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Phoenix: A city in need of retrofit

Leila Navidi, Las Vegas Sun[Editor’s Note: The Las Vegas Sun has gone on the road to listen to voters and talk to political leaders around the West.  Reporters are examining the economic, cultural, and demographic forces re-shaping the region as they drive to Denver for the first of the two major party conventions the newspaper will cover.  In this segment, reporter J. Patrick Coolican writes about Phoenix development.  To view the full series, including segments about Arizona’s growing Hispanic population, ASU President Michael Crow’s influence, and prognostications by local attorney Grady Gammage Jr. and former Congressman Jim Kolbe, click here.]

PHOENIX — Fans of urban planning, let me warn you: Phoenix is not for you.  Developers hold great sway.   That, combined with a strong property rights ethos, have created a city that is hard to get around, lacking in walkable amenities, and as Sun photographer Leila Navidi nicely put it, “visually incoherant.”

High-rises exist next to brownstones next to a strip mall.  We stayed downtown Tuesday night, and it was like a ghost town.  Nothing happening.  This certainly is not the only city with this problem.  And clearly the community is trying to get people to go downtown, with light rail about to come online and construction of some higher density projects.  But all-in-all, there’s just no arguing with the fact that the organizing principle of this city, for decades, was the automobile.