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Preserving history in downtown Phoenix

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Downtown Phoenix's Civic Space Park (Photo: Tony Arranaga)

[Source: Tony Arranaga, Light Rail Blogger] — Downtown Phoenix reminds me of a puzzle.  Over the last several weeks, and in various parts of the city, I’ve noticed a new piece being added to the bigger picture of a vibrant urban core.  I told you about the Phoenix Public Market opening soon, and earlier tonight there was a dedication of the A.E. England Building at the Civic Space Park.  Si Robins gave us a preview of the festivities in the Downtown Phoenix Journal.  The building has an interesting past as Seth Anderson, an Arizona native, points out in his blog:

The building was built in 1926 in the Spanish Renaissance Revival style and was used as a Hudson and Essex auto dealership.  The large windows displayed the cars and it became Phoenix’s first “auto row.”  In the 1930s the building was sold to the Electrical Equipment Company.  They sold radios, batteries, and refrigerators up until the 1950s.  It changed hands numerous times and fell into disrepair and abuse until 2005 when it was purchased by the City of Phoenix to be integrated into the new Civic Space Park.

Tonight was the first chance the public had to see the inside of the England building – which has Central Station as its neighbor on the south and ASU’s Cronkite building to the east.  I pass the old brick landmark during my carfree travels on the lightrail, but this is the first time I’ve seen the inside.

The city of Phoenix did a great job restoring the building and making it functional for public use.  A window encased mezzanine wraps around a huge conference hall at the center of the building.  Outside the building there’s the Civic Space Park stage and grass area and of course the public art display “Her Secret is Patience.”  Did I mention the England has a basement which contains the second location for local coffee house Fair Trade Cafe?  I unlocked my bike to go home and noticed all the people enjoying the weather at the park.  Phoenix has a centerpiece and I love it!  [Note: Read more of Tony’s light rail blog entries here.]

5 downtown Phoenix projects win Valley Forward awards (6 if you count light rail)

Civic Space Park, "Her Secret is Patience," and adjoining Taylor Place and light rail win awards

[Source: Shaun McKinnon, Arizona Republic] — The Valley’s light-rail system received the top prize Saturday night in Valley Forward’s Environmental Excellence Awards, a program that honors contributions to livability and sustainability.  The rail system, which opened less than a year ago, was recognized for connecting Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe with a transportation network that contest judges noted had already exceeded expectations.  “While light rail won’t solve the Valley’s transportation challenges, it offers a flexible and cost-effective alternative to the automobile and was designed to be integrated with all modes of transport,” said Diane Brossart, president of Valley Forward, a community group that works on livability and sustainability issues.

The group presents its awards in more than a dozen categories each year to cities, community groups and private businesses. From among the category winners, the judges choose one to receive the President’s Award, the contest’s best-in-show recognition.

Metro Light Rail won a first place in the Livable Communities, Multimodal Transportation and Connectivity category.  The awards are named “Crescordia,” a Greek term that means “to grow in harmony.”  More than 150 entries were submitted for the awards. The rest of the winners:

Downtown Phoenix

  • Civic Space Park, a 2.8-acre public space near Central Avenue and Fillmore Street in Phoenix, was honored for its mix of gathering spaces and storefronts, built with efficient use of materials.
  • Her Secret is Patience, the billowing outdoor sculpture suspended above Phoenix’s Civic Space Park, won the top public-art honor. The judges saw “an important statement about fostering sense of place, community and pride.”
  • Hanny’s, a restaurant and lounge in downtown Phoenix, won for its adaptive reuse of a historic building.
  • Habitat, the living wall and garden at the Phoenix Convention Center, was recognized for its design and use of resources to provide a comfortable gathering place.
  • Arizona State University’s Taylor Place, a student housing complex at the school’s downtown Phoenix campus, won for multi-family residential building.

