The West’s Most Midwestern Town

Hashknife Pony Express Rider in Scottsdale

I saw a Tweet just now proclaiming Prescott to be the winner in True West Magazine’s “2012 Top Ten True Western Towns” ranking. The TWM ranking was actually published back in January, but I didn’t see it then. I’ve seen the magazine before but had kind of forgotten about it, which is my loss.

The article describes the ranking as:

True West Magazine’s annual award given to towns that have made an important contribution to preserving their pasts and to sharing their town’s historical relevance to our nation.

“The West’s Most Western Town” (Scottsdale, so proclaimed by some Chamber of Commerce types back when the Chamber did what Chambers ought to do) didn’t make the list. Neither did Wickenburg (which tried to purloin Scottsdale’s ‘brand’ a few years ago). Tucson, Chandler, Gilbert, and Glendale were snubbed. Even Tombstone (“The Town Too Tough To Die”) was absent, as lamented in a recent article in the Tucson Sentinel for interesting reasons described in the article.

I note the TWM article points out that one of the “towns” that did make the list–Oklahoma City–stole back from Phoenix last year after nearly 40 years, the Cowboy Artists of America. CAA apparently now make their home at OKC’s National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum, even though their website still lists addresses in Tucson and Phoenix.

TWM’s editor, Bob “Boze” Bell was a commentator on KSLX radio when I first moved to the Valley 20-odd years ago. Bell used to lampoon Scottsdale’s slogan by intentionally misquoting it: “The West’s Most MIDWESTERN Town.” Of course, he also used to work for National Lampoon, go figure…However, it was funny and he publishes a fine magazine, too.

I lifted a quote from Bell out of a PBS Horizon interview he did a year ago, which I think captures the essence of what I’ve been saying for years about development in Scottsdale:

…there’s an old saying, for everything you gain you lose something. For everything you lose you gain something. And we’ve lost a sense of community that was small town community…

I know Scottsdale’s motto was (and remains) a marketing gimmick. However, I think our name has far eclipsed our motto. “Scottsdale” is known around the world, and very few outside Scottsdale know the tagline these days. We still have a bit of the West, with the Hashknife Pony Express, Parada del Sol, horse shows galore, and a fair number of residents still living a lifestyle that revolves around horses.

On the other hand, I think what really makes Scottsdale unique is the juxtaposition of those Western roots against the amenities of a modern city. This is not too different from what makes my neighborhood–Peaceful Valley–such a special place: The proximity of suburban living within walking distance of urban amenities like the Civic Center Library, the Center for Performing Arts and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, and Scottsdale Municipal Stadium.

Those juxtapositions came to mind again today when I exchanged blog comments with someone who said, “Only in Scottsdale will you have a battle between a horse carriage owner and an art dealer.” I remembered a city council meeting a couple of years ago with a similarly quirky conundrum. A lady was complaining about not being able to sunbath nude by her backyard pool because folks on the horse trail behind her house could see over her back wall.

Back in 2001 when the citizens of Scottsdale voted to enact our General Plan, I think we struck a nice balance between new and old, between rural and suburban. Unfortunately, development interests have been chipping away at that balance ever since; and the citizens who expected the General Plan to protect them have grown comfortable in their complacence.

Even though Scottsdale’s motto really ought to be “The New Old West,” or some such, I’m not in a big hurry to ditch “The West’s Most Western Town.” Let’s not let the developers ditch it for us.


Take a gander at the TWM website and subscribe if it strikes your fancy.

While you are at it, check out Arizona Highways Magazine. That’s one I kind of forgot about, too, so I need to renew my subscription.

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