Blog Archives

Westcor: Razing, dumping, sprawling

Westcor on a roll… In the last ten days, news of their desire to demolish portions of Biltmore Fashion Square, dump Metrocenter, yet build in way north Phoenix.

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Phoenix General Plan “community dialogue” this Saturday, 3/6

The city’s Planning Department will hold a “Community Dialogue” on its General Plan update 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday, March 6, at Phoenix City Hall, 200 W. Washington St.  Residents are invited to discuss a land-use vision for Phoenix by answering the question “Where do we want to go?”

This is the first of two workshops.  The second, to be held in May, will focus on answering “How do we get there?” by allowing participants to develop action items based on discussions from the first workshop.  The General Plan provides comprehensive direction for the growth, conservation, and redevelopment for all land-use aspects of the city.  The General Plan provides goals, policies, and recommendations for the next 10 years.

For more information on the General Plan Update, send an e-mail, call 602-261-8289, visit the website, and follow on Twitter.

Seating for these workshops is limited.   Contact Carol Johnson at 602-261-8289 to reserve your space.

MALLS R US returns Feb. 28, Phoenix Art Museum

MALLS R US: A contemplative investigation on mall culture and effect by Helene Klodawsky

  • Date: Sunday, February 28, 2010
  • Time: 1 p.m. (doors at 12:30 p.m.)
  • Place: Whiteman Hall, Phoenix Art Museum, 1625 North Central Ave., Phoenix AZ 85004
  • Free Admission (ask for pass at front desk)
  • Film introduction by Kimber Lanning, Director, Local First Arizona

MALLS R US discusses the psychological appeal of malls to consumers, how architects design their environments to combine consumerism with nature and spectacle, how suburban shopping centers impart social values, and how malls are transforming the traditional notions of community, social space and human interaction.

As entertaining as it is informative, MALLS R US offers a trip to the mall like no other, reveling in their architectural splendor as consumerist paradises but also showing how the social dynamism they represent can be a destructive force, one that confuses the good life with the world of goods.  And yes Arizona, you will recognize several local sites.

Co-presented by No Festival Required; sponsored by CityCircles

Job sprawl high in metro Phoenix

[Source: The Urbanist] — This graph is a jobs index comparing the jobs located more than 10 miles from CBDs to jobs located within three miles of CBDs.  The dark blue sections show the difference in this ratio between 1998 and 2006.  For instance, the ratio for Phoenix is 1:1, meaning Phoenix experienced 100 percent more growth at its urban boundaries than it did in its city center. The lightest areas show the values for cities within the Northern California megaregion.  [Note: Read the full article at Job sprawl in the megaregion.]

Viewpoint: Ode to a Phoenix

[Source: jsethanderson, blogger, Downtown Phoenix Partnership] — I must be a glutton for punishment.  My passion about Phoenix history burns hot like the Phoenix sun in July and as much as I love the heat, it can harm me if I’m not careful.  Studying Phoenix history can do the same.  The subject is like a cactus: it’s beautiful, I like to look at it and study it, but if I get too close it will prick me and leave a stinging pain that eventually wears off.  Learning new things can have the same effect.  But no matter how often it happens, I keep going back for more.  I have to understand.  The past is the prologue – I must study the past.

Not only must I study history to appease (temporarily) my natural curiosity, I also have to share what I find.  To borrow a phrase from Richard Dawkins, “consciousness raising” is of the utmost importance.  When riding the light rail, I see a city growing out of the awkward teenage years and into young adulthood with a sense of its own identity.  I feel the perfect storm blowing winds of change across vacant lots downtown.  There is an energy and an excitement about urban Phoenix.  The shrill voices from the suburbs still shriek but the rhetoric is foolish and shortsighted.  The days of cheap gas and short commutes are long past.  The true costs of sprawl and of low density “communities” located in the far-flung suburbs have reared its head in a way we’ve never seen before.  It’s about time.

Beneath the city lights, skyscrapers, and our remaining historic buildings lies a fabric of history created and destroyed by lives of countless people.  Some may argue that Phoenix has an unromantic past.  I disagree.  Our romantic past was erased by the wrecking ball before our very eyes, then quickly forgotten.  The early years of the city, when Phoenix grew feed for horses at Fort McDowell, are admittedly, unremarkable.  But it was during the early booms that the desert, against overwhelming odds, blossomed into Victorian architecture with theatres, opera houses, schools, neighborhoods, museums, and trains.  Later Phoenix became addicted to a drug that destroyed it from the inside out- the automobile.  Phoenix is still recovering.  I don’t like what cars did to western American cities.  People need cities where they can walk, people need to be outside, people need to hear voices of strangers.  Phoenix lost that element.

