Blog Archives

Riding the Phoenix rocket

Lloyd Alter writes for TreeHugger, is an Associate Professor at Ryerson University teaching sustainable design, and has written for Azure and Ontario Nature magazines.  He traveled to Phoenix from Toronto to attend Greenbuild 2009.  Click here for his (favorable) observations about Phoenix’s light rail system.  In the video above, Lloyd also interviews two light rail customers who also ride bicycles in the Valley.

Viewpoint: A Desert Shade of Green?

[Source: Alec Appelbaum, The Faster Times blog] — The stubborn fact of urban investment in this century involves density.  We can forget about economic growth outstripping environmental cost if we don’t invest in ways to reward people for living, working and playing close together.  That can mean big opportunities for suburban office parks, rural town centers and old-style cities, but it also means some awkward transitions for cities whose layout relies on excessive driving.  Consider downtown Phoenix.

I just went there for the annual expo of the US Green Building Council, which I suspect chose the locale as a Lenin-shipyard proclamation of their message’s reach.  And downtown Phoenix is a warren of womblike hotels and a massive conference center, with artificial efforts at urbane charm.  This includes a greeter simpering scoldingly at me when I run across the street, homeless men on aluminum benches, and a prerecorded voice telling me to “enjoy the greening of downtown Phoenix.”  The simperer reveals how underpopulated downtown remains, and the homeless hint at how underfunded the social network remains.  But the salient thing is that powerful somebodies want downtown Phoenix to not be horrible.

Yes, there are posted instructions on how to cross a street and security guards at the convention hall say I won’t find a bathing suit at the downtown mall.  But I do find one, and there are sidewalks, and the womblike hotels have balconies overlooking actual blocks and streets.  On day two of my visit, I started to get the trendline.  I saw the new light rail glide past the four old buildings, the “clean cab” company rolls around.  But standing on the Sheraton balcony, I saw again that there’s no waterline or mountains to define the horizon.  Without barriers to physical growth on all sides, it will take natural disaster or political will to make places like Phoenix develop strong centers.  Nature will provide the disasters.  Then what?

We’ll have to see whether trends in urbanizing lead to scalable industries.  It dawned on me late on my 24-hr sojourn that the Compass restaurant on 21 (”turning the direction of SW cuisine,” say elevator ads) is a rotating rooftop.  Forty years ago, these were as thorough an urban inevitable as a downtown ballpark is now.  And as I passed Phoenix’s massive and retroish Chase Field, I wondered naifishly: when people need affordable housing and good jobs, why is there enough room downtown for a fat square brick ballpark?  The riddle’s solution involves homes, business incentives for clean manufacturing, and policies that monetize the pleasures of close proximity.  Each city in America will need to work up its own formula.  As I flew home to New York in a November hurricane, I couldn’t quite rouse that old Northeastern smugness.  And that’s a hopeful sign.

LEEDing the way in downtown Phoenix

[Source: Yuri Artibise, Downtown Phoenix Journal] — Last week’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo wasn’t all about trade show booths and discussions.  On Friday afternoon, conference attendees got out and explored some of the Valley’s green buildings and innovative sites.  Of particular interest to DPJ readers was a tour of five urban infill sites in Downtown Phoenix.  [Note: Read the full blog entry at LEEDing the way in downtown Phoenix.]

Connecting a City -or- The Grand Canals of Phoenix

[Source: William Hanley, Green Source blog] — Having only visited Phoenix a couple of times, my understanding of the city has largely been framed by its location, among burnt-umber mountains in verdant Sonoran Desert, and it’s national headline-making problems: it was quickly filling up its valley with highway-driven, low-density sprawl and isolated pockets of residential, commercial, and recreational activity connected only by car.  But this morning, I attended a Greenbuild education session that featured two plans to remedy that disconnect between urban functions.  One is well underway, and the other is gaining traction in the community, the government, and the private sector.

The first actually provided the venue for the session.  It was held inside the former A.E. England Motor Company building, which has been renovated into an event space, gallery, and café.  The space sits inside the centerpiece of recent downtown development, Civic Space Park.  The public space opened in April, and it is literally at the center of the city, along Central Avenue—which splits the street grid into east and west sides—and bounded on both sides by tracks for the city’s new light rail system….

The core presentation this morning focused on a scheme that would create several such hubs throughout the city.  Canalscape is a project by the Planning Program at ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning that envisions the development of mixed-use structures along Phoenix’s 181 miles of canals…  [Note: Read the full blog entry at Connecting a City -or- The Grand Canals of Phoenix.]

Green-building advocates coming to Phoenix

greenbuild_logo[Source: J. Craig Anderson, Arizona Republic] — Thousands of green-building advocates will travel to Phoenix this month for the industry’s largest annual conference, featuring seminars, networking events and a consumer expo focused on energy efficiency and conservation.

Many of the estimated 25,000 attendees and 1,000 exhibitors at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, from Nov. 11 to 13 at the Phoenix Convention Center, also will get their first glimpse of sustainability efforts in the desert.  The Greenbuild conference will acquaint visitors from around the world with dozens of green-building projects and initiatives in the Valley and across the state.

Through a series of tours featuring more than 70 environmentally friendly Arizona projects, officials said they hope to attract new businesses operating in the burgeoning fields of sustainable development and conservation-oriented products and services.  “I think it’s a great opportunity to showcase some of the things we’re doing out here in the West,” said Ian McDowell, a green-building expert with Tempe-based Sundt Construction.  “This is the first time Greenbuild has traveled west of the Mississippi.” [Note: Read the full article at Green-building advocates coming to Phoenix.]