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Downtown Phoenix Park is a Finalist for National Award

[Source: Cassie StraussDowntown Devil]

Civic Space Park one of five finalists for national urban excellence award

Cassie Strauss/DD

Civic Space Park in downtown Phoenix is one of five finalists for the Rudy Bruner Award for Urban Excellence, a recognition given every other year for urban spaces that contribute to their community.

A team of three judges visited Phoenix this past week to evaluate the park and its impact on downtown Phoenix. At an interview luncheon Tuesday, members of the community gathered to present their case. Among those speaking were community volunteers, performers who use the park, members of arts groups, a police officer, and some of the men and women who collaborated to create Civic Space.

All attending spoke in favor of the park’s versatile spaces, safety record and, most importantly, tolerance of the area’s inhabitants, who include many homeless and mentally ill. The nearby Westward Ho building is a low-income housing center for the elderly and many residents frequent the park.

ASU’s liaison to the park, Malissa Geer, explained that diversity makes the park what it is.

The rich social fabric is a necessary “learning experience for students to learn that safety does not equal homogeneity,” she said. “To learn that safety is not just ‘these people look like me.’”

As a large presence in the downtown area, the university needs to “break the fear” that pervades the perception of the neighborhoods surrounding the Downtown campus, Geer said. Safety is often not the true issue. The homeless are rarely dangerous, but rather, make other citizens — including many students — simply uncomfortable, she said.

Cmdr. Richard Wilson, the police officer who spoke at the interview, said that many students and parents question the safety of the park, but in reality there is little danger.

“I had one parent say to me, ‘My daughter saw a homeless person. What are you going to do about it?’” he said. “The fact is, this is a benign population. If you ask them why they’re here, they say, ‘Because I feel safe.’”

Geer said it’s important to activate the park — to raise the number of people using the park on a daily basis. The park is one of just a few in Phoenix with a security presence, and not only can the park be a beautiful place to visit, but a necessary encounter with urban living, Geer said.

“We want our students to actually understand diversity,” she said. “How can we displace the homeless and train social workers at the same time?”

The award for urban excellence measures, among other things, the impact on the community. One way that impact is shown is through inclusion of all facets of the population.

Already the park has garnered a $10,000 prize for being a silver finalist, and if selected for the gold it will receive a total of $50,000.

Other finalists include The Bridge Homeless Assistance Center in Dallas, Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn, the Gary Comer Youth Center in Chicago and the Santa Fe Railyard Redevelopment. Civic Space is the only project this year that is technically a city park.

The 2009 winner was Inner-City Arts of Los Angeles, an organization that services youth in the city’s Skid Row area by providing art instruction and education.

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Why downtown Phoenix ISN’T scary

[Source: Janesa Hilliard, State Press Magazine] — When Andres Cano decided to attend the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism he knew he would be required to live on the Downtown Campus — a move he was excited about making.  “I didn’t fear living or being downtown because it’s such a lively atmosphere,” says Cano, a freshman from Tucson.  “Safety should not be a concern… I think a huge part is the amount of activity going on downtown because of sports and concerts.”

The shift in tone among the freshmen student body is one of anticipation rather than apprehension about what Downtown Phoenix has to offer.  The biggest obstacle the city faces in its second year of full-scale operation is promoting an urban atmosphere, not security concern, a feeling that resonates with both students and ASU Downtown Campus police.  The campus has many opportunities to advance the understanding of community – and safety by extension – as the student body increases, says Commander Richard Wilson of the ASU Police Department’s Downtown Bureau.

Non-profit leadership and management student Samuel Richard agrees.  Richard, a third-year student and downtown Phoenix native, says that downtown’s stigma of being a crime haven is the result of misguided perceptions that trace by to the 1980s.  “Downtown Phoenix is not a geography, it’s a lifestyle,” Richard says.  “Downtown is unpredictable, [the] opposite of a conformed, suburban lifestyle.  This is where it’s exciting.”

Still, Richard says getting the public to see this side of downtown is difficult. People may come downtown to watch a ballgame or check out First Friday, but they don’t stay down here or indulge in any of the businesses. Few people reside within the confines of downtown proper because of an unwariness of the area, due in large part to the homeless population.  [Note: Read the full article at Why downtown Phoenix ISN’T scary.]

ASU, Phoenix Police team up to offer safe environment for downtown campus

[Source: Arizona State University] — Students who live and learn at ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus may be considered pioneers, but they won’t encounter the Wild West when it comes to safety.  Richard Wilson, ASU Police commander at the Downtown Phoenix campus, said the area offers a safe environment for students as the 2008 fall semester commences.  “There’s a higher saturation of police and private security in this area than anywhere else in the city,” Wilson said.  “We spend more time fighting perception than crime in this area.”

Students will learn firsthand about the area and resources available to them on Campus Safety Day, held Sept. 4 at the University Center, 411 N. Central Ave.  Hosted by The Public Safety Advisory Committee and Environmental Health and Safety, the event runs from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and includes educational booths, visual aids, and hand-out information. 

“The administration of the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus in conjunction with the city of Phoenix is committed to creating and sustaining a community environment that is safe and productive for students, faculty, and all members of the community.  We believe that in order to provide a safe and productive learning environment, we must partner with our students and provide them not only with a strong police and security presence on the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus, but also provide opportunities for them to actively engage in the promotion of personal and community safety,” said Kimberly Novak, director for student and campus community development for the Downtown Phoenix campus.

A team of 23 ASU Police aides, eight officers, and security personnel monitor the campus 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  ASU Police officers also have a strong working relationship with the Phoenix Police Department and confer frequently on matters of mutual interest and concern.  Three officers from the Phoenix Police Department are assigned to ASU as special liaison officers that support the campus by participating in educational programs, intentionally engaging with students in their daily routines at the campus, and by serving on campus task forces aimed at enhancing safety.  These officers regularly exchange information with ASU.  The Downtown Operations Unit of Phoenix PD patrol the campus and serve as the primary policy entity.  More ASU officers will be added by the end of the semester, Wilson said.

“The crime rate in this area is very low because of the amount of patrol zones and officers in the area,” said Phoenix Police Lieutenant Jeff Lazell. “In addition to our regular patrol officers, we have bike, foot and mounted patrols, parking enforcement and liaison officers that are constantly looking for suspicious activity. It’s one of the safest sections of the city.”  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]