21 Jul My PHX Story: Mayor Greg Stanton
Phoenix has been my home for as long as I can remember. It’s where I grew up – where I made sure my kids would grow up. I’m a little biased in saying it’s the best city in the world – but I’ve yet to find any place better than Phoenix.
Growing up in Phoenix
I grew up in West Phoenix. My mom taught English as a second language at Glendale Community College and my dad sold shoes at the JC Penny at Christown Mall. They worked hard to put four kids through college, and found the time and passion to start the Christian Needs Network to support migrant workers in our community.
My parents had just one car, which meant that public transportation was important to our family. For me and my brother and sisters, bikes were our favorite mode of transportation. But when we wanted to go beyond the two-mile radius around our house, we often took the bus. It gave us the freedom to get downtown – the freedom to see the free Phoenix Symphony Pops concerts, have a picnic at Patriots Square, or even to travel across the country. For one family vacation, when our parents wanted us to experience the history and culture of our nation’s capital, we took a Greyhound bus all the way from Phoenix to Washington, D.C. and back.
For my dad, taking the bus was part of his daily routine. He commuted to and from work on the bus, and he had just as many colleagues on his route as he did at the store. In the Stanton household, we saved an extra seat at the table for dad’s friends on the bus who might pop by for dinner.
In general, I spent my time around the neighborhood. My friends and I spent countless afternoons at Cortez Park shooting hoops or going to the pool, and I played on the Cortez High basketball and tennis teams. Eventually I joined the speech team and student government, where I got some wise advice from a teacher who helped me realize that though I may not make it to the NBA, I had other strengths that could help form a career.
After my high school graduation, I made the difficult decision to leave home for college and start my next chapter in a city that had little in common with my hometown: Milwaukee.
To the Midwest and Back
Going to college at Marquette University in downtown Milwaukee was a true urban experience. Suddenly I was within walking distance to coffee shops and restaurants, stores and museums. It gave me a new perspective on urbanism. And I began to understand that the downtown culture influenced the student experience, and in turn, the university and its students breathed life into the city.
After four years away at college and three more years of law school in Ann Arbor, Michigan, I made one of the best decisions of my life to move back to Phoenix. But when I got back, things had changed: the booming population of the 90s made my hometown hardly recognizable.
And it wasn’t just that the city felt bigger. Most of my friends were now in a different place in their lives – raising families and working – and I was alone in pursuing a legal career. I had to start over and build a new network for myself in a fast-changing city that looked a lot different than the place I grew up.
What I found surprised me. Phoenix was getting bigger, but it was still a wide open town, hungry for new leadership and fresh perspectives. I had expected to run into an old-boys club that would make it difficult to carve my own pathway. But there was no sign of that anywhere. In fact, I encountered many individuals who were willing to help me move ahead. And when I was presented with the opportunity to start a career in public service, I thought, “Why not me?”
Connecting the Past to the Present
When I look back, I’m thankful for how my experience growing up in West Phoenix shaped who I am and the values I have today. I’m also thankful for how they shaped my time as mayor, and my vision for our future.
Watching my dad take the bus every day taught me how important public transit is for many working class families. Volunteering with my parents taught me the value of helping to put a roof over the head of those less fortunate than me. My many hours on the basketball court and in after school programs taught me that safe public parks and great libraries can shape a child’s life in a profound way. Even my time away influenced my priorities – my college years made me a big advocate for bringing higher education to downtown Phoenix.
Today, we’re working to transform our city’s economy into one rooted in innovation and poised to compete in the global economy. We’re showing that cities can do more than we ever imagined to tackle seemingly impossible challenges such as ending homelessness. We’re making our community a more welcoming place for every Phoenix family. And we’re planning for our future with the most ambitious and comprehensive transportation plan in our city’s history.
In many ways, my childhood experiences have come full circle. My brother Paul is now the superintendent for Washington Elementary School District where we went to school. I’ve coached my son Trevor’s basketball team at the same YMCA where I learned to play. I took my dad to the reopening of the JC Penny where he used to take the bus to sell shoes.
My wife Nicole and I are raising are own family in Phoenix now, and we’re making new memories. We spend a lot of Saturdays at the Science Center, the Children’s Museum and Burton Barr. We take the light rail downtown to go to Phoenix Mercury Games. Our kids are growing up in a city with a vibrant, urban downtown with a university in the heart – that’s something I didn’t get to experience until I left Phoenix, and for them it’s just what they know.
I grew up in a community that I loved, and I still love it today. But throughout my years in office, I’ve seen Phoenix transform into the world-class city that I always knew it could be.