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This Week’s Reading: Bird on Fire

This week, I’m rereading Andrew Ross’s book, “Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City.”

Bird on Fire coverThis week, I’m rereading Andrew Ross’s book, Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City. I haven’t really read it since it came out in 2011, just finding snippets to share as needed. It will be interesting to see what (if anything) has changed here since his original assessment.

I’m not bringing this up simply to share what I’m reading or because I wish to agitate the Very Serious People in Phoenix thought circles. There’s something that’s been on my mind and I want to see if there’s historic backing to it or if I’m overthinking it. (More later.)

This might not also be related to my latest contribution to Instagram. (More on that later, too.)

Little Canyon Trail

Giving Little Canyon Trail and Little Canyon Park to the private Grand Canyon University because they asked nicely is a bad idea.

There’s a very bad plan that’s being considered by the City of Phoenix: to hand over Little Canyon Park and Little Canyon Trail in northwest Phoenix to the private Grand Canyon University (GCU) because, well, they asked nicely? GCU says that they’re going to rebuild the park and trail on land they currently own and will then give that over to the City of Phoenix.

Earlier today, I did a site visit of both Little Canyon Park and Little Canyon Trail. While I can’t speak for the history of Little Canyon Park, I can speak a bit on the history of Little Canyon Trail. It was a 2010 City of Phoenix Public Art project that is built alongside the historic Salt River Project Lateral 14.4, or along where 31st Avenue would be between Camelback Road and Missouri Avenue. Veteran Phoenix public art artist Laurie Lundquist worked with the community to transform an abandoned and forgotten piece of infrastructure to a well-loved community treasure that transports non-auto users from the residential neighborhoods north of Missouri Avenue to the commercial and transit corridor of Camelback Road. This was a $1.2 million public investment in that part of Phoenix.

Fast forward to 2015. Grand Canyon University has expanded from a small campus to a major presence in northwest Phoenix and wants to block off part of the trail for students to access residence halls on the east side of the 31st Avenue alignment to the campus on the west side. Everyone at that time agreed that preserving the continuity and artistic integrity of the trail is of paramount importance. Even GCU seemed to agree with that assessment.

And fast forward, again, to today. I’ve learned about a series of public meetings to discuss the latest threat to Little Canyon Park and Little Canyon Trail, which is why I’m writing this essay. There is a final public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday September 6) at 6pm at the Helen Drake Senior Center at 7600 N 27th Avenue and if your schedule permits, you should listen.

In 2015, City of Phoenix voters approved the latest revision of the City’s General Plan. The overriding theme of the plan was Phoenix as connected oasis.

The Vision of the Connected Oasis was derived from all the major themes from PlanPHX participants’ ideas; it is a concept that has been around Phoenix for some time. Most recently it was utilized to describe the “big idea” of creating a vibrant pedestrian path and open space network for downtown Phoenix as part of the Downtown Urban Form Project in 2008. But the concept of the Connected Oasis goes well beyond a pedestrian and open space network. It is an ideal with deep roots in Phoenix’s history and one that provides a simple, yet intriguing direction for the city to follow into the future. [Phoenix General Plan 2015, p. 15]

Little Canyon Trail is the perfect embodiment of that connected oasis and of all of the major themes of the General Plan. It connects people to places; it celebrates water, that most precious resource for a desert metropolis; it is an open space in the midst of a university campus and thriving neighborhoods.

It would be a great shame if the City of Phoenix allowed Little Canyon Trail to go to private hands that would destroy the continuity and artistic integrity of the trail just because GCU asked nicely. Fiscal hawks should lament this as it is a loss of a $1.2 million investment that the City made in northwest Phoenix. The historic preservation community should lament the loss of one more of Phoenix’s historic laterals. And all of Phoenix should lament this loss as the erosion of its core principles in its 2015 General Plan.

The City of Phoenix should say no.

Continue reading “Little Canyon Trail”

Surreal to think that while it's blue skies in Phoenix, rain plagues millions of people in Houston and along the Gulf Coast. Blue skies are ahead. We're thinking of you.

Surreal to think that while it's blue skies in Phoenix, rain plagues millions of people in Houston and along the Gulf Coast. Blue skies are ahead. We're thinking of you.

Thoughts on Burton Barr Central Library

Phoenix’s Burton Barr Central Library won’t reopen until June 2018. I offer some thoughts.

Downtown Phoenix skylineThe Arizona Republic‘s Brenna Goth reports that midtown’s Burton Barr Central Library won’t re-open until June 2018.

Like all Phoenicians, I was shocked when I heard the news that the library sustained water damage during a particularly intense thunderstorm back in July. Thanks to the quick working of the City’s library staff, the Fire Department, and facilities workers, the damage was mitigated before it could be much worse. Although it’s hard to think of it being worse.

Initial reports were that many of the priceless archives and City historical documents were largely spared. But the building serves as more than a memorial to a Phoenix that’s long gone: it is a temple to the Phoenix of the present and a space for all its patrons to learn about the present to make informed decisions in the future.

It’s also a place of refuge for many, be it in the comfort of a good book or in the necessity of air conditioning on a hot summer day. It’s a cornerstone of Hance Park, the 32.5-acre park that’s a part of the new Phoenix urban moment.

In the fight against anti-intellectualism that’s regrettably become so prevalent in American society, our libraries are a key defense. Burton Barr Central Library’s closure takes away a core part of that for so many.

All City leaders should commit the City’s resources to opening the building ahead of schedule. It is that important to the City’s life and to its future.