Valley Geography

When I moved west in 1995 to be a newspaper scribe, one of the challenges was getting acquainted with the Valley’s geography. The grid system was easy enough, as were major cross streets like Broadway, Southern, Indian School and Van Buren. But the finer distinctions eluded me. 

I’m talking about, “Is Scottsdale in the East Valley?” Or, “Where exactly does the West Valley begin?” (To which I answer, it’s a lot like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of porn: I can’t exactly say, “but I know it when I see it”).

With 100,000 people moving here annually, I figure we need a user’s guide to the Valley’s terminology. Here you have it:

East Valley: This moniker, allegedly coined by the editors of the Tribune back in the day, covers Mesa, Chandler, Gilbert, Tempe, Queen Creek – and Scottsdale. Apparently, the Scottsdale politicos and residents of the city’s tonier neighborhoods hate this idea, which is all the more reason to insist on it. 

South Scottsdale: The city south of Fashion Square, with a carve out for the bars and party spots of “Old Town,” which may or may not admit anyone over age 28 after 9 at night. A Realtor who specializes in the area describes it as “the heart and soul of the city.” Translated: You can afford it!

West Valley: Generally speaking, this region includes everything west of the 17 freeway that is not in Phoenix – except Maryvale, which is in Phoenix, but poor, so Phoenix would like it to be someplace else. Glendale, which begins at 43rd Avenue, is in the West Valley. 

So are places like Peoria, Avondale, Buckeye, Tolleson and Youngtown, a small town ironically devoid of young people. Many of the western suburbs are named for their distance from Phoenix, like Surprise (“I’m surprised it’s so damn far”) and Goodyear (“it will take a good year to get here if there’s an accident on the 10”).

Phoenix, which serves as the Valley’s central core, has its own naming nuances.

North Phoenix: Notable for gated communities, mountain views and the prevalence of Walgreens at every intersection, North Phoenix oddly does not include Northern Avenue. It begins somewhere north of Paradise Valley – a Latin phrase meaning “home of photo radar”  – and extends to about Flagstaff. 

Central Phoenix: An amorphous blob that begins where downtown Phoenix and the Central City areas end (say about Thomas Road) and winds north to about Shea Boulevard. East to west, Central Phoenix seems to span 44th Street to about Seventh Avenue. 

To the east is “the east side,” which has lots of industrial stuff, and to the west is the “west side,” notable for random gunfire and drive-thru restaurants that offer excellent burritos and end in the suffix “-berto’s.”

South Phoenix: The city south of downtown but north of South Mountain. The area includes urban clusters to the east and sprawling farms and warehouses to the west. However, south Phoenix does not include the southernmost tip of Phoenix.

Ahwatukee: There’s some interesting arcana surrounding the name of the most southern ‘burb in Phoenix. Once upon a time, a huge house – Casa De Suenos, or “house of dreams” – stood out that way. 

Then a lady from Wyoming bought it and renamed the house “Ahwatukee,” which she said was the Crow Indians’ phrase for “house of dreams.” As it turns out, the Crow people – who don’t live in Arizona – don’t have that word in their language. But they do have the phrase “awe chuuke,” which means “the other side of the hill.”

Consider yourself in the know, friend. But don’t worry if you’re confused. It only took me 27 years to figure this out. You’re probably quicker on the uptake.