Blog Archives

Talton offers alternative view on downtown Phoenix Civic Space

[Source: John Talton, Rogue Columnist] — Former Arizona Republic columnist Jon Talton still thinks and writes about his old hometown, Phoenix.  Upon returning to his current home from a recent visit and book signing tour in Arizona, Jon wrote the following blog post about the new downtown Phoenix Civic Space (in contrast to this other local blogger’s view):

“…Which brings me to the Floating Diaphragm.  That’s what local wags have dubbed the “public art” project that is the signature of the new park on Central Avenue downtown between ASU and the Y.  At night, it’s stunning.  A floating purple dream.  But, as with the Sandra Day O’Connor Federal Courthouse, this is something designed by someone with no knowledge of local conditions.  After the first big monsoon, look for the diaphragm in your neighborhood — Gilbert would be appropriate, with its sex phobia and sex scandals. 

The park — we’ll see.  Phoenix is not good at civic spaces.  It’s unclear if it will have enough shade and grass to be inviting year-round.  And nobody can stop the creeping gravelization of the once-oasis central city.  City Hall sets a terrible example.  The old Willo House has been spiffed up as Hob Nobs.  But it’s surrounded by gravel and a couple of fake palm trees — who wouldn’t want to be around that 140-dgree heat surface on a summer day? And there are more of them — the natives and long-timers agree the falls and springs have shrunk to a week or two, and winter is getting shorter (and it lacks the frosts that once kept the mosquito population in check).  The central city needs lots of shade trees and grass, to offset the heat island effect.  It is a much better water investment than new golf courses or more sprawl.  Nobody’s listening.  Almost: The Park Central Starbucks has made its outdoor space even more lush, shady, and comfy. 

Back to the diaphragm.  It’s definitely better than the “public art” you whiz by at Sky Harbor because it focuses a civic space, the kind of walkable, gathering places great cities have and Phoenix mostly lacks.  Some art at the light-rail stations is quite well done.  But, there’s a deadening sameness.  My friend, the Famous Architect, likes to rib me, “Not everything old is good.”  True enough. But not everything new is good, either.  I’d love to see some classical statues and artwork downtown to, say, commemorate the heroic pioneer farmers, the heroic, displaced indigenous peoples, the heroic Mexican-Americans, the heroic African-Americans from this once very Southern town and the heroic Chinese-Americans.  Just two or three would offer some contrast and variety, and, I suspect, unsophisticated oaf that I am, elevate and inspire more souls who communed with them.  It would also give the lie, in visual form, to the newcomer lie that “there’s no history here.” 

Another wish I won’t get.  [Note: To read the full blog posting, click here.]

What are Phoenix’s most walkable neighborhoods?

Walk Score ranks 2,508 neighborhoods in the largest 40 U.S. cities.  And how does Phoenix stack up?  Overall, Phoenix ranks 28th.  10% of Phoenix residents have a Walk Score of 70 or above, 53% have a Walk Score of at least 50, and 47% live in Car-Dependent neighborhoods.

The top three walkable areas in metro Phoenix are Encanto, Central City, and Camelback East.  Type in your address and determine the Walk Score for your neck of the woods.


Transit-oriented retailing fact of life in Phoenix

[Source: Steve Davis, Smart Growth America] — For those who live in urban areas, especially neighborhoods in the process of returning from decades of disinvestment, you may sympathize with the difficulty of trying to find a good grocery store nearby.  The dearth of food outlets in cities can be partially attributed to national chains failing to adjust their largely suburban business models for urban environments.  Because many chains are used to building large stores in the suburbs, they naturally set out to do the same in the city, but the large box surrounded by parking with monstrous stocks of food isn’t appropriate for a dense urban fabric.  Large stores built in the city also have to serve a larger share of the population to make a profit, so drawing from within a 10- or 15-minute walkshed often isn’t good enough.  Is there an opening in the market for smaller urban stores?

The British chain Tesco believes so.  They are developing “Fresh & Easy” stores for urban and transit-oriented settings, with footprints as small as 10,000 square feet (a fraction of conventional supermarkets), stocked with staples as well as ready-to-eat meals.  Prototypes are set to open in Phoenix and Los Angeles.  Success with the more compact format could prove a boon to the many communities that are trying to develop walkable neighborhoods with convenient shopping nearby.  [Note: To read the full blog entry, click here.]