Blog Archives

Film screening to explore history, benefits of park development

A documentary on the urban park development movement titled “Olmsted and America’s Urban Parks” will be the subject of a free, public screening at Civic Space Park’s A.E. England Building, 424 N. Central Ave., on January 12, 2012 at 6:30 p.m. Doors open at 5:30. The documentary explores the park architecture of Frederick Law Olmsted and the evolution and history of urban park development in the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries. The event will also feature the TED talk short video by artist Janet Echelman about her work, including Civic Space Park’s signature art piece, “Her Secret Is Patience.”

Viewers also will be able to meet one of the filmmakers of the Olmsted documentary, Rebecca Messner, and participate in a short presentation and discussion on local and national Red Field to Green Fields initiative to convert economically depressed “red” private property (residential, commercial and industrial) into public park property “green.”

The screening is a presentation of No Festival Required’s Building Community Cinema series with the support of the Speedwell Foundation, the City Parks Alliance, Arizona State University, Butler Housing Company, Phoenix Community Alliance, Phoenix Parks Foundation and the City of Phoenix.

Viewpoint: Phoenix budget woes, big art, light rail made ’09 quite a year

[Source: Arizona Republic; section headers organized by yours truly] — With this being Christmas week, we figured you wouldn’t want to read a traditional editorial any more than we wanted to write one.  So today, we lighten things up a bit with awards for notable achievements in 2009.

Phoenix Overall

  • Story of the year: Phoenix did the virtually impossible this year — it cut $270 million from the general fund to balance the budget due to low sales-tax revenue.  Residents are feeling the effects with reduced hours or closures of swimming pools, libraries, and senior centers.  They also see more graffiti and potholes because staff is stretched so thin.  Now the city is talking about cutting an additional $100 million or so.  This story is getting old.
  • Best cheerleader: Mayor Phil Gordon earns this award again.  With frequent trips to Washington, D.C., to lobby for stimulus funds, and Janet Napolitano resigning as governor to lead Homeland Security, Gordon is the face of Arizona.
  • Embarrassment: Rep. Ray Barnes’ rambling reasons for voting to cut $144 million from public education.  Grab some eggnog and watch this Phoenix Republican go off.
  • Hot potato: The idea to raise the sales tax temporarily to generate revenue quickly.  Mayor Gordon suggested a community member take on his idea.  But no one wants to touch it.
  • Landmark: The city became the second in the state to offer a domestic-partner registry to gay or straight couples who share a Phoenix residence.  Among other privileges, the registry grants partners visitation rights in hospitals.
  • Pillar: City Manager Frank Fairbanks earns this award again.  He retired this year, but not before balancing the nastiest budget deficit in city history.  Thanks, Frank.

Downtown Focused/Strong Influence

  • Pushin’ on: Light rail has its fans and its foes.  But ridership is up and businesses have sprouted along the line.  The system is approaching it first anniversary.  We say light rail is on track.
  • Newcomer: Janet Echelman’s “Her Secret Is Patience” at the new Civic Space Park downtown opened to much criticism.  Meant to resemble a cactus bloom, the floating sculpture was called everything from a basketball hoop to a male contraceptive.  Not that we mind.  Some of the best artwork in the world drew heavy criticism.  We’re just glad people are noticing what downtown Phoenix has to offer.
  • Comeback: Phoenix Urban Market Grocery and Wine Bar at Central Avenue and Pierce Street is the first grocer to serve the area in 30 years.  It only carries the basics.  But milk, vegetables, bread, pasta and other staples are welcome.
  • Bragging rights: President Barack Obama made three visits to the Valley this year.  One of those was to the new Phoenix Convention Center, where Obama addressed the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention.
  • Feather in the cap: A budding knowledge-based economy, parks and preservation efforts, and teen spaces at public libraries make Phoenix an All-America City.  Now it has the civic award to prove it.  This was Phoenix’s fifth win.  It would be a shame to lose these gains to budget cuts in the down economy.

Other Parts of Phoenix

  • Senseless act: A photo-enforcement-van driver was shot to death while deployed near Loop 101 in north Phoenix.  Thomas DeStories was indicted in connection with the shooting death of Douglas Georgianni.
  • Tallest story: Despite opposition from neighbors, the City Council approved a Mormon temple whose steeple and spire will rise 86 feet above the Deer Valley area.
  • Unsung hero: The Macehualli Day Labor Center in northeastern Phoenix provides a central location for day laborers and potential employers to negotiate business.  The center is for sale.

Despite economy, metro Phoenix public art well-funded

Civic Space Park, downtown Phoenix

[Source: Weldon B. Johnson, Arizona Republic] — Despite the economic slump, Valley communities are maintaining a commitment to public art thanks in large part to the way those programs receive money.  As a result, local art commissions are able to bring new artworks to the public’s attention, such as the huge floating sculpture, “Her Secret Is Patience,” by Janet Echelman in downtown Phoenix or “The Doors,” by Donald Lipski in Scottsdale.

Most community public-art programs are funded through ordinances that take a small percentage (usually 1 percent or less) of the funds for capital projects such as buildings, streets or parks and set it aside for a public-art component.  If those projects go forward, the art components often continue.  Because many such projects are funded through bond issues and other sources, they haven’t been hurt as much by the recession as items that are paid for through a city’s general fund.

Phoenix’s public-art program is considered one of the most progressive in the country.  Since it was created in 1986, it has installed more than 150 projects throughout the city.  Phil Jones, [just retired] executive director of the Phoenix Office of Arts and Culture, expects that to continue.  “We’ve had a couple of major bond elections in the past 10 years that have helped feed the program somewhat,” Jones said.  “As time progresses, the resources may not be as plentiful, but right now we have sufficient funding for about 80 projects.  That will keep us busy for a while.”  [Note: Read the full article at Despite economy, metro Phoenix public art well-funded.]

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.

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.]

A couple night shots of downtown Phoenix Civic Space artwork

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A friend at Phoenix City Hall sent these over.