left dry and over the course of several decades they became eyesores as landfills, junkyards and cement quarries where built on the vacated land that was adjacent to there banks.

In the 1980s a major effort was put forward to raise public money to develop the entire span of dry river bed that ran through several Valley cities. It failed miserably and left the individual cities to determine ways to develop the river bottoms on there own.

The city of Tempe decided to covert their portion of the river bottom into a man-made lake by putting rubber bladders that can collapse when the water flows. They were able to do this because Tempe is a fairly compact city and the river bottom to be develop was a small portion that runs to the north of the city. Once the "Tempe Town Lake" was created the city was able to attract developers to build commercial office buildings and condos. I went down to the lake the other night to photograph it and I was impressed with what they have been able to create with the lake.

The city of Phoenix had a more difficult job because the portion of the dry river that runs through the city is much larger. Phoenix decided to take a much more low key approach by converting a portion of the river bottom into a park and wetland similar to the way the banks of the river would have been when the river flowed on a regular basis. The Rio Salado Habitat Restoration Area stretches along five miles of the Salt River just south of downtown Phoenix. Once a dump site, the area is now a lush riparian corridor with five miles of paved and dirt trails dotted with unique design and features. When I visited there recently I noticed a good variety of birds and interesting vegetation that has been planted. I was even able to photograph a blue heron which was cool to see up close. I wouldn't say that this is the most beautiful park in Phoenix, but it is a attempt to turn a wasted area into something that can be enjoyed again.

I actually like the Phoenix approach better because it is lower cost and a more natural approach; although some elements of the Tempe approach could help develop the surrounding banks faster.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

A Tribute to Independent Businesses

I realized the other day, that most of the places where I shop are corporate owned. From the Safeway, where I get my groceries to the Starbuck's where I buy my morning coffee, to the Staples where I get my office supplies, all these stores are owned by large corporations. I'm not completely to blame for this situation since I was born in the second half of the twentieth century, which put me smack in the middle of the greatest franchising and corporate take over of main street in history.

In fact, the only places that I can think of that are not corporate owned would be, Vicki, the girl that cuts my hair, the occasional downtown restaurant that I might venture into (like Cibo), Tempe Camera, where I buy some photographic equipment and the dry cleaners that I bring my clothes each week. Well, the dry cleaners can now be scratched off the list. They have lost their lease and will close at the end of the month. The landlord turned down their offer to pay five years of advance! He is from California and plans on turning the entire building into a restaurant. If he goes as an independent restaurant I suppose it could be cool to have a new place nearby, although, don't try to explain the logic behind turning down five years of rent in cash from an long established business in turn for the risk involved in leasing to an unproven restaurant. God helps us if he ends up leasing to Friday's or Applebee's.

I will admit that I will miss the family that ran the cleaners. A terrific family from India. I spoke with the mother on a regular basis as I would pick up my clothes each week. Maybe because she came from another culture but she had interesting perspective on things; and overall she stayed out of controversy and was a hard worker, she seemed to be always there. She had three beautiful daughters (two of them engineers) who would help out on the weekends sometimes. Like I said, it was interesting to know the owners of the businesses that you frequent. Now I'm off to find a new cleaners.

Monday, January 7, 2008

How long is Forever?

Quick - how much is the cost of a first class stamp? $0.38, $0.41, $0.43 or $0.47. To be honest, I didn't know the answer and had to go on the USPS website to find out. It has been a long time since I've mailed a first class letter. I guess that tells you a lot about how I live, electronic banking for the bills, email for my correspondences; and the occasional text message for people I communicate with under 30. I was sending in a registration for a photoworkshop tonight and needed to mail a check (that's right a check, I had to go find those also). Anyway, in the bottom of my office supply bin thing that I use I found these stamps labeled "Forever". I vaguely remember reading an article in the Wall Street Journal talking about how the Post Office was considering a permanent stamp, but I hadn't realized that they had issued them, and further more I hadn't realized that I had bought them. So from what I understand these stamps are good "Forever" or until we are ruled by our Chinese overlords. Anyway, I may have to test this theory, I'm putting the remaining 15 stamps back in the bottom of my office supply bin thing. Based on my calculations, with an average need of one first class letter per year these may be the last stamps I ever buy. I don't know how I feel about these forever commitments, I mean look how well it worked with my first wife, but baby steps right? First stamps, then perhaps a dog and then we'll work on a woman.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

An Omen

I think of myself as a realist. I've never been much for horror movies and don't have too many superstitions. For most of my life, good decisions and hard work have rewarded me with "good luck" and bad decisions and laziness have resulted in "bad luck". So I don't usually buy into signals from the great beyond.

I may have to modify this attitude somewhat after a recent encounter. I was in my kitchen yesterday, when I looked out the back window and immediately noticed an owl. For many people, seeing an owl may not be that big of a deal, but for someone in central Phoenix it is an unusual sight. I immediately grabbed my camera and got a few shots before he took off. By the way, this was no small bird, I estimated he had about a four foot wingspan. We have a surprising variety of birds that migrate through my neighborhood during the year, but this was fun to see.

I guess I am not such a realist as I thought, because I immediately came in and Googled "owl omen" and read up on the various susperstitions surrounding an encounter with an owl. The whole incident made me laugh because there is some sort of built in psychology regarding meetings with the unusual. In any event, I am going to take it as a positive sign and look forward to my good fortune in 2008.