In these past couple weeks, I’ve been thinking about the things that have happened in 2013 in downtown Phoenix and how they shape its present as well as the next year in this community. Over the next four days, I’ll share my assessment of downtown Phoenix’s strengths (today), weaknesses (tomorrow), threats (Saturday 28 December), and opportunities (Sunday 29 December).
A DOWNTOWN PHOENIX YEAR-IN-REVIEW 2013: I. STRENGTHS
1. Downtown Phoenix, Inc. — Formed at the end of 2012, this was a new way in which to coordinate the major operations in downtown Phoenix. While the organization has its initial kinks to work out, the group of people in place to lead Downtown Phoenix, Inc. (DPI), is a great group that can be a unifying force for downtown advancement. In my conversations with DPI’s CEO, David Krietor, I am assured that he knows the tasks that are at hand and will surround himself with the best possible people to get the job done. And, even more assuring, he knows that there’s more to downtown / urban Phoenix than the central business district: there are the emerging urban areas along Lower Grand Avenue, Roosevelt Street, and in the Garfield and Eastlake Park neighborhoods. I think DPI is something that we need to get behind and support however we can.
2. Hance Park Master Plan — On 12 March 2013, the City of Phoenix Parks Department announced the new design team to work with the community to create a new Master Plan for Hance Park. Led by Scottsdale’s Weddle Gilmore, downtown Phoenix’s Floor Associates, and New York City-based !melk, the new design is working its way through multiple revisions and community meetings. In September, eight community design charrettes were held to get a pulse of what people wanted in their urban park. The initial design rethinks the park into three areas as well as integrating the Burton Barr Phoenix Central Library into Hance Park even more. The design will be finished in March 2014 (in time for an unveiling during the second McDowell Mountain Music Festival at Hance Park, so I hear) and then the task begins to find the money to build the new Hance Park. A great city requires a great parks system and Hance Park is on its way to serving as the cornerstone of that system in urban Phoenix. I’ve also written on why we might also want to reconsider the name to “Roosevelt Park” and I hope you read through that essay.
3. Adoption of LGBT Non-Discrimination Ordinance — In an unnecessarily contentious City Council policy session on 26 February 2013, including a change of venue to the larger Orpheum Theater building, the Phoenix City Council approved by a vote of 5-3 new language to make it illegal to discriminate against members of the LGBT community within the City of Phoenix. Opponents from Arizona’s conservative community, including the Roman Catholic Diocese of Phoenix, curiously challenged the bill as a “bathroom bill,” saying that it would open the door for child predators. Their accusations have been wrong. A bill was taken up in the State Legislature to overturn Phoenix’s legislation but that, fortunately, failed. As I say, urban design is one thing; good urban (and inclusive) policy is even better.
4. Opening of Downtown’s First Dog Park — Those who know me (and know me well) might find it interesting that I’ve included this item on the list and especially as a downtown strength. I was a most vocal critic of the discussions surrounding the dog park (including a misguided proposal to install a linear dog run on 1st Street south of Hance Park). I felt that those discussions distracted from the bigger issue at hand: the renaissance of Hance Park. But it’s heartwarming to see that there has been a lot of community involvement both in construction and in the ongoing operation of the dog park, including a “Friends” group dedicated to funding the dog park’s continued operation. It’s shown that people in Phoenix love their parks and will advocate for them.
5. A Nationwide Renewed Interest in Downtowns — Perhaps not solely a 2013 issue, there has been a renewed interest in downtowns and urban areas. People are seeing the benefits from living in central cities: reduced costs of commuting, better health, and more amenities within a short walk’s distance. As an urban dweller since 2006 (and an observer of downtown Phoenix since 2000), it’s great to see the strides being made. In urban Phoenix, there is a long way to go but we’re getting there…even if it’s slowly.