Her Secret is Patience

A picture of Her Secret is Patience, the public art piece in downtown Phoenix.

I think it goes without saying that my all-time favorite piece of public art hangs right here in downtown Phoenix. It’s Her Secret is Patience, created by the artist Janet Echelman, for the Downtown Phoenix Civic Space Park.

Photo of the Day, 19 Oct 2012

It, like most things in downtown Phoenix, photographs better at night than during the day.

thoughts on Civic Ego

Civic ego (n.): “A city’s (or a city’s inhabitants’) sense of self-esteem or self-importance.”

[editor’s note: It’s great to be writing again.]

The notion of civic ego is something that seems like it hasn’t been explored a lot.  Great cities – and even nascent great cities – have it.  The great cities are very clear when they say that they are the great cities.  Consider this sentence: “Oh, well of course New York City is the cultural capital of the US.”  There are thousands of arts organizations in NYC, including the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, the Julliard School of Music, and far too many others to mention.

So I thought of a phrase that takes this all into account: civic ego.  The definition isn’t any more than the sum of its constituent words: civic meaning of cities and ego meaning a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.  Combined, I posit that the definition of civic ego is this: “A city’s (or a city’s inhabitants’) sense of self-esteem or self-importance.”  (Of course, this implies that cities are living, breathing entities.  I think that we would all agree with that.)

This is something that we don’t have a lot of here in Phoenix.  We’re a nascent city and a city that’s generally on the correct track.  Something that we lack here in Phoenix is civic ego.  We’re definitely deferential to the cultural and physical amenities that we have here.  Instead of saying, “We’re a great city and we deserve these great amenities,” we say, “How lucky we are to have this in Phoenix.”

While it’s sometimes good to adopt the more deferential tone, if Phoenix is to be a great city, then we need to adopt the mindset that we are a great city.  This isn’t blind boosterism: this is changing our thinking from “being lucky” to “of course this should be in Phoenix.”  We can have nice things, too.  So let’s be unabashedly proud of what’s here.

More thoughts on this later. For now, your thoughts are always appreciated! How can we improve Phoenix’s civic ego?

An Appreciation of Sally Ride

The PBS NewsHour and Miles O’Brien offer an appreciation of the life of Sally K. Ride, the astronaut who passed away yesterday aged 61.


“Sally Ride, I think, saw space as a means to an end. Her passion, her goal was to inspire young people to take on careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. When you’re 8 years old, you don’t want to be a waste management engineer. You want to be an astronaut, right? And she understood that intuitively, that to get kids in the tent, inspiring them with space was the way to go. And she committed her — her post-NASA career was all about that, consistently and relentlessly.” –Miles O’Brien

What’s OUR Apollo moment today?

What is our Apollo moment today? What can we accomplish before THIS decade is out?

Forty-three years ago, humanity set its first feet on a foreign celestial body. Or, in other words, 43 years ago, we landed on the Moon.

New York Times, 21 July 1969

Forty-three years ago today, Neil A. Armstrong and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, Jr., set humanity’s first foot on the moon. It came from an audacious dream in 1961 from the then-President, John F. Kennedy, and it was achieved “before this decade is out.”

What is our Apollo moment today? What one goal can we as Americans — nay, as humanity unified — achieve before this decade is out? Do we choose to eradicate poverty and hunger? Or pledge to ourselves that war will be no more? Do we challenge ourselves to stop our influence on global warming?

If we don’t dream audaciously, then humanity’s future is bleak. Here’s to exploring further, digging deeper, and dreaming like we’ve never dreamed before.

Priorities for Downtown Phoenix

The first post of five that outlines attainable solutions for making downtown Phoenix a great place to be.

There’s been a lot made about that op-ed in Sunday’s edition of The Arizona Republic about downtown Phoenix. Personally, I thought it was full of aspirational platitudes that could easily be applied to Pittsburgh as much as Phoenix or Poughkeepsie. But, like the attention-craved downtowners that we are, any publicity is good and we have to go at it and spin our way through it.

