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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Initial reports were that many of the priceless archives and City historical documents were largely spared.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.

 

Phoenix on the rise?

Navel-gazing doesn’t make a city better. If Phoenix is a city on the rise, where are we in relation to our peer cities?

Downtown Phoenix skyline at sunsetI hate to rain on the Phoenix good news parade and that “Phoenix on the rise” video…

There’s a story circulating around on all of Phoenix’s social media channels about Yahoo! News’s Katie Couric focusing on Phoenix. I even watched it, because self-denial or something like that. It’s got all of the local players you’d expect in it, because they’re the Very Serious People in town.

And all of what was said in the video may be true.

But what Phoenix’s leaders are forgetting at best (or ignoring at worst) is that this isn’t a competition about Phoenix in 2017 vs. Phoenix just after the Great Recession. Navel gazing doesn’t make our city better; it lets other cities pass us while we congratulate ourselves over smaller accomplishments. It’s Phoenix vs. our peer cities both in the United States and around the world. So it’s not just Phoenix vs. Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, or Philadelphia, it’s Phoenix vs. Melbourne, Brasilia, Johannesburg, Stuttgart, and Osaka. These are all things that I’ve said before.

Let’s deconstruct one of the points of the P.R. piece very serious journalism: that Phoenix is the “next big tech hub.” Again, it may be compared itself a few years ago. But a landmark study commissioned by the real estate conglomerate Cushman and Wakefield, Tech Cities 1.0: An Interactive Look at Metrics and Cities to Watch, Phoenix didn’t make the top 25, despite being the 5th largest city by population and the 12th largest metro area by population. In in a passing bullet point on a piece on Tech Cities 1.0, cities are assessed on the quality of their institutions of higher learning, supply of tech workers, amount of venture capital, skilled knowledge workers, and entrepreneurial growth engines. Phoenix isn’t mentioned except CityLab by Richard Florida: “Phoenix ($269 million), which is not on the chart above, attracted more venture capital investment than Baltimore ($254 million).”

Is it nice that Phoenix is getting attention? Probably. But while attention is nice, we have to remember that we have a long way to go to break even with our peer cities nationally and internationally.

What Downtown Phoenix Needs

There’s one thing downtown Phoenix needs. Where are our elected leaders on it?

Quick bite for a Wednesday morning: There’s a piece that’s been making the rounds in the downtown Phoenix thought circles about how to get involved in the downtown Phoenix community to make it “suck less.”

First things first: I’m not a fan of solutions journalism, that idea that journalism must always have some sort of solution to it. It just seems like it’s a new approach on feel-good reporting. I guess I’m old-school in the fact that good journalism must cast light to what’s going on. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” said the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. So it’s up to us – the public citizenry – to decide what to do with that information.

The article in question is Want Downtown Phoenix To Suck Less? Here’s How To Get Involved by Antonia Noori Farzan. The premise of the article is that there are several downtown Phoenix advocacy groups that downtown-inclined individuals should join and then go to every single downtown meeting and talk to every single downtown elected or appointed official about design-related things.

There’s one fatal problem with that: The premise of Ms Farzan’s article seems to go on the failed notion that downtown Phoenix’s issues are design-related and that a bike lane here or tree there would suddenly cure our urban ills and make our downtown on par with those of Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, or Philadelphia.

As this blog has noted with great regularity, that’s not the case. There are way too many macro issues that are ignored because, well, I’m not sure why. But they all stem back to one thing, something I tweeted about earlier today:

That’s the thing that’s missing. And this isn’t a new chorus or refrain of mine.

  • In 2014, after Sprouts Farmers Market announced their corporate office moving from near Paradise Valley Mall to CityNorth, I wrote in Another Day, Another Strikeout, “What is the economic development strategy for downtown and midtown Phoenix? I fear to ask the next question, but I will: Is there one? I think it’s admirable that we are trying to have lots of incubator spaces and attract individual entrepreneurs but we need to ask: What is their economic impact compared to, say, the Sprouts Farmers Market headquarters?”
  • In a 2014 edition of The Friday Five suggesting alternate urban talking points (which was in reaction to a feel-good design-focused thing going on that weekend), I wrote, “As we learn of other suburban cities or, in fact, suburban parts of Phoenix, taking jobs and economic development away from central-city Phoenix, we still think about how to make a better design for our streets, sidewalks, and bicycle lanes.  That’s nice, to be sure, but I still maintain that if we don’t have the economic activity to support those physical amenities, then what’s the point?”
  • There was a metric I created as well called The Eddie Number. The premise of that is to get a sense of economic headquarters in a downtown area compared to the rest of the metropolitan area. Also in 2014 (yeah, I wrote more back then), downtown Phoenix’s Eddie Number was -11.

So this is nothing new. This has been my common refrain but it’s gone on deaf ears.

Want downtown Phoenix to “suck less”? Get money and civic leaders back downtown.

Whither Trees

Trees are a good thing. Except when they’re not maintained and we lose them in midtown Phoenix.

