Failure to Launch: Downtown Phoenix edition

Downtown Phoenix still isn’t ready to take off. Parking lots for cars — the enemy of density — is still a priority. Grr.

In the midst of re-doing my blog, I’ve gone through and looked at some old posts of mine. (Unfortunately, I’ve lost almost everything I’ve written before 2011, which happens to be a lot of content. But that’s okay, I guess.) Anyway, one of those posts was my year-end retrospective post I wrote before the New Year 2011, in which I said:

We’ve learned that downtown Phoenix just isn’t ready to take off…yet. We’ve seen steps forward and backward with CityScape. Even with light rail access, parking spaces are still important to downtown Phoenix planners, as evident with the demolition of the Sahara/Ramada Inn for a parking lot (even with better alternatives) and an extension of a parking lot’s life in the heart of the urban core. [from here, written 27 December 2010]

Keep in mind that this building at 2200 N Central Avenue is less than a block away from the Encanto / Heard Museum METRO light rail station. But no, we have to consider car parking. If we have to consider that “abundant parking” is a key feature for anything in central Phoenix, then what we have here is a failure to launch.


Changes, changes, changes

Welcome to the next version of Technology for a Digital Generation!

Screen Capture of "Technology for a Digital Generation" homepageThings change. And like everything that’s good on the Internet, this blog has changed. No longer is it a collection point for random ramblings of mine (although that will still happen, I promise!): there’s a purpose to this blog.

Of the bigger things that you’ll notice is the title of this blog. No longer is the title “Life as Edward Jensen” as that’s been moved into the subtitle. I am pleased to introduce you all to Technology for a Digital Generation: Technology Research, Digital Citizenship, and Bicycling.

This blog really will start to focus on four things. Of course, there will be news, information, and commentary on all that is downtown Phoenix. That won’t change. And of course there will be stories about my adventures in bicycle commuting in the urban desert. That, too, won’t change. But there are two more things that I will focus on: technology research and digital citizenship.

The emphasis and integration of the latter two thematic areas — technology research and digital citizenship — is really me integrating my technology consulting firm, Downtown Technology Company, to a broader audience. Downtown Technology is a technology consulting firm but it’s more than that. Through Downtown Technology, I look at technology as a force for capacity building. How can startups, nonprofits, education, and others leverage technology more effectively to build their capacity and do what they do better?

The research there is definitely a rush. I hope you will join me.

Doctrina Urbi Serviat?

…in which we read into a building plaque at ASU Downtown more than we probably should.

One of the things that I do is take pictures of building plaques. They’re the little things that are inside city/state/federal buildings that gives a snapshot of the relevant legislative bodies and executive officers at the time of the building’s construction.

Much has been made about the recent decision by the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus to close off the buildings to the public. There’s a lot of confusion over ASU’s justification to do that considering that the buildings aren’t ASU buildings but are, in fact, City of Phoenix buildings. It will be interesting to see how that conversation plays out and I am very curious what ASU has to say about this.

But back to building plaques: One of the more subtle ironies in this whole discussion is this plaque that’s inside the Cronkite School building. It has the usual cast of characters on it: the Mayor, the City Council, other city leaders, and the requisite names from the Arizona Department of Education and the Arizona Board of Regents. There are, however, two other inscriptions that accentuate the irony just that much more:

“Dedicated to the people of the City of Phoenix whose vision, trust and commitment made this campus possible.”


Let Knowledge Serve the City

I couldn’t help but notice this as we all considered the repercussions and impact of a newly closed campus at ASU Downtown.

Thoughts on #PHXUDW day 3

…in which the Grady Gammage Jr/Andrew Ross debate for Phoenix Urban Design Week is reviewed.

Great conversation tonight at day 3 of Phoenix Urban Design Week.

I, and many, expected the conversation between Andrew Ross and Grady Gammage Jr. to be more spirited than it was but was pleased with the content of the conversation. I appreciate that Andrew Ross has really tackled the social justice/social equity piece and made that as much of an issue of sustainability than just “going green” — something with which I agree wholeheartedly. It was interesting how most of the evening was spent talking about water, with nary a mention of transportation and air quality.

