Friday Urban Dispatches: March 14

The regular Friday Urban Dispatch from downtown Phoenix for March 14: a unique boots-on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening.

Every other Friday or so on this blog, I’m going to do a mini-series of urban dispatches—thoughts from the urban landscape in Phoenix.

friDispatchMeeting new voices. This has been a great week for meeting new voices that have an honest interest in making our downtown community better.  I realize that I’m coming at the downtown question from an academic / intellectual perspective (I mean…my undergraduate degree is Urban and Metropolitan Studies!) but I’m starting to find these new voices that are approaching the downtown question from the same angle.

Not just “no” but “no…but what are the alternatives?” One of my conversations this week was with Paul Lopez, a Phoenix native and someone who’s in-tune with the goings-on in City Hall on many levels.  We talked about the need for downtown to have a grocery store—somewhere on the scale between a neighborhood market and a suburban grocery store—and our conversation hit on an important decision-making philosophy: Rather than saying ‘no’ outright, let’s ask this question: “No…but what are our alternatives?”

City Hall is starting to get the urban condition. It’s not perfect but I am getting the sense that City Hall is starting to get the notion that the downtown / urban condition is different and has a different lexicon, vocabulary, and design imperatives than suburban Phoenix.  It’s not perfect yet but the right baby steps are being made.  More promising, however, is that City staff are wanting to listen to downtown interests to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Whither McDowell Road.  While the previous point is a plus, there are still silos within City Hall that need to be broken down and addressed.  The City’s definition of “downtown Phoenix” goes to the south right-of-way of McDowell Road while their definition of “midtown Phoenix” begins at the north right-of-way of McDowell.   Left out of the discussion is McDowell Road itself, a core east-west street in central Phoenix.  Right now, it’s a nightmare to travel at any time of day.  At 3:00pm on weekdays during the school year, the mass pick-up of students from Arizona School for the Arts makes Manhattan traffic look like a small town.  (The City needs to work with the school to work on a traffic management plan…or the same school needs to encourage its students to take public transportation!)  I like the streetcar line proposed for McDowell Road but that’s a long-term aspiration.

A city in potentia.  Last Friday night, I was walking around downtown to see and hear the goings-on of the Viva Phoenix music festival.  In addition to the musicians performing on their outdoor stages, there was a definite energy downtown: there were people, there was noise, there were even random marching bands walking around.  I’m loathe to use phrases like “seminal moment” or “turning point” but I think March 7 will be looked on in years hence as a turning-point for downtown.

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