Sunday Riders and the Power of Novel Discovery

from Hummingcrows Flickr photo stream

I spend a lot of time visiting Phoenix, and aside from the excellent company, it’s not an experience I enjoy.  This is in many ways a city without a soul; a sprawling mass of asphalt,  strip malls, chain restaurants, SUVs and the leathery-yellow fallout of overused tanning beds.  I’ve been honked and yelled at more times while on a single bike ride here than the sum of all my other riding experiences, including urban LA.  It’s as if the mere sight of pedals and spokes threatens the validity of 64-oz-cup-holders and the constitutional right to self-inflicted melanoma.  I was once approached by a young dreadlocked Greenpeace advocate on the ASU campus who asked if I had a minute for the environment.  I told him that if he really cared, he should just give up and leave.  “Seriously dude, just stop consuming resources here.  It’s over.”

Needless to say, I have a bad attitude about the Valley of the Sun.  But this morning I had a change of heart.

The Valley Metro Light Rail has been up and running for just over a month; a single line spanning 20 miles from the sunburned suburbs of Mesa across Tempe and into the gritty heart of Phoenix proper.  It comes twice as frequently as buses and charts a far more useful route through hubs of activity and commerce.  And unlike other gentrified transit systems, a ticket for the train is the same price as a bus pass.

I wasn’t the only one fascinated by my first desert metro experience.  Our car was a social hall of skinny jeans, sleeve tattoos, Carharts and work boots, white-haired perms and hipster mullets — all commuting together for the first time without barriers of auto glass and lane markers.  A group of college students marveled audibly at how cool it all was, as if they were on their first trip to Europe.  A mother looked away when we passed a gawdy sex shop.  A smiling older gentleman, Dockers crossed and oxford socks showing nearly to the knee, leaned across the aisle and politely asked whether the train would turn around when it reached the end of the line.  “Or do you think we’ll need to change trains?”  Thinking he was worried about missing a stop, I asked how far he intended to go.  “The whole way,” he said, smiling at his wife.  “We’re just out for a ride.”

Looking around the train car, I realized that there were at least three other retirement-age couples doing the same thing; just out to see the city from a new vantage point.

I too, looked at Phoenix a little differently for the rest of the day.  Turns out it isn’t quite as wasteful as I’d assumed.  At the end of the day, a twenty mile, $1.4 billion single stretch of rail isn’t going to replace the SUVs.  It’s not going to turn Phoenix into a walkable city and it won’t displace enough CO2 to assuage the increasingly-dry and sizzling summers.  But the significance of light rail is more than the change of traffic technology; it’s an equally important change of window panes.

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thoughts at the collision of business, brand and creativity

I'm Ryan Cunningham. I help companies and culture play nice with each other. At CREATURE we call this Brand Strategy, a term that carries a nice halo of reliability and structure. Here, I'm just another guy who thinks about the world and writes it down from time to time.

The result is a pile of knowledge to be used in, and for, the future. Feel free to sift through the heap for useful connections.

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