Surprisingly, the best line of the night came from Grady Gammage Jr., who said, “You can’t have a city if you have a parking spot for everything.” I absolutely agree. Parking lots are the enemy of density.

Back at it at 8am tomorrow morning at PURL!

Youth Desire More Transportation Options

…in which I weigh in on some good news: Young people are driving less!

photo Michael Loke/Flickr (used under a CC license)I received this lovely bit of news from Arizona PIRG: Youth are driving less. Long live cities!

A new report released today by the Arizona PIRG Education Fund demonstrates that Americans have been driving less since the middle of last decade. The report, Transportation and the New Generation: Why Young People are Driving Less and What it Means for Transportation Policy, shows that young people in particular are decreasing the amount they drive and increasing their use of transportation alternatives.

“For the first time in two generations, there has been a significant shift in how many miles Americans are driving each year,” said Serena Unrein, Public Interest Advocate for the Arizona PIRG Education Fund. “America needs to understand these trends when deciding how to focus our future transportation investments, especially when transportation dollars are so scarce.”

Transportation and the New Generation reveals that for the first time since World War II, Americans are driving less. The report showed that by 2011, the average American was driving 6 percent fewer miles per year than in 2004.

This trend away from driving is even more pronounced among young people. The average young person (age 16-34) drove 20 percent fewer miles in 2009 than the average young person in 2001. The report also notes that a growing number of young Americans do not have driver’s licenses; from 2000 to 2010, the share of 14 to 34-year-olds without a license increased from 21 percent to 26 percent.

“With one of our largest ridership groups being between the ages of 18 – 24, we have to provide them frequent and comprehensive mobility choices that support their lifestyle,” said Valley Metro CEO Steve Banta.  “The total transit network, which is many modes working in concert, will help keep our young people in the region and support our local economy.”

“I would rather have good public transportation options than the hassle and expense of driving a car,” said Nicole Barrett, a student at Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus. “It’s time for our leaders to stop debating how much to spend expanding our grandparents’ transportation network and start figuring out how to build the infrastructure that my generation will need for the future.”

“The shift away from six decades of in­creasing vehicle travel to a new reality of slow-growing or even declining vehicle travel has potentially seismic implica­tions for transportation policy,” says Benjamin Davis, analyst with Frontier Group. “It calls into question the very wisdom of our current transportation investment priorities.”

“America’s transportation preferences appear to be changing. Our elected officials need to make transportation decisions based on the real needs of Americans in the 21st century,” concluded Unrein.

Systems and Sustainable Transportation

…in which I look at transportation as a system — not as bits and pieces — and ask others to join me.

Something’s been on my mind lately. (Well, when isn’t that the case?)

A lot of people have mentioned the rise of the so-called “bicycle culture” here in Phoenix.  I’m not sure what that means, though: what is bicycle culture?  If it’s not a hipster movement, the bicycle culture advocates for bicycle transportation as the mode of transportation in urban environments.

Don’t get me wrong: I love bicycling—even in the desert.  I have a bicycle that I use to get around central Phoenix that I’ve christened as Kierkegaard, after the Danish existentialist philosopher.  The picture here is of my bicycle at one of the light rail stations here in town.  It is my equivalent of a car since I don’t have a car.  I agree that there needs to be better bicycle infrastructure in this city and around the world.

Actually, I should come out here and share this with the world: I don’t have a driver’s license.  In fact, I’ve never had one.  I am sure that I’m going to have to get one at some point; for now, it’s a point of personal pride that I’ve gotten this far without needing one.

As I see it, bicycling is part of a greater system: sustainable transportation.  I think that this is where the bicycle culture people are missing a key piece to their advocacy.  The other two components of that sustainable transportation system are public transportation and walking.  It’s not about promoting one modality over the other or saying that one is superior to the other.  It’s about recognizing that sustainable transportation is a system and that all modalities are connected to each other.

