Daily Archives: January 13, 2009

Hope for a desert delinquent (What Phoenix, the poster child for environmental ills, is doing right)

[Source, Lisa Selin Davis, Grist Magazine, May 13, 2008] — In order for Phoenix to truly be a green city, it would have to be brown.  Or not brown, exactly, but the sandy shade of the mountains that surround it: the jagged peaks and parched hills that enclose the Valley of the Sun.  These days, though, Phoenix is a less-natural shade of brown; a ring of smoggy pollution known locally as the Brown Cloud shadows the city.  And that’s not the only affront to the environs here.  Anyone flying in can see the patches of fierce green lawns that paint the landscape, along with the swimming pools; the manmade lake in the suburb of Tempe, evaporating 452 million gallons of water each year; the sea of single family homes spilling across the desert; the traffic clogging the ribbons of highways; and the heat snakes squiggling from all that boiling bitumen.  The 517-square-mile city — the fifth-largest and fourth-fastest-growing in America — just survived its second-driest winter on record and is deep in drought.

So how is it that this poster child for sprawl and environmental ills is being hailed — albeit by its own government — as an exemplar of sustainability?  City leaders are quick to tell anyone willing to listen that not only are they finally getting hip to environmental matters, they’ve been attending to some of them for upwards of thirty years.  From using cleaner fuels in their fleet of trucks and buses to implementing an environmental purchasing program, from building a new 20-mile light-rail line to signing the U.S. Conference of Mayors’ Climate Protection Agreement, officials have taken concrete steps to right past wrongs.

Perhaps more important than these piecemeal sustainability steps is the city’s partnership with the local university.  What’s wrong with the city — the temperature’s rising, for one thing, and development is still skidding out of control — is what makes it such an attractive candidate for a living laboratory.  The city’s environmental deficits are educational opportunities for the students and teachers of Arizona State University’s four-year-old Global Institute of Sustainability.  “When Phoenix is done growing, it will be bigger than Chicago,” says Dr. Michael Crow, president of ASU.  “The next massive city of the United States isn’t done yet.”  GIOS, then, has a chance to affect these latter stages of growth.  And what GIOS gleans from Phoenix just might change the way other desert cities behave — that is, if it’s not too little, too late.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Hundreds pack meetings to protest proposed cuts in Phoenix

[Source: Scott Wong and Sadie Jo Smokey, Arizona Republic] — Some offered ways Phoenix could save money. Others said they were willing to pay more taxes and fees to preserve critical services.  Troubled by the city’s proposed budget cuts, nearly 700 residents packed the Devonshire Senior Center on Tuesday to urge city leaders to spare arts and after-school programs, libraries, senior centers, parks and public transit.  Hundreds more voiced concerns at public meetings at the Maryvale and South Mountain community centers during a day that marked the first chance for residents to weigh in on the widespread cuts.  The huge crowds illustrated the anxiety residents are feeling as the city prepares to slash $270 million because of the national recession and dwindling tax collections.

More than 400 people, many leaning on walkers and canes, spilled into the Devonshire auditorium in Phoenix.  When it was full, officials directed the overflow crowd to the dining room, where a second, impromptu meeting was held.  “Phoenix should not be allowed to deteriorate the way it did in the 1960s and 1970s,” resident Hal Stahl said. [Note: To read the full story, click here.]

RadiatePHX asks what will the headlines be for Phoenix in 2009?

radiatephx[Source: RadiatePHX] — Now that the dust has settled from the holidays and light rail has opened, it is time to get our rhythm back.  This month we gather at SideBar — the hip new bar in the F.Q. Story Historic District to hear special guest Nan Ellin discuss ideas from her book, Integral Urbanism.  Nan is Director of Urban & Metropolitan Studies Program for the ASU School of Public Affairs, College of Public Programs.  She’ll share some concepts and get attendees involved in a discussion on the headlines for Phoenix in this new year.  Questions and ideas welcome.

  • Date: Tuesday, January 27
  • Time: 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. (Nan’s portion to begin around 6 p.m.)
  • Place: SideBar, 1514 N. 7th Ave., 2nd Floor, Phoenix, AZ (SW corner of 7th Ave. & McDowell)
  • Happy hour specials on food and beverages will be available for RadiatePHX participants

Phoenix budget hit harder than other big cities’

[Source: Scott Wong, Arizona Republic] — Phoenix’s $270 million in proposed budget cuts are the largest in city history.  And although the national recession has forced almost all local and state governments to pare back spending, Phoenix’s reductions are among the most severe of any major U.S. city when comparing total budgets.  Plagued by the dismal economy and plunging sales-tax revenue, Phoenix is being forced to carve more than 20% out of its $1.2 billion general fund to bridge deficits in the current and next fiscal year.  Services Phoenix residents use on a frequent if not daily basis — libraries and parks, senior centers, and swimming pools — are bearing the brunt of the cuts.

Other large cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Philadelphia are bleeding red ink, too, and are expected to slash many more dollars than Phoenix in the coming year.  But an analysis of the nation’s 10 largest cities shows that no spending decrease rivals the 22.5% in cuts now being weighed by Phoenix.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Crowded streets beget innovation (take note Phoenix)

[Source: CEOs For Cities] — Why do cities continue to grow?  And why, even in the electronic age, do they endure as wellsprings of intellectual life?  The Boston Globe believes it has found the answer.

“Recent research by scientists at the Santa Fe Institute used a set of complex mathematical algorithms to demonstrate that the very same urban features that trigger lapses in attention and memory — the crowded streets, the crushing density of people — also correlate with measures of innovation, as strangers interact with one another in unpredictable ways.  It is the ‘concentration of social interactions’ that is largely responsible for urban creativity, according to the scientists.  The density of 18th-century London may have triggered outbreaks of disease, but it also led to intellectual breakthroughs, just as the density of Cambridge — one of the densest cities in America — contributes to its success as a creative center.  One corollary of this research is that less dense urban areas, like Phoenix, may, over time, generate less innovation.”

Would-be innovators, take note.