Blog Archives

Viewpoint: Opportunity for Downtown Phoenix?

[Source: Adam Klawonn, Phoenix Magazine, June 30, 2009] — Last week, Phoenix City manager Frank Fairbanks announced he was retiring in November after nearly 20 years in the driver’s seat at City Hall.  Today, Phoenix has grown to become the fifth largest city in the country with more than 1.5 million people.  Obviously, Fairbanks was successful.  But even as thankful as some folks are for his work, there are others who are just as thankful that he hung up his shingle.  This is not in a negative way, mind you, but in a way that looks forward to hiring a fresh set of eyes — one that focuses more closely on Downtown development.

Despite his good work, Fairbanks was often viewed as a hurdle by hardcore fans of the Downtown lifestyle.  Even as they pleaded with City Hall to focus more on the area, Fairbanks was loathe to invest more public money there for development and infrastructure because, thus far, he felt he wasn’t seeing a real return on the city’s investment.  As a result, most of the new policies affecting Downtown came from the community-at-large and the office of Mayor Phil Gordon — and sometimes encountered resistance from Fairbanks.

There’s already talk of where the next city manager should come from. City officials have said they will conduct a national search.  The final approval rests with the City Council.  Some folks would like to see Phoenix court managers from cities with vibrant downtowns and light-rail transit.  This includes places such as Denver, Salt Lake City, and Portland.

This could be a the turning point for Downtown that those Phoenix crowds were looking for, says Dean Brennan, a former Phoenix planning official who is now a principal with the Project for Livable Communities.  “Getting someone with downtown [development] experience in a city where they have a light rail system would be a great combination,” he says.

You haven’t heard the last of this topic.  The conversation will only get louder as November gets closer.  We’ll have a feature that paints the complete picture later this fall.  [Note: For other viewpoints on this topic: “Phoenix will miss Frank Fairbanks,” Arizona Republic editorial; “The model modern city manager,” Jon Talton, Rogue Columnist blog]

Can landscaping make Phoenix “walkable?”

[Source: Richard Nilsen, Arizona Republic] — The skyline may be interesting, but it is not where we live.  “We should not care about the skyline but the streetscape,” says Nancy Levinson, head of the Phoenix Urban Research Lab at Arizona State University.  “The skyline of Manhattan is something you appreciate in New Jersey.  In the thick of Manhattan, you’re excited about the streetscape. The skyline is something you see from a specific angle.  Many great cities don’t have a great skyline.”

And it is that street-level view that is lagging most in Phoenix.  “All good cities share a common quality,” Phoenix architect Eddie Jones says.  “They are walkable.”

Phoenix doesn’t make the grade.  “Downtown Phoenix is not a pleasant environment,” says Dean Brennan, a planner with the Urban Form Project, a city initiative to guide development. “People don’t come to downtown Phoenix to walk around — not like they do in downtown Tempe.  In Phoenix, we talk about shade.  That seems obvious.  But when a building is designed, you’d think shade would be a critical element of that design, but it’s not.  Shade isn’t provided.  Maybe some trees or a canopy, but it’s an afterthought.”

The question is: If the temperature is 105 degrees even in the shade, will landscaping be enough to turn Phoenix into a “walkable” city?  [Note: To read this article and online comments, click here.]

Got creativity? Help “spice up” Downtown Phoenix Plan

Let the creative juices flow... or something like that.

Okay, we all know about plans and what happens to many plans (i.e., they just sit on a shelf collecting dust).  Well, the City of Phoenix Planning Department wants to make sure that doesn’t happen to its Downtown Phoenix Plan, adopted by the Phoenix City Council on July 2.

The Plan is a policy document that will provide direction as the City continues work on the Form-Based Code and begins to prepare the detailed Connected Oasis Plan.  As a continuation of the Urban Form Project, Planning Department staff is conducting a series of public meetings in each of the Downtown Character Areas to prepare a detailed character analysis of each area.  That analysis will be used to prepare specific Form-Based Code development standards for each Character Area.  As the draft detailed analysis Character Area Plans are completed, they will be added to the department’s website.

The Plan format has not been finalized and the format may change.  If you have suggestions for the format design, “user-friendliness,” and method of dissemination — let’s get creative people! — pass your ideas along to Dean Brennan, Principal Planner, Phoenix Planning Department, by e-mail or phone at 602-262-4499.

Downtown Phoenix may see more shade, parks

Urban Form Project

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic, July 2, 2008] — Today, Phoenix is expected to take an important step toward bringing more shade, better-looking buildings and pedestrian-friendly spots to downtown. The City Council will likely approve today a key part of that sweeping effort, which is called the Urban Form project. The final part could go before city leaders at the end of the year. Downtown Phoenix relies on tourism and foot traffic, even during the steamy summer months, so the changes are also an economic issue, city leaders have said. “I think it really is a sea change,” said the city’s planner, Dean Brennan.

“What this… whole process has done is focus a lot of attention on downtown and the important role that the downtown plays in helping to create a sustainable community, helping to create a great community and a great city.”

Phoenix previously agreed to pay $855,000 to a team of consultants who worked on the plan with city planners. Downtown Phoenix Partnership, a business group, contributed $45,000.

Council members will vote today on the first part of the project, the Downtown Plan, which is a vision for future parking, growth and neighborhoods. It includes the Connected Oasis, a blueprint for increasing downtown shade, parks and foot traffic. The second part, an overhaul of downtown zoning rules, will go to the council this winter. If approved, it will simplify the city’s complex zoning code and will help city leaders implement the Downtown Plan’s goals, city officials say.

The proposals impact properties that cover 1,500 acres. The area roughly is bound by Seventh Avenue, Buckeye Road, Seventh Street and McDowell Road.

Give your feedback on the City’s Downtown Phoenix Plan

The City of Phoenix Planning Department staff re-write of the Downtown Phoenix Plan is available online.  This document was given to the Planning Commission on May 14 and represents a major re-write of the Public Review draft presented to the Planning Commission in January by the project consultant.  City staff has “tweaked” the text, replaced a number of the images, and continues to add more images and maps.

Your questions, comments, and opinions are welcome!  Give your feedback before June 9, 2008 to Dean Brennan, Principal Planner, Planning Department, City of Phoenix, at 602-262-4499 or e-mail.

Staff continues to work on the Form-Based Code and is now conducting meetings with stakeholders in each of the Character Areas identified in the Plan.  The Code will go to the Planning Commission and City Council this fall.

Garfield concerned about 7th St. & Van Buren project

[Source: Kim Moody, Garfield Organization] – Because the Form Based Code has not yet been formally adopted by the Phoenix City Council, some developers are taking buildings to the sidewalk (literally).  Garfield, like other downtown neighborhoods, is again being hit with another project, this time at the northeast corner of 7th St. and Van Buren.

The developer of the six-story biomedical facility with a six-story parking structure, The Plaza Companies, is asking the City of Phoenix for ZERO set-back and proposes “dumping” their traffic onto Polk and 9th St.  Neighbors are concerned and upset traffic will come and go through residential streets.  Among the other variances requested is minimal landscaping (going against the City’s push for pedestrian-friendly, shade corridors).

A hearing on this matter will take place at 10 a.m., Feb. 5 in Hearing Room “C” at City Hall.  For more information, contact Dana Johnson with the Garfield Organization.  For more information about Form Based Codes, contact Dean Brennan with the City of Phoenix Planning Department