Tempe

  • The headquarters of Sundt, a Tempe-based contractor, was recognized for its green-building achievements, which included energy-saving features and efficient use of materials.
  • The Tempe Transportation Center won two first-place awards, one for industrial and public works buildings and structures, and one for its rooftop landscaping in the site development category.
  • ASU’s campus solarization project was honored for an effort to generate more renewable power on the school’s Tempe campus.
  • Burgis Envirolutions was honored in the environmental-technologies category for its organic-refuse conversion process, which transforms more than a ton of food waste each day into a nutrient-rich effluent.

Other locales

  • Phoenix’s Bag Central Station, a campaign to recycle plastic bags, was honored in the environmental education and communication category.
  • A remodeled Sunnyslope office building was recognized for its side development and landscape at the remodeled 40-year-old building.  Imirzian and Associates architects and Ten Eyck Landscape Architects were named in the award.
  • ASU’s Polytechnic Campus was honored for transforming a site on the former Williams Air Force Base into what the judges described as a walkable, shady campus.
  • The Gateway to the McDowell Sonoran Preserve in Scottsdale was recognized for the work done to re-vegetate the site, the use of rainwater harvesting for water and solar energy to provide its power needs.

For a complete list of categories with merit award winners, click here.

Fair Trade Cafe opens at downtown Phoenix Civic Space Park

A.E. England Building, site of new Fair Trade Cafe (Photo source: Jane's Walk Phoenix)

[Source: City of Phoenix] — The historic A.E. England Building in downtown Phoenix’s Civic Space Park is celebrating the grand opening of its anchor tenant, Fair Trade Café.  Civic Space Park, nestled into 2.77 acres at 424 N. Central Ave., offers residents, workers, ASU students, and downtown visitors a park with unique urban design, sustainable construction, adaptive reuse, and operational features, and a landmark public sculpture by artist Janet Echelman.

Fair Trade Café is located on the ground floor of the historic A.E. England building, named after the 1926 business formerly housed there. Fair Trade will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.  In addition to its storefront retail and food options, the building has space available for meetings, presentations, small banquets, art events, and classes.  For more information about the park and space availability, click here.

The gravity of downtown Phoenix

[Forwarded by Dan Semenchuk at Creative Connect] — Gravity was shot in HD with a Canon 5D MKII in and around downtown Phoenix, using available light and features the memorable spaces that dot the Phoenician landscape, including the months’ old light rail system, Civic Space Park, Phoenix Art Museum, and Clarendon Hotel.  The project is the second collaboration for the band and photographer after shooting their album cover.  For this project, the lyrics and visuals work in chorus, using the metaphor of gravity to illustrate the isolation, anonymity and stresses of modern city living.

Fair Trade Cafe opens up second downtown Phoenix spot, Aug. 21

[Source: Downtown Phoenix Journal] — On Friday, August 21, Fair Trade Café will open its second location in downtown Phoenix, and the video above gives you a sneak peak on last minute construction work.  Their grand opening coincides with the public open house of the restored 1926 A.E. England Motor Car Company building at the Downtown Phoenix Civic Space Park.  All are welcome to attend the festivities, hosted by the City of Phoenix Historic Preservation Office, from 6 to 9 p.m.  Highlights include live music, building tours, vintage cars, and (of course) coffee and other menu items.

The building’s restoration and overall park development were funded, in part, by the 2006 City of Phoenix Bond Program, overwhelmingly approved by Phoenix voters.

Historic downtown Phoenix post office to house classes and retail space

U.S. Post Office, downtown Phoenix (Photo source: Arizona State University)

[Source: Ray Stern, Phoenix New Times] — The 1930s-era post office on Central Avenue and Van Buren Street is preparing to undergo at least $2 million in renovation by its owner, Arizona State University, in collaboration with the city of Phoenix.  As New Times writer Robrt L. Pela explained a few months ago, the stylish building was purchased a few years back by ASU as part of its downtown campus development.  Although the post office will still operate out of the facility, plans call for adding retail, classroom, and activity space.  From an article from ASU’s Devil’s Apprentice:

“The current plan for the post office is to open up the first floor to the Civic Space and create a variety of spaces that could be used by both the public and the university,” [said Anne Gazzaniga of the Office of the University Planner].

