Life In A Backwater Town

AROUND THE RIM COUNTRY

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The major cities of the Valley -- Phoenix, Scottsdale, Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Glendale -- are rating themselves according to six new benchmarks to see how they measure up as attractive places to live.

Developed by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy, the benchmarks gauge a community's quality of life in a new and nontraditional way.

The rationale is that the old formula for growth -- cheap land and new subdivisions in a warm climate -- no longer cuts it. Nor, points out a recent article in The Arizona Republic, do such "traditional quality of life amenities" as galleries, stadiums, museums and parks.

According to the article: "Brains are becoming more important than brawn. Diversity is becoming more important than conformity. Proximity and place are becoming more important than the sprawling retreats of gated communities."

The article, by Mary Jo Waits and William Fulton, lays out the challenge: "Essentially, local businesses and civic leaders need to evaluate how the region can match up its assets to six characteristics that are likely to define successful and highly valued places in the 21st century."

While Payson is a far cry from the great and well-lit metropolis to the south, I thought it might be fun to measure our community against the same six benchmarks. After all, being a "successful and highly valued" place is something to which we should all aspire.

Here, then, are the new benchmarks and how Payson and the Rim country measure up:

1. Natural ENVIRONMENT counts for a lot.

So far, so good. Plunked down in the middle of the Tonto National Forest at an altitude that promises four mild seasons, we've already got the Valley beat. Of course, Valley residents try to negate this advantage by spending their summer weekends covering the Rim country with a layer of fast-food wrappers, dirty diapers and empty beer cans.

2. Natural features aren't enough. Places must have distinctive urban AMENITIES as well.

So make up your mind. If it's natural environment, we're fine. If it's amenities, we're maybe not so good. In fact the article says even Scottsdale's art galleries, cultural festivals and downtown retail shops are getting a little boring. You can imagine how the home of the "World's Oldest Continuous Rodeo" would rate on the hipness meter. Maybe we could take "continuous" in a literal sense and run that rodeo night and day nonstop. Then we could apply that hippest of terms -- 24/7 -- and bill ourselves as the "Little Town That Never Stops Buckin'." How cool is that?

3. CHOICE matters in the talent war.

The idea here, according to the Republic article, is to match your assets to the likes and dislikes of the young. What you don't want to be known as is a retirement community.

Oops! This thing is starting to get away from us. Add in "stimulating and well-paying jobs" (another component of the CHOICE equation) and we might as well kiss our quality of life goodbye.

4. Being a smart, INNOVATIVE place matters.

"Smart people like to be with other smart people," the article notes, quoting Harvard University scholar Juan Enriquez. I'm not saying that Payson and the Rim country are dumb, but when your college takes down its sign and goes incognito and your school district toys with dropping fine arts programs, that little red flag pops up.

5. It's not just about physical attributes. Intangibles such as "HIPNESS," tolerance and entrepreneurial culture are part of the calculation.

"Talented and creative people want to be where the action is," the Republic article notes. While the "hip nightclub scene" mentioned as an example might be a stretch up here in the Rim country, our new batting cages and getting chased by the geese at Green Valley Park certainly qualify as action.

6. SPEED is a vital amenity.

"Evidence increasingly suggests that the ease with which individuals can move around a city and get things done looms large in a place's attractiveness," write Waits and Fulton. Here in the home of the speed trap known as Tyler Parkway which culminates in the traffic signal at the intersection of Highway 260 and the road to nowhere, speed is anything but a vital amenity. On the other hand, when Star Valley is your destination, the longer it takes to get there the more enjoyable the journey.

So things look grim for the Rim country when measured by the six new quality of life benchmarks, dooming us to the status of a "struggling backwater of the 21st century."

Unless, of course, you share my view -- that living in a backwater in this 21st century of ours ain't all bad.

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