Downtown Phoenix In Review 2014: Strengths

As 2014 winds down, let’s look back on the year that was in downtown Phoenix. In this first post of four, I’ll look at downtown Phoenix’s strengths.

[editor’s note: Over the next few days, we’ll be publishing our year-end Downtown Phoenix In Review 2014 series. In four posts, we’ll look at downtown’s strengths, weaknesses, threats, and opportunities that shaped its 2014 and set the stage for 2015 and beyond. The quartet of posts from last year provide indispensable context to the urban condition and are worth your read.]

Downtown Phoenix In Review 2014 graphicDowntown Phoenix In Review 2014: I. Strengths

1. Hance Park Master Plan reveal. One of the big urban events in 2014 was the unveiling of the Hance Park Master Plan in March. The new Hance Park Master Plan makes a statement for urban public space in Phoenix. NYC-based !melk (led by Jerry van Eyck) worked with of Scottsdale-based Weddle Gilmore and Phoenix-based Floor Associates to create a fantastic plan for the 32.5-acre urban space. The Hance Park Conservancy, Phoenix’s first conservancy dedicated to a specific park, is now working to coordinate the $118 million fundraising project to translate paper to reality. Parks and public space are an integral part of the urban experience and this opportunity to create a defining urban space in Phoenix is an opportunity that we cannot let slip by.

2. Upgrades and maintenance at some of Phoenix’s best public art projects. Two of Phoenix’s best public art projects received major upgrades in 2014: Janet Echelman’s “Her Secret is Patience” at Civic Space Park received a new net and upgraded lighting in early December and two new artist-designed terrazzo floors at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport opened as part of the Terminal 3 SkyTrain expansion. The Airport’s terrazzo floors and the Echelman at Civic Space Park are, in my opinion, two of the nicest things that we have in this city and both show that we can do fantastic art projects in this city.

3. Music festivals in downtown Phoenix. March featured two big music festivals in downtown Phoenix: the VIVA PHX festival on March 7 and the McDowell Mountain Music Festival at the end of that month. Both festivals brought energy downtown and, most importantly, people. As I wrote in March right after the VIVA PHX festival, it seemed like downtown Phoenix was a “city in potentia.” The question is how can we keep that energy happening all the time?

4. Overwhelmingly unified opposition to SB 1062. In February, the Republican-led State Legislature passed Senate Bill 1062, a bill that would make it legal for individuals and businesses to deny services to others based on one’s religious beliefs, which is a thinly veiled assault on civil rights for everyone. Drafted by the anti-LGBTQ “Center for Arizona Policy,” the legislation would have unfairly targeted our LGBTQ friends, neighbors, and colleagues. After the bill was passed in the Arizona State Legislature, scores of Phoenix (and Arizona) chambers of commerce, community organizations, and elected bodies came out in near-unison against this damaging legislation. Governor Brewer ultimately vetoed the bill.

5. Groundbreaking of ASU’s Arizona Center for Law and Society. On 13 November, Arizona State University and its community partners broke ground on the new downtown Phoenix home of the ASU Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, the Arizona Center for Law and Society. The building is set to open in time for the Fall 2016 semester and it will bring more development and density for downtown’s University District. Time will tell how open the building will remain to the public but I remain optimistic.

Friday Urban Dispatches: April 4

For Friday April 4: Friday Urban Dispatches are a unique boots-on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening in our own backyard of downtown Phoenix.

The Friday Urban Dispatches are a unique boots-on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening in our own backyard of downtown Phoenix.

friDispatchHance…enHANCEd. Last week was the big master plan reveal for the next chapter in the life of downtown’s Hance Park.  The plan delineates the park into three areas: a neighborhood park on the west, a civic plaza in the middle, and a performance hub on the east.

BIDding for Roosevelt Row. The City of Phoenix is in the process of authorizing up to $80,000 to study whether an Enhanced Municipal Services District (EMSD), otherwise known as a Business Improvement District (BID), would work in the Roosevelt Row neighborhood.  The academic literature is mixed on its assessment of EMSDs but a couple trends and themes quickly emerge: 1. Property values in EMSDs do rise significantly.  For real estate investors, this is good; for independent shops, can they shoulder the added expense of their lease payment?  2. EMSDs are generally instituted in areas that have significant decline in property values or civic interest.  If there’s one neighborhood in central city Phoenix for which that is the exact opposite, it would be Roosevelt Row.

