Build the damn train

The South Central Avenue light rail project is under attack and needs our support against an increasingly anti-urban City Council. Build the damn train.

The South Central Avenue light rail extension is in the news again.

If you’ve not heard, the project is on life support. I don’t believe this to be hyperbole. Following Greg Stanton’s resignation as Mayor to run for Congress, two councilmenbers (Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela) decided to resign to run for Mayor. That means that the Council has to appoint two individuals. In District 5, the City Council appointed Vania Guevara to replace Mr. Valenzuela. But in District 8, the Council appointed councilmember Michael Nowakowski’s chief of staff, Felicita Mendoza, to replace Ms. Gallego.

Nothing much is known on Ms. Mendoza’s urban viewpoints but it’s telling that at this week’s City Council meeting, she provided a key vote to study alternatives for the money that would have been spent on the South Central Avenue light rail project.

Transit is something that brings controversy. The idea of large public expenditure on transit doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. But public transportation is the great social equalizer. It connects people to the places that are important to their lives: jobs, education, recreation, arts, and culture.

There’s a trend going around that political groups connected to Americans for Prosperity (AfP) and the Koch Brothers are trying to kill public transportation projects around the country. They were successful in Nashville, providing the final nail in the coffin for their ambitious transit program. It seems like the group that’s morphed from “4 Lanes or No Train” to “No Train or No Train” is one of those astroturf-roots groups. This group has a major ally in Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who’s aligned with AfP. More troubling is that groups advocating for Latinx communities have taken a position against light rail.

To those who say that this light rail project is a new thing that’s being shoved down people’s throats, I say nonsense. This has been voted on three times and passed all three times: Transit 2000 in March 2000, Proposition 400 in 2004, and Transit 2015 (Move PHX) in August 2015. All three times, the vote in favor was by a resounding majority. With the South Central Avenue light rail alignment, over 300 community meetings were held to explain what was going to be happening (see p. 569 of this report, caution, very large PDF file).

This raises a worrying thought: If the Phoenix City Council foolishly kills the South Central Avenue light rail, a project voted on three times by the citizens of Phoenix, then what point is there on voting for master plans for the City when elements of them can be set aside for political expedience? Why should I vote for General Plans or major transit initiatives when a feckless City Council can do what they please? The Phoenix of today has descended so far from the Phoenix of 1993, winning the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Best Run City in the World award.

The Citizens of Phoenix want light rail. Stop this political nonsense. Build the damn train.

Mural, mural on the wall

My thoughts on the feigned controversy about murals in central-city Phoenix

The following email was conveyed to members of the Phoenix City Council, the Historic Preservation Office, and others within the City of Phoenix to express my disdain for unnecessary regulations on murals in light of a few individuals’ complaints about the Phoenix Mural Festival:

In no uncertain terms, I am strongly opposed to the creation of any regulations or restrictions on private property owners to engage in artistic expression and paint a mural on their property. Further, I am concerned that if murals become regulated, other elements of personality and individuality will be up for additional regulations and the City would become one large homeowners’ association with all of the restrictions that have made HOAs infamous.

In his 2011 book Triumph of the City, the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser made this comment: “There is great value in protecting the most beautiful parts of our urban past, but cities shouldn’t be embalmed in amber” (p. 136). Cities are living and breathing embodiments of our history where the present is informed by the past. Like museum relics, however, if something is embalmed in amber, it is most likely deceased.

I am greatly troubled to hear about this row caused by murals painted in historic neighborhoods. I am sure that others have spoken to you about potential First Amendment implications and problems of mural regulation. I am also sure some have spoken to you about if it’s appropriate for City government to police murals painted on private property. As a Midtown community leader and a supporter of the arts, I am compelled to speak at this from a different angle.

