Remember when downtown Phoenix was a place where strollers and walkers would delight in sauntering about and enjoying the promenade? Me neither. But at one time, the desert capital was apparently a pedestrian paradise.
That’s what a Rio Salado College student discovered while researching his new book, “Downtown Phoenix.”
“I was surprised to learn just how many cars were in Phoenix by the late 1920s,” said J. Seth Anderson, Rio Salado student and co-author of the newly published “Downtown Phoenix.”
“But in those days, downtown was built for pedestrians, not cars,” Anderson said. “It wasn’t until much later that city leaders began to gut the downtown core of its history and character to erect towers and parking lots.”
Anderson spent time researching the book at local libraries and archives, interviewing long-time residents and reviewing historical newspaper collections.
“Seeing so many amazing images of a truly dense, walkable, economically vibrant city was heartbreaking,” Anderson said. “If even half of those old buildings were still standing, downtown Phoenix would be unrecognizable today.”
The book is part of Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series, which aims to chronicle the history of downtowns and small towns across the country.
Anderson came to be involved in the “Downtown Phoenix” project after taking an interest in local historic preservation efforts and downtown development.
“In 2006, I had my eyes opened to the character and potential of downtown Phoenix and the incredible diversity of talent and ideas that exists downtown,” Anderson said. “I live downtown. I never leave downtown. I love downtown!”
As a writer and lover of all things downtown, working on the book represented a happy marriage of Anderson’s talents and passions.
“I’ve been a writer since I was a little kid, so I’m always looking for opportunities to be challenged, to sharpen my skills, share my work and listen to feedback,” Anderson said.
Those are also the reasons why Anderson decided to take classes at Rio Salado.
“The creative writing program piqued my interest,” Anderson said. “I needed some structure and accountability and wanted to have weekly assignments that challenged me.”
Anderson clearly thrives by being challenged. In addition to balancing school and his personal life, Anderson works in asset management for an ocean shipping line and manages a fleet of chassis trailers and cargo containers.
“It’s a lot of work and requires attention to detail and lots of planning,” Anderson said. “I rarely have free time.”
But when he does have free time, Anderson likes to write “anywhere quiet and with minimal distractions.”
“I’m old fashioned in that I still write by hand, with a pen, in a notebook,” Anderson said. “Writing that way is more romantic and I feel more connected to what I’m doing than when I write on a computer.”
-By Mira Radovich