I reject that. Completely.

I read through the piece a couple times and it seemed like a generic consultant’s report instead of a piece that offered solutions tailored to our desert downtown. And, after reading through the piece a couple times, I was very confused. It didn’t offer any new ideas or concepts for our downtown. It talked on and on about educational issues, something that downtown inherently cannot solve.

In other words, it didn’t do anything for me. And reading through the blogs and Twitter streams of some of downtown’s most critical thinkers, who bought in to that op-ed, I was very dismayed.

It’s time for an honest look at downtown’s priorities. Over the next four Tuesdays, I’m going to shine a light on those priorities. Some of the priorities can be applied to downtowns and urban areas in general. Some of them are uniquely Phoenix needs.

Which leads me to this: I’m prepared to argue that downtown Phoenix’s four priority areas should be shade, connection, grocery, and density.

I really don’t like to employ the overused Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs because it’s just that: overused. But each of the areas here build on each other. In downtown Phoenix, that bottommost level would be shade. Hot summers aren’t a new invention for Phoenix, even the Hohokam had to deal with them. (We’ve just made them hotter by clear-cutting agricultural fields around the urban core to make way for exurban development.) If one looks at recent architecture in Phoenix, one could reasonably deduct that it doesn’t get warm here.

The next level up on that hierarchy is connection. Urban areas require connection by non-automobile needs. The connections, however, aren’t there. Bike lanes exist in islands and vacuums by themselves. Key parts of our downtown, like Grand Avenue, aren’t connected to the rest of the Phoenix public transportation system. Light rail is a wonderful asset to the community but very few spur lines from that initial twenty-mile starter line have been contemplated; I doubt the usefulness of those lines that have been considered.

Another level up is grocery. Perhaps this is a uniquely Phoenix case since we don’t have a true walkable grocery store in our community. Need groceries? The nearest full-service grocery store to downtown Phoenix is a Safeway at 7th St and McDowell. Within downtown, there are two convenience stores and two mini-markets that sometimes don’t cut it. As much as we all loved the indoor Urban Grocery at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, it had limited selection and high prices.

Once you have these three fundamentals, then you can achieve the big thing that makes urban environments shine: DENSITY. (If you’ve been engaged with me in any sort of conversation lately, then you know that this is my constant rallying cry.) Consider the following: There are about thirty coffeehouses in downtown Phoenix, including independent places like Fair Trade and One Coffee and chains like Starbucks and Dutch Bros Coffee. There’s also a score of expensive “destination” restaurants in the same area. But who lives here? The biggest continuous population in downtown Phoenix is ASU students. Aside from a few others who live at 44 Monroe, the Orpheum Lofts, and Alta Lofts, that’s not a lot of non-ASU density.

I hope I’ve piqued your interest for the next four weeks. This should be a wild ride and a good critical analysis of our downtown. It’s time to leave the analysis to true urbanists: those who live here and those who know what makes cities go forward. (Perhaps I should remind you that my ASU degree is in Urban Studies.)

The Valley’s Bikeability?

Interview from KAET’s Arizona Horizon on bicycling in the Valley. Biking is only as good as if it can get you where you want to go safely!

Quick hit for the morning: The Bicycle Cellar alerted me to this interview and video piece from KAET’s Arizona Horizon that talks about bicycling in the Valley. Biking is only as good as if it can get you where you want to go safely.

From the Archives: Thoughts on SB 1070

In light of the US Supreme Court’s decision on SB 1070, a two-year-old post seems to be relevant yet again.

[author’s note: The following post, originally published 14 May 2010 in the wake of the recent signing into law of Arizona’s SB 1070, is relevant following today’s earlier decision by the US Supreme Court to pre-empt certain portions of the controversial immigration law. SB 1070’s not going away yet, unfortunately, as immigration is an issue that our political leaders would rather use as electoral politics instead of actually doing something.]