In the City’s 2015 General Plan, arts and culture is a core part of the City’s identity. The General Plan’s goal for the arts in Phoenix is, “Ensure Phoenix becomes an Arts & Culture destination by encouraging new public art projects, maintenance of existing public art, and support for arts and cultural activities throughout our communities” (p. 126, emphasis mine). The General Plan was created through a celebrated program of community consensus. But now when its application is at hand, does this City- and community-driven plan mean anything, or will its guiding principles and specific recommendations be ignored?

Creating regulations because a small minority of Phoenix citizens have complained about recent murals undermines the great tradition of free artistic expression that has made Phoenix a welcoming community for artists to make our city better and for all of us as urban advocates to keep fighting for Phoenix.

In closing, I am strongly opposed to the creation of any regulations in any neighborhood to limit the painting of murals on private property.

Radio weather

The tremendous downside of listening to Classical Minnesota Public Radio in Phoenix is that you get the Minneapolis / St Paul weather forecasts, where the high temperature tomorrow will be about 40° F cooler than here and about 100 percent more rainy.

Burton Barr Library is back

Burton Barr Library is open again.

Phoenix’s central Burton Barr Library is back open again after nearly a year of repairs due to inadequate maintenance of its fire suppression system. The chickens of sprawl paying for itself are coming home to roost.

For now, the building is better than it was when it opened in 1995. It is ready to be Phoenix’s central library for many more decades to come.

Burton Barr Library elevators - Reopening Day 16 June 2018

Twitter nonsense

Can someone explain today’s Twitter nonsense?

[Updated 16 June 2018 at bottom] Can someone explain Twitter? Not in the “you can share 140 280-character snippets of daily life” sense, but in the “what is going on with that platform?” sense? As I see it, it’s a bunch of Twitter nonsense.

Earlier this morning, I get around to changing my password on Twitter because they were leaked out. Now, I should back up to say that I signed off from Twitter at the end of 2017 because I had thought Twitter had become more noise than signal and, frankly, had outlived its usefulness for me. Not to mention that Twitter had some pretty murky reasons for defending hate speech, something that made me uncomfortable. (To be fair, their guidelines changed earlier this year.) As I thought about signing back in and breaking my Twitter silence in April, I read that they were changing their API so that my usual Twitter client, Tweetbot, would be significantly limited to access the service.

So fast-forward to this morning. As I sign in to change my password, I’m presented with this graphic:

My account, @edwardjensen, has been suspended with no reason or rationale given for its suspension. The help pages are pathetically useless, only giving roundabout reasons for suspending an account. I had not received any advance warning in my email about this suspension. It’s not that the account has been sitting dormant for too long: the Twitter account for The Downtown Phoenix Podcast (@dtphxpodcast) last updated on 31 December 2016. It couldn’t have been for content as the last post on my personal Twitter account was on 31 December 2017. Did someone report my account? Again, why wasn’t I notified?

The moral of the story is this: When you use an external service, you’re at their mercy for what they will allow or disallow and often times, it’s a random mess based on their algorithms and what those services think they want you to see. When social media started moving away from chronological post feeds to an algorithm-driven “news feed,” that’s the moment when we lost it. When social media started removing human editors from the equation to curate what happened in favor of computer processes, that’s also the moment when we lost it. When social media started pay-to-play to get more eyeballs on posts, we lost an egalitarian community message board and went to a plutocratic space.

The point of this mini essay is this: When you create content, unless you’re hosting it on a platform that’s wholly under your control, there’s no guarantee that it will be out there in the future.

That should give everyone pause. Because today’s Twitter nonsense might have greater ramifications for society tomorrow.

[Edited to add: On 16 June 2018, my Twitter account was unlocked. In the email from Twitter support, “[It] looks like your account got caught up in one of these spam groups by mistake. This sometimes happens when an account exhibits automated behavior in violation of the Twitter Rules (https://twitter.com/rules).” In reviewing the Twitter Rules, I can’t find out what I specifically did to have Twitter’s algorithms think my account is a spammy account. That should give people even more pause.]