Commuter commune


City parks in Phoenix stand empty much of the year, sizzling in the beastly heat that routinely climbs over 100 degrees. Fortunately, the valley's new light-rail system has become a cool and movable feast, reports the Arizona Republic, in a story that was headlined "Singin' on the Train."

The 20 miles of track linking Phoenix with Tempe and Mesa have only been open since December, but already, amateur performers have flocked to the sleek, air-conditioned trains. As Nan Ellin, a planning program director at Arizona State University's school of urban planning, explained, the moving cars are like living rooms that force riders to look at each other.

"All people need a public realm," she says, (and) "part of the need for the public realm is to have a stage where we can be spectators and the reverse, where we can be spectacles." Commuters have been treated to songs from Broadway musicals such as Rent, as well as performances from more than 23 bands. And turning the tables, 100 passengers calling themselves "Improv Everywhere," staged guerrilla theater by riding the train dressed only in their underwear. Other commuters have indulged their whimsy by agreeing to meet on the train dressed as "brides, superheroes and 1980s-era tennis pros ­ mini-shorts, sweat bands and all." Some organizations even treat the trains as conference centers, hosting charity bar crawls and progressive dinners along the line.

As one fan put it, "There's a community that's being built around light rail." Best of all, said 17-year-old Alex Rivera, a wannabe actor, nobody's jaded yet: "In Phoenix, people respond, they clap or they share an opinion
in some way. In New York, they act like they can't see you, like you're not there."

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