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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.]

Skyline struggles to give Phoenix sense of identity

[Source: Richard Nilsen, Arizona Republic] — A city’s skyline is its ID photo.  Think the Transamerica Pyramid and the Golden Gate Bridge for San Francisco, the George Washington Bridge, and the Empire State Building for Manhattan.  And Dallas, well, Dallas has its freeway flyovers.  But what is Phoenix’s mug shot?  

“The first view of most visitors to Phoenix is the downtown towers silhouetted against Camelback, Mummy, or South mountains as their airplanes bank for a landing,” says Max Underwood, an Arizona State University architecture professor. The mountains are certainly part of it, but what about those buildings?  Do they give Phoenix a sense of self?

Phoenix is now the fifth-largest city in the nation, and it keeps getting bigger.  But smaller cities have a more distinct architectural profile: San Francisco, Portland, Ore., Denver.  “Our high-rises are not interesting enough, varied enough, tall enough or numerous enough to create a skyline worth talking about,” says Grady Gammage Jr., a Valley lawyer and urban-planning critic.

It isn’t just a question of individual buildings of architectural distinction — Phoenix has several of those. It’s about an overall sense of architecture as a source of civic pride and urban identity.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]