Arizona State Capitol (photo: robeeena on Flickr)It’s been a few weeks now since SB1070 has been signed into law. Unless you’ve been living in a cave for the past few weeks, you know all the fallout that’s happened from around the state and across the nation. It hasn’t been pretty. There have been calls to boycott Arizona, and some state and city legislatures have introduced measures to boycott Arizona.

In all the madness, I’ve been trying to figure out what SB1070 means for me, my community, and greater Arizona. I believe that SB1070 is misguided and does nothing to solve the true issue at hand, immigration reform.  I firmly believe that SB1070 was passed because we’ve let fear drive the conversation instead of reasoned, rational debate.  As Emerson said, “Fear always springs from ignorance.”

It’s been hard putting words to how I feel. I understand the frustration on the parts of those who support this law. The Federal government has definitely let us all down in passing any sort of immigration reform. I hope that Arizona’s passing of this misguided law is a wake-up call to the Federal government to start a new dialog on immigration. Unfortunately, seeing how this is an election year, I’m not holding my breath that a humane, sensible, and comprehensive immigration policy will be passed as candidates will pander to their ever-increasingly polarized sides.

I know that it’s all too easy to say that the law will only impact those who aren’t legally in this country. I believe that this will impact everyone. It has only raised the already-heightened sense of fear in the community.  Those who support the law have publicly squirmed when they try to come up with criteria besides skin color of what an “illegal immigrant” might look like. We have a sheriff that goes on media blitzes to brag about how many undocumented immigrants he and his office have apprehended. Laws like SB1070 will only further enable him to do that.

I’m not writing this to downplay the issue of undocumented immigration in Arizona. It is a big deal. For too long, it seems like we’ve let this issue slide because there was enough resources to help immigrants and because we recognized the positive effects they’ve had on the economy. Only now are we realizing that operatives of drug cartels are operating in the local schools. Now that Arizona’s economy is in a nosedive, the state legislature and a somewhat silent citizenry are scapegoating the immigrant community for these problems. It’s their fault that Arizona is losing money.  It’s their fault that crime is on the rise. It’s not our fault, it’s their fault.

It seems like an excuse to pass this law is the increased border violence, drug transportation, and its localized crime. If this is the case, why was there not an element in the law deploying the Arizona Army National Guard to the border area to defend against this criminal element? Why are we focusing on people who are here already instead of stopping the real threat to our safety and security?  The framers of this bill have said that we want safer communities and that this will help mitigate the criminal element inherent in immigration. So why, then, are we focusing on those who have innocently set up their lives here to escape the violence and bloodshed in their homeland instead of those committing the violence and bloodshed?

One has to understand that it is a small percentage of the total immigrant population that is giving everyone a bad name. The media and its unchecked commentators are quick to highlight on a few stories that prove their points. We were spoon-fed stories about a southern Arizona rancher allegedly being murdered by an immigrant yet evidence is now emerging that an American citizen is the alleged suspect. We hear of a rise in crime, but that crime is usually localized and insider crime that is tied to smuggling. It’s not random.  As Dean Nicholas Knisely+ of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral wrote in an essay on this very topic, “There are some very bad people coming across the border. There are also many people desperate to find work coming across as well, because the crushing poverty in their home communities makes [it] impossible to feed and care for their families.”

There have been many parallels drawn that connect Arizona to Nazi Germany. As an Arizonan, I’m offended. Nobody likes their home state compared to a brutal régime that systematically killed millions of Jews. Yet that does not mean that I’m oblivious to these parallels. Those who support this law say that those who are here with the appropriate paperwork have nothing to hide. But this now means that entire groups of people will now have to carry with them the appropriate papers to show that they are either citizens or immigrants in the country legally.

