Blog Archives

Viewpoint: Opportunity for Downtown Phoenix?

[Source: Adam Klawonn, Phoenix Magazine, June 30, 2009] — Last week, Phoenix City manager Frank Fairbanks announced he was retiring in November after nearly 20 years in the driver’s seat at City Hall.  Today, Phoenix has grown to become the fifth largest city in the country with more than 1.5 million people.  Obviously, Fairbanks was successful.  But even as thankful as some folks are for his work, there are others who are just as thankful that he hung up his shingle.  This is not in a negative way, mind you, but in a way that looks forward to hiring a fresh set of eyes — one that focuses more closely on Downtown development.

Despite his good work, Fairbanks was often viewed as a hurdle by hardcore fans of the Downtown lifestyle.  Even as they pleaded with City Hall to focus more on the area, Fairbanks was loathe to invest more public money there for development and infrastructure because, thus far, he felt he wasn’t seeing a real return on the city’s investment.  As a result, most of the new policies affecting Downtown came from the community-at-large and the office of Mayor Phil Gordon — and sometimes encountered resistance from Fairbanks.

There’s already talk of where the next city manager should come from. City officials have said they will conduct a national search.  The final approval rests with the City Council.  Some folks would like to see Phoenix court managers from cities with vibrant downtowns and light-rail transit.  This includes places such as Denver, Salt Lake City, and Portland.

This could be a the turning point for Downtown that those Phoenix crowds were looking for, says Dean Brennan, a former Phoenix planning official who is now a principal with the Project for Livable Communities.  “Getting someone with downtown [development] experience in a city where they have a light rail system would be a great combination,” he says.

You haven’t heard the last of this topic.  The conversation will only get louder as November gets closer.  We’ll have a feature that paints the complete picture later this fall.  [Note: For other viewpoints on this topic: “Phoenix will miss Frank Fairbanks,” Arizona Republic editorial; “The model modern city manager,” Jon Talton, Rogue Columnist blog]

Down economy causing strain on Arizona’s arts & culture groups

[Source: Maricopa Partnership for Arts & Culture] — Arts and culture in metro Phoenix and all of Arizona is in serious peril.  Already lowest in contributed revenues among a ranking of ten competitor regions, the current economic downturn threatens to severely reduce the capability of arts and culture organizations to provide the public with the current level of quality and quantity of programming.  In the face of this challenge, MPAC is moving swiftly to inform business and community leadership about the immediate importance of supporting this vital piece of the local economy.

MPAC is partnering with the strategic communications firm of FirstStrategic to reach Arizonans with the message that public funding for arts and culture is lacking in our state and is needed to ensure Arizona has a vibrant future and the ability to compete for knowledge workers and industries.

The lack of vibrancy in Metro Phoenix’s arts, culture, and creative cluster impedes the region’s ability to attract and retain workers in the fields of medicine, technology, design, and bioscience, among other high wage sectors.  These workers are critical for knowledge-based businesses to expand their footprint and diversify Arizona’s economy.  Investing in a strong creative cluster has proven to be transformational.  Competitor cities such as Austin, Salt Lake City, and Denver dramatically diversified their economies and regions by making the commitment to invest in arts and culture.

Two brochures are available for download here.  One highlights the role arts and culture plays in attracting knowledge workers and encouraging a diverse economy, the other on the educational impact of arts and culture in the community.

Ex-Phoenix planning exec heads to Scottsdale

[Source: Lynh Bui, Arizona Republic] — One of Phoenix’s former top executives will soon start working for Scottsdale.  David E. Richert will become general manager of Scottsdale’s planning and development department Monday.  Richert has more than three decades of municipal planning and management experience, most recently as senior executive assistant to [Frank Fairbanks], Phoenix city manager.  In that role, Richert oversaw several major projects, including the completion of the Phoenix Convention Center and acquisition of state lands for the Sonoran Preserve in Phoenix…  Richert takes the place of Frank Gray, who resigned in June and is now the community and economic development director for Salt Lake City.   [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

No political party discussing American West population explosion

[Source: Froma Harrop, Houston Chronicle and reprinted in the Arizona Republic] — There’s a burning concern in the American West — almost an obsession — that Democrats did not touch in their convention here.  Nor will Republicans in St. Paul.  It is the U.S. population explosion.  The West is feeling the brunt of it, as flowing lava of housing developments and big-box crudscapes claim its cherished open spaces — and increasingly scarce water supplies.  The U.S. Census Bureau now expects America’s population to top 400 million by 2039, far earlier than previously forecast.  The 300-million mark was hit only two years ago, so if this prediction is correct, the headcount will have soared by 100 million people in 33 short years.

America’s fastest-growing region has been and will continue to be the Intermountain West.  Its megalopolises — centered on Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City — are set to add 13 million people by 2040, according to a Brookings Institution study.  This would be a doubling of their population.  Hyper-growth still brings out happy talk in some circles.  The Brookings report looks at the population forecasts for the urban corridor on the eastern face of the Rockies, spreading from Colorado into Wyoming, and enthuses, “Such projections point to a huge opportunity for the Front Range to improve on the current level of prosperity.”  There are challenges, it says, but they can be met — and you can almost hear local hearts breaking — by new roads, bigger airports, more office parks.

And where oh where are they going to find water?  Every county in Colorado was declared a federal drought disaster area in 2002, when the population stood at 4.5 million.  It is expected to approach 8 million by 2035.  As former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm notes, the region is so dry that you can still see the wagon wheel trails laid down in the 1840s.  “This is an area that plans to add 13 million people?” Lamm said to me.  “Crazy.”  [Note: To read the full opinion piece, click here.]

Growing Western cities at crossroads, report says

[Source: Ashley Powers, Los Angeles Times] — As outlying sagebrush was quickly devoured by starter homes and chain stores, Las Vegas began grappling with the kinds of problems that long have vexed California: Crowded classrooms.  Packed freeways.  Not enough water.  Immigrants who struggle to learn English.  Rising poverty.  Similar issues have bedeviled the areas around Phoenix, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Albuquerque.  By 2040, Las Vegas and its four brethren will grow by nearly 12.7 million people.

While a booming population is turning the Intermountain West into an economic force and political battleground, a Brookings Institution report released today suggests that without help from the federal government, its major cities are headed for trouble.  “These places are going to be overwhelmed if they’re left to go it alone,” said Mark Muro, policy director of the nonpartisan think tank’s Metropolitan Policy Program.

Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah — a region the study dubbed the “new American Heartland” — was the least developed part of the U.S. in 1950.  There isn’t even an interstate linking Las Vegas and Phoenix because they were mere blips when the nation’s highway system was mapped out.  But from 2000 to 2007, Nevada, Arizona, and Utah boasted the nation’s top three population growth rates; the Las Vegas area alone jumped 31%, to more than 2 million people. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]