ASU is currently working on a budget for the remodeling of the post office; working with $2 million for the first phase of remodeling.  Currently, the first phase is the only part of the plan in negotiations, other phases will be discussed later in the future.”

Hmm — this sounds much different than the type of changes planned when Pela spoke to the United States Post Office back in January:

After the university moved in, the only change made was the shifting of local carrier service from downtown to a nearby branch at 14th Street and Buckeye.  And the only future modifications ASU has planned are designed to benefit postal customers, not to alter or deface the interior of this historic structure.

“The window section will probably get new counters,” [USPS spokeswoman Donna] Spini mused, “and we’ve asked for a handicap stall for visitors who are doing business from a wheelchair.”

ASU has also approved every restoration effort the postal service has requested, even agreeing not to pull out my fave vintage glass-front postal boxes, despite ASU’s fears that the little windows promote identity theft.

“It seems like the stars are all coming together on this project,” Spini says.  “ASU is backing us on our plan to keep the post office here in all its original beauty. Sometimes, you can have your cake and eat it, too.”

It sounds like this cake will be slathered with too much frosting.  [Note: To read the full article and online comments, click here.]

Talton offers alternative view on downtown Phoenix Civic Space

[Source: John Talton, Rogue Columnist] — Former Arizona Republic columnist Jon Talton still thinks and writes about his old hometown, Phoenix.  Upon returning to his current home from a recent visit and book signing tour in Arizona, Jon wrote the following blog post about the new downtown Phoenix Civic Space (in contrast to this other local blogger’s view):

“…Which brings me to the Floating Diaphragm.  That’s what local wags have dubbed the “public art” project that is the signature of the new park on Central Avenue downtown between ASU and the Y.  At night, it’s stunning.  A floating purple dream.  But, as with the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse, this is something designed by someone with no knowledge of local conditions.  After the first big monsoon, look for the diaphragm in your neighborhood — Gilbert would be appropriate, with its sex phobia and sex scandals. 

The park — we’ll see.  Phoenix is not good at civic spaces.  It’s unclear if it will have enough shade and grass to be inviting year-round.  And nobody can stop the creeping gravelization of the once-oasis central city.  City Hall sets a terrible example.  The old Willo House has been spiffed up as Hob Nobs.  But it’s surrounded by gravel and a couple of fake palm trees — who wouldn’t want to be around that 140-dgree heat surface on a summer day? And there are more of them — the natives and long-timers agree the falls and springs have shrunk to a week or two, and winter is getting shorter (and it lacks the frosts that once kept the mosquito population in check).  The central city needs lots of shade trees and grass, to offset the heat island effect.  It is a much better water investment than new golf courses or more sprawl.  Nobody’s listening.  Almost: The Park Central Starbucks has made its outdoor space even more lush, shady, and comfy. 

Back to the diaphragm.  It’s definitely better than the “public art” you whiz by at Sky Harbor because it focuses a civic space, the kind of walkable, gathering places great cities have and Phoenix mostly lacks.  Some art at the light-rail stations is quite well done.  But, there’s a deadening sameness.  My friend, the Famous Architect, likes to rib me, “Not everything old is good.”  True enough. But not everything new is good, either.  I’d love to see some classical statues and artwork downtown to, say, commemorate the heroic pioneer farmers, the heroic, displaced indigenous peoples, the heroic Mexican-Americans, the heroic African-Americans from this once very Southern town and the heroic Chinese-Americans.  Just two or three would offer some contrast and variety, and, I suspect, unsophisticated oaf that I am, elevate and inspire more souls who communed with them.  It would also give the lie, in visual form, to the newcomer lie that “there’s no history here.” 

Another wish I won’t get.  [Note: To read the full blog posting, click here.]

Viewpoint: Dark Knight, bright day for downtown Phoenix

dark-knight-poster[Source: Life in Downtown Phoenix blog] — On a perfect April night last week, you could see things all starting to come together for downtown Phoenix.   On the surface, it was merely a couple hundred people taking in a free movie in a park.  But when put in perspective, the screening of The Dark Knight put on by ASU students for a class project was a huge moment that illustrated how far downtown Phoenix has come.