Budgeting for the worst. Since the last Friday Urban Dispatch, the City of Phoenix released their trial budget and their cuts-only solution to ameliorate a $38 million deficit from the books is not pretty.  It closes parks and parks-related programming, slashes operational support to arts and cultural organizations, and places minimal value on the civic fabric of our community.  While I do think some long-standing contracts, including employee compensation, need to be looked at, to fix this year’s budget through cuts only is not right.  Was the 2% food tax phased down too early?  Maybe.

A podcast of action. After Monday, The Downtown Phoenix Podcast will be 3/4 finished with its inaugural series production. What’s in store for it after the series 1 finale goes online on April 21?  Even I don’t know.  I have been pleased with its reception and I am sure it will be back for even greater things.

Thank you, Debra. Tonight is First Friday and I hope that you’ll be able to come by Obliq Art at the Arizona Center for a community tribute to the life and legacy of Debra Friedman, the former Dean of the ASU College of Public Programs who unexpectedly passed away in January. To those who had the great privilege to work alongside Dr. Friedman, it was so evident that the arts held a special place in both her heart and as a cornerstone for the partnerships that she facilitated.

enHANCE Park: Statement to the Parks Board

This statement was delivered on 26 March 2014 to the City of Phoenix Parks & Recreation Board to urge them to approve the new Hance Park Master Plan.

[editor’s note: This statement was delivered on 26 March 2014 to the City of Phoenix Parks & Recreation Board to urge them to approve the new Hance Park Master Plan, which they did unanimously. Please join me and the downtown Phoenix community tonight at Hance Park to see and celebrate the kickoff of the next phase of Hance Park’s life…5-8pm at Hance Park. The best way to get there is via light rail.]

enhance statementChairman Peck and Members of the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board:

I speak before you this afternoon to talk to you about my park, Hance Park. As the Master Plan Design Team and City of Phoenix staff have indicated, it’s not every day that 32.5 acres of urban space comes up for discussion. And that is what this really is: urban space.

What the Master Plan Design Team have come up with is a truly urban design that will set the standard of excellence for urban parks. Our work, however, is not complete when you approve this plan nor is it complete when the full Phoenix City Council approves it in April. What you’re approving tonight, Mr. Chair and members of the Parks Board, is a plan of action.

To get our new Hance Park, it is contingent upon both you as the Parks and Recreation Board and us as citizens of this great city to work together in partnership. The interest is there: dozens of community meetings with packed houses have been held since the Master Plan Design Team started their work in August 2013. The interim design presentations had capacity crowds in their repsective auditoria. Estimates of attendance for [tonight’s] enHANCE event are in the thousands.

The point I am making here, Chairman Peck and members of the Parks and Recreation Board, is this: There is considerable desire that Phoenix should have a forward-thinking urban park. There is consensus that it should be Hance Park.

Thank you.


Some PERSPECTIVE on Hance Park from Episode 3 of “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast”

[editorial note: This is the text of the PERSPECTIVE essay for Episode 3 of my media project, The Downtown Phoenix Podcast. A new feature on the Podcast, the PERSPECTIVE essay is a miniature essay in which I establish context and, well, perspective, on the contents of that show.]


There have been a lot of stories flying around about what the enHANCE Park celebration is on the 27th of March from 5-8pm at downtown Phoenix’s Hance Park.

As we see it, the celebration isn’t about the completion of a process.  Were it that, this plan would end up as yet another plan sitting on a shelf at Phoenix City Hall.

This celebration is a kick-off for the multi-generation project that is the rebirth of Hance Park as a truly urban park in the emerging urban community of Phoenix.  While we’re generally loathe to use phrases like “watershed moment” or “turning-point” in our conversation, this kick-off event has the potential to be one of those events.

Dozens of community meetings with packed houses have been held since the Master Plan Design Team started their work in September 2013.  The interim design  presentations have had capacity crowds at their respective auditoria.   Estimates of attendance for the 27 March enHANCE event are in the thousands.  The point I’m making here is this: There is a considerable desire that Phoenix should have a forward-thinking urban park.  There is consensus that it should be Hance Park.

It’s up to us to get that park built and to get the density built around the park.

The Downtown Phoenix Podcast is a new media project in and for downtown Phoenix that champions serious conversation to bring positive action to our communities and neighborhoods. To learn more and to subscribe to the Podcast, visit

Rethinking Hance Park I: The Name

When it comes to downtown Phoenix’s Hance Park, perhaps it’s time to reconsider that park’s name. I propose an alternative.