I’ve been convinced that SB1070 will never actually go into effect because there are a multitude of legal challenges and injunctions that will be filed against it. I hope this is the case. I’m a proud Arizonan and I don’t like that my home state, the state in which I was born, is the butt end of jokes. The Arizona in which I live is open, welcoming, and tolerant of other peoples. The Arizona that is unfortunately being portrayed to the media is a xenophobic, old, and rancorous state.

For those who care about this state, we’ve been let down. We’ve been let down by a state legislature that passes policies blaming one group of citizens for the state’s troubles. We’ve been let down by politicians that put their careers before their constituents. We’ve been let down by a federal government that has neglected to address immigration reform thus enabling states to pass draconian laws such as these. We’ve been let down by the media that is using opinions as the basis for facts and not vice versa.

I’ve publicly debated on this blog whether or not I’ll stay in Arizona once I’ve finished my Master’s degree. I think that now is the time that I should stay here and fight to change Arizona to be the Arizona in which I want to live. The quotation by Mohandas Gandhi is increasingly pertinent: “We need to be the change we wish to see in the world.”

We need change. Desperately. But that change has to be relevant, humane, sensible, and comprehensive.

Quick post on iOS 6

…in which we make the obligatory iOS 6 initial thoughts post.

iOS 6 icon (credit: Apple)To nobody’s surprise, Apple (at its WWDC keynote address) formally announced the next major edition of their mobile operating system, iOS 6. The big features added to iOS 6 include Siri support on the new iPad, a new Apple maps app (iMaps?), OS-level Facebook sharing, an app called Passbook, and a few other things.

The news is generally welcome. The verdict is still out on whether the new Apple Maps app will have transit directions. As to be expected, very few sources are reporting on this. Some places say yes, many many places are silent. Of course, the fallback will be using Google Maps in the browser.

Another feature that is very welcome is the addition of per-account signatures for each of your email addresses. And, for educational use, I’m welcoming the new Guided Access feature, which will enable device administrators (e.g. parents or teachers) to lock down their device so only one app may run.

A theme that emerged at today’s WWDC keynote — and made very evident by the launch of the latest MacBook Pro (you know, the one with the Retina Display) — was that it’s time to look forward in technology and leave some technologies behind. If you have the first iPad, you won’t be able to upgrade to iOS 6. Likewise, only the fourth generation of iPod touch will be the only iPod touch that can get the iOS 6 upgrade. The iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S are also upgradeable…and so is the iPhone 3GS, announced at WWDC three years ago.

iOS 6 upgradeable devices (credit: apple.com)

As I usually say: “Interesting, interesting…”

iOS 6 and transit maps?

…in which we wonder about Apple’s new mapping application.

On Monday, Apple is set to release the sixth major version of iOS, its mobile operating software. Normally, however, changes are a good thing and each new version of iOS has been better than the last.

One of the big stories that’s flying around in this weekend before iOS 6 is formally announced is that Apple is dropping from Google Maps in favor of using its own mapping solution. Apple and Google have been trading punches lately and Apple has purchased several mapping companies. Of course, these are all rumors and we won’t know for sure until Monday morning. But if the rumors are true, then I’m sure that Apple will call their new mapping application “amazing,” “revolutionary,” “magical,” and other synonyms.

But, will it really be that?

I’m sure that it will be aesthetically pleasing. And that the graphics will be great. But one of the best features of Google Maps — and the big reason why I use it — is that Google Maps offers transit directions. You see, I don’t have a car. The option for me to get reliable directions to get from Point A to Point B via transit, as in the screen capture on the right, is absolutely mission-critical.

The other problem, at least for Phoenix, is that Valley Metro is very protective of their transit schedules. It took several years after Google Transit’s launch before one could plan transit trips here in Phoenix. If there is a transit feature in Apple’s new maps, what data will be there? I highly doubt that Phoenix’s will be there at launch.

Thankfully, we can still access Google Maps via the browser. But a native app was so much better. Ah, there’s something to be said about restricting an ecosystem.