I admit freely that I am a Phoenix cheerleader, a self-conscious cheerleader perhaps.  I’m smart enough to know that blind adoration is not conducive to creativity.  I’m hypersensitive to criticism when it’s unwarranted but will listen when it is.  Claims that “there is nothing to do in Phoenix” or “Phoenix has no culture” are the ramblings of the ignorant and lazy and I always dismiss such claims.

Phoenix doesn’t need “a” history, we just must learn our history.  This knowledge is essential for the creative and innovative ideas to take root.  Mature cities foster their history, they don’t tear it down.  Mature cities build on traditions and common language.  Our cultural language and literature of the city has yet to be written.  I can’t imagine New York without the literary contributions of Edith Wharton, London without Shakespeare, St. Petersburg without Dostoevsky.  I believe the best novels set in and about Phoenix are yet to come.  (Honestly, there is so much to write about!)  [Note: Read the full blog entry at Ode to a Phoenix.]

Planners contemplate Phoenix’s post-boom future

770px-phoenixdowntown[Source: Ted Robbins, NPR] — The vast majority of the Phoenix metropolitan area — 90 percent — was built after 1950.  It’s been a pell-mell push for growth.  But like many places, that growth came to a screeching halt during the recession.  In the suburb of Maricopa, AZ, the population grew from 1,000 to 45,000 residents over the past decade.  In 2007, the city was processing 700 building permits a month.  But then the economy soured.  “We reduced that to 300 and then … we set our budget last year at 100,” says Maricopa Mayor Anthony Smith.  “Well, 100 was too many.  So now we’ve set our budget for 30 new building permits each month.”

Housing Surplus

There’s a large inventory of homes on the market in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  The Salter family — Thad, Laura and their sons, Isaiah and Isaac — moved to Maricopa three years ago, from San Jose, Calif.  They paid more than $300,000 for their home.  It’s now worth about half that.  Thad Salter says more than half of the 22 homes on his block have been foreclosed on: “My block got devastated.  My next door neighbor’s no longer my next door neighbor.  And I’ve seen houses across the street from me going down the block on my side of the street just turn over.”

The good news is the homes did turn over.  All but two resold — albeit at much lower prices. The Salters have been trying to refinance their mortgage at a lower interest rate for two years and are just now getting their lender, Chase Bank, to come to terms.  Still, they are glad they moved.  “You know, my kids love it here. I have family here. I have some good friends here,” Salter says.

Lost Construction Jobs

But the pause button has been pushed in Phoenix when it comes to new construction.  Grady Gammage Jr., an attorney and a real estate developer, spends a lot of time thinking about his native Phoenix’s future.  He says the pause should make the Phoenix area take stock.  “We’re now big enough that maybe continuing to operate on a boom and bust cycle as a sort of Wild West frontier town is no longer the right formula, and we ought to try to diversify our economy a little more,” he says.

One-third of the jobs lost statewide — 100,000 out of 300,000 — have been in construction.  Gammage says it’s time for Phoenix to create employment that can sustain itself through good times and bad.  A solar energy industry is one idea for alternative employment given the abundance of sunshine.

Create Urban Density, Not Sprawl

Instead of the sprawl Phoenix is known for, many local architects and urban planners want more density.  Urban nodes, they call them — where working and living can be done close to each other. Phoenix has expanded its downtown business core in recent years — but as in other Western cities, it largely rolls up at night when people drive home to the suburbs.

The car is king here.  For years it has been the only way to get around.  But in December, Phoenix opened its first light-rail system.  Two lines connect downtown with outlying areas.  Ridership was up to 1 million people a month at one point.

The recently minted town of Maricopa just started running a bus line to transport workers and others the 35 miles to downtown Phoenix.  These are welcome drops in the bucket for most planners and are signs that Phoenix is beginning to grow up.  [Note: Read the full article at Planners contemplate Phoenix’s post-boom future.]

In Phoenix, luring suburbanites to greener, urban life

[Source: Adam Hochberg, National Public Radio] — Phoenix is one of the nation’s fastest-growing and most sprawling metropolitan areas. Cheap and plentiful land has led to an ever-expanding ring of suburbs, and commuting downtown can take longer than an hour.  Now, a small developer is buying up foreclosed houses near mass transit lines in the city, renovating them to green building standards, and marketing them to young professionals who may be tired of commuting.  [Note: Listen to the broadcast or read the transcript at In Phoenix, luring suburbanites to greener, urban life.]

