DVC: A realistic downtown assessment

[Source: Susan Copeland, Special for the Arizona Republic, January 29, 2011]

Late last year, Don Brandt and David Roderique of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership wrote a My Turn column that seemed overly and predictably self-flattering (“It’s important to keep vibrant downtown Phoenix vision alive,” Viewpoints, Nov. 28).

How otherwise would anyone count Arizona Center and Collier Center’s retail component as design successes or point to the foreclosed Summit at Copper Square or practically empty 44 Monroe née condominium projects now apartments as recent development highlights?

It pays to remind the movers and shakers that those who forget their history, or worse, glamorize it, are doomed to repeat it.

Here’s a more realistic assessment.

Sports fans are a fickle beast.  No great world city would count on any team to financially carry it.  Though Chase Field and US Airways Center bring people downtown, they depend on the abilities of athletes to act herculean.  Only Hercules can always have a winning season, and even the Suns’ Steve Nash is mortal.

The result is a cyclical accounting, reaping the few profitable months and anticipating the yawing chasm when the teams lose or finish their seasons.  Even when the games are popular, fans are pushed to get back in their cars and follow the event-oriented traffic design straight out of the center city back to their suburban homes.

Yes, we have a true world-class, award-winning signature sculpture, “Her Secret Is Patience,” in the Downtown Civic Space, but it goes dark every night at 11 p.m.

Yes, we have a beautiful Metro light rail, but it took a groundswell of small-business support for extending later hours just on Saturday and Sunday mornings.

Yes, we have a downtown Arizona State University, but the promise of a campus integrated into the downtown has reaped clustered buildings and asphalt lots insular of community engagement.  There is little gain of nighttime street activity by ASU’s presence.

Meanwhile, our loss of a central city park — Patriots Square Park — is replaced by a suburban mall stylistically dating to the 20th century, and we just lost the best potential for a real vintage boutique hotel, the midcentury Sahara/Ramada, to give the city-owned Sheraton another parking facility.

With all the damage done, there are still hopeful signs, if only our city officials and civic leaders follow their own community vetted and charetted ideals.

The Urban Form Project; Arts, Culture, and Small Business District Overlay; and Adaptive Reuse Program are smarter moves for aspiring urban infill than another stab at a faux urban Entertainment District.

When the city actually listens to its citizens rather than check-marking the input box, great things happen, like the improved ASU Nursing School exterior or the forthcoming Washington Street Centennial Project.

The expensive real-estate development fallout from the Great Recession should help to reset speculation and create truly affordable rentals and live/work housing.

It remains to be seen if our civic leaders will finally get it, and not just acknowledge the contributions of arts, culture, and true street-level local business, but champion it to the level even with what was big, but teetered or failed.

Susan Copeland is the chair of the Downtown Voices Coalition. For more information, go online to http://www.downtownvoices.org

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Posted on January 31, 2011, in Downtown Vitality, Downtown Voices Coalition and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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