I've been reading Antenna for forever but this entry forces me to comment. "20% beautiful, 80% ugly?" Hah. "Capitalist geography at its most misanthropic?" Double hah! I haven't travelled widely, but Phoenix is one of the cleanest, easily navigable cities I've been in. More than most cities, perhaps, its beauty takes some searching—something you assuredly can't do in a week—but there's a whole lot of there there.
As someone who has lived here his whole life, I'm especially puzzled by the term "misanthropic" applied to our city's layout. It's not readily amenable to non-vehicular transportation, but for much of the year I can't imagine wanting to be outside walking places. The climate, if anything, is misanthropic. Not a year goes by when I don't spend an afternoon in pensive fascination at the fact that people lived and worked here for well-nigh 80 years before air conditioning became widespread.
And "capitalist geography" is nothing if not a slam against sprawl. The huge mass that is metropolitan Phoenix offends the sensibilities of San Franciscans, New Yorkers, and Bostoners but sprawl is, to me, the most appropriate way a city can grow. Think about it: sprawl is an indication of organic growth, of a spreading out that all civilizations, peoples, and animals follow. No one dictated that Phoenix grow in the manner it did; the decentralization is proof positive of that. I like that idea as it flies in the face of the centralized planning that so many older cities went through.
Sprawl is also perhaps the most human-friendly pattern of growth because it allows for a constant pushing of housing along the periphery. Frontier housing is invariably inexpensive, so it affords people real opportunities to own their own homes as it gradually (sometimes violently) pushes out the edges. Contrast that with cities that are growth-restricted due to all manner of obstacles, natural and man-made. They are among the most expensive cities to live in and force denizens into apartments. And apartments equal density, a density which has both positive and negative aspects to it. Myself, I prefer low density and I'm pretty sure many people do as well since Phoenix is one of the fastest-growing cities in the nation.
[UPDATED (2/27/2012): Changed the URL of the first link, which had succumbed to linkrot.]