2050 vision for metro Phoenix: 400 miles of new highways

[Source: Sean Holstege, Arizona Republic] — Picture new Phoenix-size cities beyond the mountains to the far south and west of the Valley, and you get a glimpse of how the region’s future might unfold over the next half-century.  Now imagine how twice as many people as live here today would get around such a vastly expanded urban landscape, and you begin to appreciate the enormous challenge facing state and regional transportation planners.

To cope with Arizona’s anticipated long-range population boom, planners at the Maricopa Association of Governments have sketched out a far-reaching network of new freeways and highways beyond the White Tank and Estrella mountains, serving an area larger than Delaware and Rhode Island combined, and an urban landscape stretching as far as the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station.

MAG’s plans envision 400 miles of new highways and 320 miles of rail track to support the millions of people projected to move into the vast desert area by 2050.  That would double the current highway system and create a commuter-rail network that would loop around the southern mountains and deliver a badly needed line to the West Valley.  MAG estimates that it would cost the region a daunting $60 billion to build all the projects on its drawing boards.

Residents already concerned about sprawl wonder, with traffic and air quality as bad as they are today, how unbearable metropolitan Phoenix will become with 8 million people living here.  Others react with skepticism.  They question whether the economy would ever be strong enough to lure such numbers of people here or whether sufficient water or electricity would be available to support such far-flung growth.  “Being able to stop all these people coming is probably impossible, but is this plan really possible?  Could this really happen?  And if it could, should it?” says Dave Richins, state policy director for the Sonoran Institute, a non-profit group that advocates desert preservation.

The strategy is based on decades-old migration and birth statistics and on existing land- development rights.  Long-range plans for roads to serve non- existent cities don’t foster speculative sprawl, the planners say; they anticipate what’s already in the works.

The Arizona Department of Transportation is looking ahead and next month will unveil an expansive long-term blueprint for the entire state.  The agency’s director, John Halikowski, described the scope as “breathtaking.”  [Note: Read the full article at 2050 vision for metro Phoenix: 400 miles of new highways.]

Viewpoint: The free market did not give us suburbia

[Source: Life in Downtown Phoenix blog] — A common refrain of defenders of the dominant American suburban form is that it is simply the culmination of millions of microeconomic decisions by consumers to “vote with their feet” and buy a house in the ‘burbs. If mainstream Americans really wanted urban living, they would have chosen to stay in the cities, goes the argument.

A great article in [the August 15] Wall Street Journal debunks that free market myth, and discusses the way that government — through its creation of Fannie Mae and federal underwriting for mortgage loans, among others — shaped our sprawled-out society through multiple market-distorting policies throughout the 20th century.  One key quote from the article:  “Federal housing policies changed the whole landscape of America, creating the sprawlscapes that we now call home, and in the process, gutting inner cities… [o]f new housing today, 80% is built in the suburbs — the direct legacy of federal policies that favored outlying areas rather than the rehabilitation of city centers.”

The article doesn’t even get into the federal government’s massive freeway-building programs that laid waste to central-city neighborhoods in order to whisk commuters into and out of downtowns and back to the suburbs.

The article is a worthwhile read, and makes one ponder how America would look if government policy (authored by politicians of both parties) hadn’t for decades obsessed over increasing (mostly suburban) homeownership.  And it goes without saying that Phoenix, which came of age as these policies were in their ascendancy, would have looked much different.  It also makes one wonder about Phoenix’s future as these policies increasingly come under question by politicians and more importantly, consumers.

Viewpoint: The rise of a desert city (Phoenix)

[Source: Marshall Trimble, Special for the Arizona Republic] — “Ask anyone about why Phoenix is here.  Most people can’t answer that. Why do 4 million people live here?” – Michael Crow, Arizona State University president, meeting with The Arizona Republic’s Editorial Board in April

OK, why is Phoenix here?  In fact, what explains the tremendous growth of Phoenix, a desert city, over the past 65 years?  And where is this sprawling, go-go city headed?  We posed those questions to Arizona’s official state historian, Marshall Trimble, and Philip VanderMeer, an ASU historian and authority on Phoenix.

Today, Trimble explores the birth of Phoenix.  Next Sunday, VanderMeer will examine the factors that have contributed to Phoenix’s growth since World War II.  And, on June 14, VanderMeer will look at what the future may hold for the city.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]