By Linnea Bennett
When Taz Loomans left last week for her now home in Portland, the downtown Phoenix community realized it was losing yet another young, vibrant changemaker.
Loomans, who has lived in the Valley for 22 years, left to pursue new opportunities in the Pacific Northwest. A former architect and current “architect journalist,” Loomans said she is interested in seeing how Portland works from the inside.
“I’m not so much interested in specific buildings, per se,” she said. “I’m really a lot more interested in cities and the way they work and they way they’re built.”
Though she never lived in the heart of downtown, Loomans was an involved and deeply-rooted community member. Most people who know Loomans met her at community events, by bumping into her at her favorite coffee shop or because she reached out to them herself.
One of her many friends is Will Novak, who met Loomans when he began regularly commenting on her blog. He said she took notice of his posts and surprised him one day when she asked him to meet her for coffee. The two made a quick friendship, formed upon their mutual love for Phoenix architecture and their passion to preserve it.
“She and I were involved in the David Wright house,” said Novak, referring to last year’s controversy around the Arcadia historic home.
“We were part of the group of people who would stand in front of the house and basically stalk it to make sure a wrecking ball didn’t come crashing into it,” he said.
Loomans’ passion for Phoenix went far beyond architecture, though. She was also interested in connecting community members.
She co-founded the Phoenix Places, Spaces and Faces community dinners in 2009. The dinners, monthly potluck-style events open to the entire community that took places at historic locations throughout town, started small but soon began to draw upwards of 100 people per event. Loomans said Places, Spaces and Faces is the project she is most proud of.
“I’m really proud of that because I still have people come up and say everyone they know in town they met through the dinner and what a big impact that monthly event has had on their community,” she said. Though she handed the project off to other leadership two years ago, she is happy that the dinners still continue today.
“It’s nice to know it’s alive and well and driving in my absence,” she said.
Heidi Abrahamson, owner of Phoenix Metro Retro and another one of Loomans’ friends, said Loomans brought a light to Phoenix that is unrivaled.
“She has such a love of life and she’s so passionate about what she does,” Abrahamson said. “It’s going to be very sad to see her go but on the other hand she’s been here a long time and I’m excited for her.”
Excitement is a sentiment many of Loomans’ friends and colleagues have expressed for her and it is one Loomans has expressed as well.
“I want to live in a city where sustainability is not a question and climate change deniers are not anywhere to be seen,” she said.
Loomans said she is also looking forward to experience a “walkable” city.
“Just seeing people on the streets is a sight for sore eyes,” she said. “In Phoenix, you rarely see that.”
Abrahamson added she is sure that Loomans will fit right into the Portland community.
“Taz has never met a stranger,” she said. “I have no worries for her at all.”
A growing list of expatriates
While many members of the community are excited for Loomans and her endeavors in Portland, her move still leaves a hole in the small but passionate Phoenix community.
With Jon Talton, J. Seth Anderson and Yuri Artibise before her, Loomans has joined a list of Phoenix expatriates who have moved on from the city for better things. While each of these individuals had their own reasons for leaving, those left behind still ask the question: Why can’t Phoenix hold onto its fighters?
There are some, like Anderson, who believe there isn’t a problem of people leaving so much as a natural transition of residents.
“It’s kind of bumping up against the whole ‘spread your wings and fly out of your own nest’ idea,” he said. He added that many people who leave Phoenix eventually return to the city, oftentimes even with great ideas to share.
Loomans agreed that the coming and going of people is a natural part of city life, but she said such a process affects Phoenix in a deeper way.
“I think we have a limited amount of people so when the natural thing happens when people want to move on. … It’s such a big loss because the small pool is diminished so much more, “ she said.
Regardless of the natural transition of people, former and current residents have acknowledged Phoenix has many steps to take to make it a more inviting place for young creative and entrepreneurs.
One step is to establish alternative options for higher education. Though ASU has expanded with a downtown campus, Phoenix still lacks the appeal of liberal arts colleges and master’s programs that many other cities offer.
“There have to be those programs that bring in professionals that see it as a destination rather than a stepping stone,” Anderson said.
Liberal arts schools that offer more graduate programs could also provide jobs to academia-based people like Artibise, who was laid off from his position at the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at ASU in 2009 and moved back to Vancouver in May of 2011.
“Being a Canadian citizen and the economy and everything, I couldn’t find a job,” Artibise said. “There was only so much savings and only so much good will that my wife and I had.”
Jon Talton was another resident, and fourth generation Phoenician, who left because of job circumstances. After his Arizona Republic column was cancelled in 2007, he was unable to find another paper that could support him as a columnist. Talton eventually left for Seattle, where he has lived for the last five years.
“I did not leave willingly,” he said. “It does not mean that the frustrations of the place didn’t make me depressed and make me want to chew my arm off, but if it were up to me, I would still be in Phoenix.”
If there is one overarching theme that many residents, past and present, agree upon, it is the city’s need for effective public transportation. Because Phoenix has such sprawl, it is hard to connect its various communities.
“What Phoenix needs is a dense, highly livable, shady central city that is linked by very convenient public transportation,” Talton said.
The city has made strides to improve transportation, its biggest being the light rail — a development that Artibise said became a game-changer. But for the businesses that lie further from Central Avenue, there is still more to do to connect the core of the downtown area.
Loomans suggested putting more emphasis on walkability and bikability as opposed to traditional forms of transportation. She said she thinks Phoenicians want to make this change but are still too attached to their cars.
“We want to get there, we’re not just there yet,” she said.
Above the issues Phoenix faces, all of its expatriates were quick to point out the people who are still working hard for its success. Sean Sweat, Stacey Champion, Cindy Dach, Greg Esser, the people of Roosevelt Row, Kimber Lanning, Jenny Poon and the CO+Hoots team, Beatrice Moore and others remain to finish the job that others, however reluctantly, have left behind.
“Even though it’s far from the perfect urban environment, people feel a connection to it like no other city I’ve been in,” Artibise said.
Anderson agreed, and he pointed out that for young entrepreneurs much can still be accomplished in this growing city.
“I take the position you can be more effective in Phoenix than you can be anywhere else,” he said. “If that’s more important to you, then Phoenix is one of the best places to do it.”
Contact the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org
To read more about Taz Loomans and her reasons for moving, check out her guest opinion column: Phoenix-turned-Portland booster offers wisdom on innovating, transforming Phoenix