Which character are we really
trying to preserve?

Sounding Board Editorial #16 (May 18, 2008)

Dennis Foster

     While interviewing candidates for city offices as part of the Daily Sun editorial board, I have often heard them say that they want to "preserve the character of Flagstaff."  This was true of mayoral candidates as well as those for city council.  Perhaps it is just a meaningless phrase, but one that every politician must utter, as if it were some kind of loyalty oath.  I don't know.  But, I do know that it is meaningless and, so, took this opportunity to address the issue of what a city's character means.  This comment ran on May 18.

Do you ever wonder what candidates mean when they say that they want to ďpreserve the character of our community?Ē  I do.  The character of any community changes over time; such is the nature of life.  Read the Flagstaff history column on Saturdays to get a sense of how this community has changed.  I canít say that Iíve ever overheard someone discussing the current price of wool, which once seemed a topic of local interest.

I donít consider myself an especially long-term resident, but I do remember when there was a working lumber mill in town and when 4th Street was a shopping magnet.  I remember using the front entrance to Cline Library, on the west side of the building.  I would often go to Cline to rent an IBM typewriter; I think it was fifty cents an hour.  I remember that there was a Chinese restaurant where the Checkers store is on Old Route 66, where I used to buy the Sunday edition of the Daily Sun.

I still have furniture I bought at Oleís and books I bought at Duckís.  I have a backpacking cook pot set, which I still use, that I bought at a little store up on Beaver Street back in the late 1970s.  Long since gone.

Somehow, I donít think that these political candidates are talking about preserving that Flagstaff, before there were city buses, before there was an F-cubed and before there was public ďartĒ that looked like alien outhouses.

Dennis Foster has a Ph.D. in economics, teaches at the university level, and is an avid Grand Canyon hiker.

     Some more on some of the local references:

Flagstaff history column.  Every Saturday, for some time now, there is a column, on page two, that summarizes some of what was going on (at least as reported in the paper) 100, 75, 50 and 25 years ago that week.  The woman who puts that together served with me on the virtual board a couple of years ago.  It's usually quite interest, and next year I will be reading about what was going on when I first lived in Flagstaff (i.e., 1984 will be 25 years ago).  One of the things I have noted over time is that the topic of sheep come up often in the news of 100 years ago.

Duck's Bookstore.  Ah, I can half close my eyes and recall this quaint little shop.  Where was it?  I want to say that it was in the Greentree Shopping Plaza, but I think he may have moved around a bit.  For those familiar with Bookmans, Duck's was like a small version of that store, selling mostly used books.  I would stop by whenever I could while I was working at the Grand Canyon in the late 1970s/early 1980s, in search of old canyon-related books.

Edited references.  With a 250 word limit, I had to drop a few additional references that I liked, including one about dropping off typed "letters to the editor" at the Daily Sun office on Santa Fe, driving down a 2-lane Butler Avenue, the old Flamingo Motel (now a Barnes & Noble) and the old Wendy's (now a Carl's Jr.). 

F-cubed and alien outhouses.  The activist group, Friends of Flagstaff's Future, is probably made up of more recent residents to this area, and they certainly have no interest in preserving Flagstaff's character.  Rather, they cloak their desire to mold Flagstaff into the vision they have and use the character issue as the justification.  The "alien outhouses" cost the city's taxpayers $50,000 and sit across the street from the main post office.  It was part of an ill-conceived public art program that has, thankfully, gone away.

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