[editor’s note: If you’ve checked out the edwardjensen.net website lately, you’ve noticed that it’s changed its look. A lot. We will write more on the transition for this week’s installment of the Friday Five.]

A quick hit for a Monday… Last week’s storm that brought a downpour to inner east Phoenix and Tempe and perhaps, even, a tornado (!!) south of downtown Phoenix (but also brought wind and fury without rain to Midtown had a casualty: this tree in front of Tapestry on Central on Central Avenue.

There is, correctly, a push for putting new trees in central-city Phoenix. I applaud it. But if there isn’t a push to maintain trees properly, then is it worth it? How many more trees must we lose before the City realizes that proper pruning is imperative?

More on this later.

Friday Five: 427 Days

It’s been 427 days since I’ve last posted. Let’s change that. Here are 5 things that have been on my mind.

It’s been a considerable time since I’ve last posted – 427 days to be exact. That won’t happen again. Anyway, here are five of the many things that have been on my mind in the last sixty-one weeks and will be the focus of the next few additions to this blog…

1. Still thinking about Chromebooks. This one’s fitting since my last post was about Chromebooks and how I’ve been playing around with them. In the intervening fourteen months, I’ve been off-and-on with mine but I’m still using it. It’s amazing to see how much it’s matured over that time period and how well it plays with Windows infrastructure via a Google-provided SMB share connector or a third-party RDP app. VPN connectivity is interesting with it but that’ll be the subject of a future post.

2. HOAs and IT. One of the big projects I’ve been tackling lately is the IT needs for a midrise condominium complex in midtown Phoenix. This will certainly be the focus of many posts down the road for sure; in the meantime, one theme that’s quickly emerged is that communicating technical issues and needs in non-technical terms is a skill that IT leaders need to embrace.

3. Midtown Phoenix. In 2016, I became disillusioned with the state of downtown-centric advocacy organizations and made a conscious decision to focus on the part of the world where I live and work: Midtown. As a means to that end, I’ve been elected to the board of the Midtown Neighborhood Association. August 2017 will mark the 17th anniversary of when I started to observe Midtown and the 11th anniversary of moving here from the suburbs. This renewed Midtown-centric advocacy focus is part of my love letter to Midtown.

4. Fifth-largest city. The big thing that’s got Phoenix “thought leaders” excited is the news that’s come around that the City of Phoenix proper is now the fifth largest city by population, overtaking Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. How many square miles of desert have we sprawled into to accomplish this “feat”? I mean, where do we collect our prize? What is our prize? Meanwhile, central-city Phoenix continues to suffer and the policy shifts from both Washington, D.C., and our own State Capitol won’t help that cause.

5. The Downtown Phoenix Podcast. I know there have been a few false starts of the resuming of The Downtown Phoenix Podcast and that’s frustrated me. This is a project that needs to happen to bring serious conversation to the issues facing central-city Phoenix. I think I’ve identified a couple new individuals who will help in bringing this back. Stay tuned.

Friday Five: Chromebooks

A couple of weeks with one of the Google Chromebooks. Is it right for you?

[Editor’s note: This blog will take a slight turn this year. To be sure, comment will still be offered on the urban condition in Phoenix as needed. But we will be starting to talk about the role of technology in daily life. This post is the first of that new focus.]

Friday Five: Google ChromebookA few weeks ago, my trusty Dell Latitude XT2, whose adventures have been chronicled on this blog several times, decided that it had had enough. This was a sad day because it was probably my favorite computer – a relic from the first time Tablet PCs went around about 10 years ago but one that worked brilliantly.

My main mobile machine is my trusty iPad Air but there are times when it’s nice to have a full laptop. I had been wanting to restart regular writing and I found that my iPad just had too many distractions on it to be useful. But finding a machine that doesn’t break the bank can be a challenge. I had always been interested in the Google Chromebook series of devices, even though I’m an Apple user through and through.

I picked up a refurbished Asus Chromebook C201 for about $140 online a few weeks ago and here are some of my initial thoughts on the device:

The Chromebook is not a home computer replacement. Chromebooks are powered by Chrome OS and the OS has only one purpose: to get to you launch the Google Chrome web browser. That’s it. There are no OS-level offline things except for the system settings and a rudimentary file browser (that has deep integration into Google Drive). It is all handled in the Chrome browser. In this sense, Chrome OS is essentially a thin client – the processing of anything you do is done on Google’s servers elsewhere. If you’re fine with that, then that’s great.

Chrome OS really works best if you’ve gone fully Google. Chrome OS’s web-based applications are tied hand-in-hand with the Google Apps suite (Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, etc.). Other online suites do work but bear in mind you’re accessing these through whatever web interfaces they offer. You sign in with a Google Account (be it personal or issued through your workplace or school) instead of a local user account or some sort of on-premises Active Directory credentials. This gets messy if you’re using a password manager with a randomly generated password to manage your Google Account credentials!