The movie screen was in the center of a juxtaposition of downtown Phoenix’s old and new.  The screen sat in front of the newly-restored 1926 A.E. England Building, flanked on its left by the “Her Secret is Patience” sculpture (also referred to by many more colloquially as the “Jellyfish”) and on the right by the very bright lights of the new Central Park East high rise.  Moviegoers were pleasantly distracted by the light rail trains that both in front and behind them as well as the news zipper scrolling along on the ASU journalism building.  And of course, beneath the movie patrons was the brand-new Downtown Phoenix Civic Space, a 2.77-acre gem of a park that just opened.

An even more positive sign was the crowd that came to watch the movie.  Not only did the turnout exceed expectations (with minimal publicity, organizers expected 60-75 attendees and then at least 250 showed up), but it was a crazy blend of people: old and young, all races, ASU students, high-rise condo dwellers, and homeless people. And as far as I could tell, everyone enjoyed themselves.

I’ve been critical of ASU in the past.  Its administrators descended on downtown and acted like they owned the place — let’s not forget they wanted to tear down the A.E. England Building they’re now patting themselves on the back for saving — and at first its students publicly bashed their new environment instead of trying to go out and change it for the better.  However, on this night ASU’s students had a very positive effect on downtown with their ingenious, well-run program to activate the new park.  This event showed the promise the university’s presence can have for downtown.

wallejpgAs the event ended, people were overheard saying what a great event it was, how they couldn’t believe it took place downtown, and how they’d be back (WALL-E will run this Saturday at 7:30 p.m.). Hopefully this is the start of a new tradition that can take its place alongside First Fridays and Suns games as a constant in downtown life.  But even if it doesn’t, it was enough to illustrate to everyone there that there is at last a burgeoning urban center in the giant megalopolis.

Apparently, while no one was looking, downtown Phoenix came to life.

Viewpoint: Downtown park’s details, sculpture a nod to Phoenix’s future

[Source: Arizona Republic] — A gigantic swirl of metal mesh floats in the sky, rising nearly 100 feet into the air. Designed by artist Janet Echelman, the sculpture has the evocative name, “Her Secret is Patience.”

The sight is all the more amazing because it almost never happened.

In the midst of questions about construction schedules, doubts about materials and controversy over the design, Phoenix City Council members resisted efforts to take the sculpture off their agenda.   They had the foresight to say yes.

Now, we can see just how right they were.

Yes.  This is just what Phoenix needs: a distinctive feature that helps create a real sense of place.

At night, the lighting creates a surreal funnel of color.

What you might overlook are all the other creative features in the park, from paving to solar panels.  In the long run, they can be as significant as the sculpture in shaping the identity of the city — and the region.

The walkways include pervious concrete and pavers, which will let our precious rainfall seep through to the ground.

While it’s not obvious yet, the trees and plants are designed to shade more than 70 percent of the park’s surface area once they reach maturity.   Phoenix has long needed more attention to ways of dealing with a dual challenge: the natural heat of the desert and the unnatural buildup of heat from urbanization.

City trees face special stresses here.   Those in the park are planted with a special soil to let roots grow and a grating system to let in air and water.

The park, which goes by the temporary name of Downtown Civic Space, is also a step forward in boosting Phoenix’s use of solar power.   The shade structures have solar panels that will generate enough power to offset the energy use at the park.

In such a relatively new city, a nod to history is critical, too.   The historic A.E. England building has been preserved and is under renovation as a space for community functions, classrooms, retail, and dining.

And here’s a shocker — there are no parking spaces.  Light rail and bus stops are nearby. Residents, students, workers and visitors can walk.   It’s a nudge toward a less car-dependent future.

The park just has one lingering question: a name.  The current drab moniker is a placeholder.  The city is hoping a benefactor will step forward to support the new park, just as the Steele Foundation helped pay for building Steele Indian School Park.

Some individual or organization should be eager to grab this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.   On the other hand, the economy is still weak.  In this case, maybe the secret is patience.   [Note: To read the full article, click here.]