I have taken Kierkegaard (the bicycle) on the trains here many times when my final destination is just outside of the reach of my pedaling power.  Bike to train to bike to destination: it’s about the journey and the destination.

We’ll go farther together than separately.

Enough about dog parks!

…in which I ask: Can we stop arguing over a downtown Phoenix dog park and move on to other issues?

A map of the temporary site of the downtown Phoenix dog park.Earlier today, the Hance Park Steering Committee held its final meeting. The Hance Park Steering Committee finished putting together its document of principles that will (hopefully!) head out as an RFQ process as the first step to make Hance Park a cultural and recreational gem for Phoenicians and for the world. As someone said, “Hance Park is our Central Park. Let’s not mess this up!”

At the previous Hance Park Steering Committee meeting, the Steering Committee recommended placement of a temporary dog park at the northwest island of Hance Park, located across from Kenilworth School, between 3rd and 5th Avenues and Culver Street. This was the decision that has had support from community members, institutional processes, and the right decision makers.

Enter today. A new fight was waged against democratic processes. A neighbor adjacent to the proposed Hance Park dog park site gave a three-minute speech about why a dog park should not go at this temporary site. A lot of people asked him this question: Why weren’t your issues brought to the table when the Ad Hoc Dog Park Committee was going through its recommendation process? Of course, the gentleman had no answer. His flyers (which were printed on gloss paper with somewhat professional graphic design) linked to an online petition which, at the moment of this writing, has only two signatures.

I’m not a fan of dog parks but I am supportive of the process that has been taken here by the Hance Park Steering Committee. I am also supportive of the Hance Park Steering Committee’s desire to launch an RFQ process as a means to develop Hance Park’s new Master Plan. But as for dog parks: this location is sensible and temporary. It is a sensible site because it executes the democratic processes and recommendations of the Ad Hoc Dog Park Committee and is cognizant of community input. It is a temporary site because the formal design team will work with the neighbors and site a dog park at the location that works the best. If it’s the same site, nobody knows.

So, I have a question to my fellow downtown Phoenicians: Can we put this saga to rest? There are so many larger pressing issues that face downtown Phoenix that we should work together to find solutions.

Dog parks are for the dogs. Let’s work on human-scaled issues together. That’s my approach: who is with me?

Serpentine, Shel, serpentine!

…in which I draw a parallel between central Phoenix’s new audible crosswalk signals and a classic scene from a 1979 movie.

Every time I’m at one of the crosswalks in central Phoenix, the sound that the crosswalk signals make (either a machine gun or a jackhammer, hopefully the latter!) reminds me of this scene from the 1979 movie The In-Laws (guidance: language):


Serpentine, Shel, serpentine!

Monday opinions on dog parks

…in which I opine on a downtown Phoenix dog park and express dismay over the tenor of the dialogue.

A map of the temporary site of the downtown Phoenix dog park.I’m finished opining on the downtown Phoenix dog park.

Everyone has a right to their own opinion. I enjoy hearing the different thoughts that come out in the dialogue and I’m amazed by the diversity of ideas produced. But I have become distraught at the tenor of the conversation. It appears like there are groups of people who are so entrenched in their viewpoints that they fail to consider other opinions.

I’m not saying that one side is right and the other is wrong. I am saying that it is only fair to have a reasoned and rational discussion among all sides about the dog park issue. Personally, I believe that there are more important things to downtown Phoenix’s renaissance than siting a dog park. We need to consider our downtown’s macro issues, being mindful that these are the things that make a downtown truly great: arts and culture, affordable housing, community building, good design, sustainable transportation, social equity, historic preservation, a diverse economy, strong neighborhoods, vibrant public spaces, and solid planning.

While I’m sure that organizations with which I’m affiliated (like Downtown Voices Coalition, the Hance Park Conservancy, and others) will weigh in on this issue, it is my hope that the debate is civil.

I, personally, am finished weighing in on the dog park. My priorities are based on that list above.