Enterprise-level management requires an expensive additional subscription. Whenever I evaluate a piece of tech, I wonder about its integration into enterprise or managed environments. As it turns out, even if you have a paid Google Apps for Work subscription for your business users, you still need to purchase yearly per-device management licenses that range from $30 per device per year up to $250, depending on what the device does. And, unfortunately, navigating these licenses is as perplexing as navigating Microsoft license programs.

Battery life is exceptional. Considering I purchased a refurbished device, I wasn’t expecting too much in the way of battery life. I’m finding I’m getting about 7-8 hours on a full charge. Not too bad, considering the device is always connected to the Internet and therefore has to have the wi-fi radio on all the time.

If you keep in mind what this device is, it’s actually a compelling piece of technology. As a test for if a Chromebook would work for you, ask yourself this: Can you do your task within Google Chrome? If the answer is yes, then this will work. If you need a separate app, then it won’t work. I bought this device to do, really, one thing: provide a distraction-free environment for writing. Google Docs runs magnificently on this.

There are a couple limitations of this due to the nature of this system. First, if you use a separate application on your other machines for password management (e.g., 1Password), you will find that it won’t work on the Chromebook. In the case of 1Password, you’ll have to sign up for 1Password for Families or 1Password for Teams to access your password vaults. The other issue is that as offline support is an always evolving thing, offline access to your data is spotty at best. You have to pin files for offline access in Google Drive, for example, if you want to work on them where you don’t have an Internet connection. But since this device never leaves my home, this is a non-issue.

When Google announced the launch of the Chromebook on its blog back in May 2011, they said, “These are not typical notebooks. … Your apps, games, photos, music, movies and documents will be accessible wherever you are and you won’t need to worry about losing your computer or forgetting to back up files.” That’s true. Seeing how wi-fi has become more and more ubiquitous over the past five years, the potential for these thin clients for the masses is greatly increasing. The hardware is only as good as its software, it seems, and thin client computing is becoming more and more used in enterprise environments.

I’m happy with this device. I don’t expect it to do everything my Mac can do because it can’t.

Friday Five: Moving Phoenix

As the first ballots for August’s election have been mailed out, here are five reasons why you should vote for Proposition 104 in Phoenix.

As the first ballots for August’s election have been mailed out, here are five reasons why, if you live in Phoenix, you should vote for Proposition 104. This blog also recommends returning each incumbent to their elected position as well as voting yes on all of the other propositions.

The Friday Five: Moving Phoenix (Proposition 104)It’s more than just new light rail lines. One of the common misconceptions being conveniently perpetuated by opponents of Proposition 104 is that it’s just for new METRO light rail lines within the City of Phoenix. While, certainly, those are welcome and needed, it’s more than that. The plan expands service on city buses, accelerates repairs and improvements to roads and sidewalks, adds bicycle lanes, and enhances technology for Phoenix’s transportation system. There is something for everyone.

No, we can’t just spend this money on teachers instead. A repeated talking point by opponents of Proposition 104 is that this money could be better spent on teachers and education. Since education in Arizona is the domain of the State of Arizona, I ask: Why can’t we have both? In an op-ed opposing Proposition 104 in The Arizona Republic by Tyler Bowyer, the chair of the Republican Party of Maricopa County, Mr. Bowyer repeats this tired talking point. But given his party’s proclivity against raising taxes, I would think that if his alternate proposal were on the table, Mr. Bowyer and those using that talking point would have encouraged us to vote no on that proposal, too.

As people go back to the city, our infrastructure must go back to the city. As has been documented with great regularity on this blog, there is a trend nationwide of moving back to our central cities. Some promising news came out this past week about the amount of public and private investment near the initial 20-mile line of light rail. Even amid the Great Recession, $8.2 billion in public and private investment was made near the line in 204 projects. That’s a near-sixfold return on our collective community investment. Tempe has perhaps made the most of light rail, garnering $3.4 billion in investment on their smaller section of line.

World cities require people-based transportation. If Phoenix is to be a world city, which I believe is a necessary aspiration for us to have any chance to compete in the global economy, we will need to have a transportation system in our central city that focuses on moving people around, not just private automobiles. Phoenix may have grown up and developed in the age of peak automobile; however, this gives us a chance to make quality and sensible investments in our infrastructure. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the enacting of the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990, it’s important to note that public transportation and paratransit (dial-a-ride) services, both enhanced by Proposition 104, provide a wonderful mechanism for people with disabilities to be strong contributors in the new global economy.

This is a chance to take our future into our own hands. The City of Phoenix gets no love from our state government. In fact, they try to do things that actively harm Phoenix’s future. SB 1070 in 2010 and SB 1062 in 2014 are two bills that come to mind amid many others. So what better way is there for all Phoenicians to take our city’s future into our own hands by providing a mechanism for us to create, fund, and evaluate our own transportation system? While other big cities in other states get help in building infrastructure from their state legislatures, we in Phoenix get the ‘drop dead’ message from ours. If we want Phoenix to be a world city, then we are left to do the fundraising ourselves.

If we want Phoenix to be a world city, then we need to have a forward-thinking transportation system that seamlessly blends buses, trains, bikes, and people. Please join me in voting YES in Proposition 104.