[This piece has been edited, please see the editorial comments at the bottom.]

Hance Park Footprint - Google EarthTonight (Wednesday November 20) is the night in which the community comes together to discuss the future of downtown Phoenix’s Hance Park after the world-class design team put together its introductory report, online here.

(The event is tonight from 6-8pm at the Cutler Plotkin Arizona Jewish Heritage Center, 122 E Culver Street. A Facebook invite is here with more details.)

It’s not every day in which thirty-two acres of space in the central city comes up for consideration. That being said, there are lots of community people and downtown leadership organizations that have taken a keen interest in the goings-on of this process. For the most part, this is a most excellent thing! It’s great to see all of the energy and vitality in the room when we discuss the future of this urban space as well as what urban life in Phoenix will become.

While we’re talking about the next design of the park, there’s another piece of the park that should be reconsidered: its name. I have nothing personal against the late Mayor Margaret Taylor Hance (1923-1990), who served as Phoenix’s 52nd mayor from 1976-1983. As Phoenix’s first female mayor, she proved that women could be equally effective in Phoenix’s halls of government. She was a champion of freeways and highways, using her influence with Arizona’s federal representatives to send freeway funding back home. As part of I-10’s construction through the central city, she supported the Arizona Department of Transportation’s desire to demolish thousands of homes leading to the irreparable partitioning of dozens of neighborhoods. She also advocated for dense development outside of the Central Corridor and signed off on the City’s “leapfrog” annexation of lands far removed from the city’s core. In other words, when it came to advancing central city Phoenix, she was not its champion.

I am not saying that her legacy is not valuable or something that should be celebrated. It’s just, as it were, historically ironic that a major park in central city Phoenix is named after someone who staked her legacy on suburban development. The park was slated to be called The Deck at Central Avenue; however, it was renamed as Margaret T. Hance Park in 1991 as Mayor Hance passed away in 1990.

With a lot of energy and enthusiasm surrounding this park, it’s been argued that Hance Park will be to Phoenix what Central Park is to New York City. It’s certainly an aspirational statement and a call for an extremely high standard of excellence. Let’s look at what other cities call their “central park”: those parks are named after early civic leaders (Loring Park in Minneapolis, named after Charles M. Loring, architect of Minneapolis’s parks system), major natural features (Golden Gate Park in San Francisco), early Presidents (Washington Park in Portland, Oregon), or in commemoration of major events (Millennium Park in Chicago).

In Phoenix, we’re talking a lot about place and placemaking. The Roosevelt Row community has created a wonderful sense of identity and placemaking through arts and culture over the past couple of decades. The Roosevelt Neighborhood extends, generally, from Fillmore to McDowell and from Central Avenue to 7th Avenue. We have Roosevelt Point, a new apartment complex at 3rd Street and Roosevelt; we also have Post Roosevelt Square at Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street. These neighborhoods and developments borrow their name from Roosevelt Street, which is named after our 26th President: Theodore Roosevelt.

Roosevelt at ASU
President Theodore Roosevelt speaking at Arizona State University. (photo credit: Arizona State University)

To celebrate place and to celebrate a former President who did a lot of things for a new Arizona and Phoenix, I propose that the new name of Hance Park should be this: Roosevelt Park. In addition to lending his name to a street which has lent its name to the developments and neighborhoods I mentioned, President Roosevelt had many positive contributions to a pre-statehood Arizona. Theodore Roosevelt signed-off on the construction of Roosevelt Dam to the east of Phoenix, which enabled consistent agriculture and development in Phoenix. In March 1911, he delivered a speech on the footsteps of the main building of the Tempe Normal School, which is now Old Main at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus. While Arizona became the 48th State under the administration of Roosevelt’s successor (William Howard Taft), the contributions of President Roosevelt to Arizona–and Phoenix–should be commemorated.

[Edit: It’s come to my attention that there is already a park in downtown Phoenix that is called “Roosevelt Park” – a small park on 3rd Avenue just south of Roosevelt Street. If Hance Park were renamed Roosevelt Park (as I believe it should), then the park that’s currently named Roosevelt Park would have to be renamed as well. Keeping with the Presidential theme, it could be renamed McKinley Park; alternatively, it could become the Roosevelt Community Park.]

[Editorial postscript: Although the author, Edward Jensen, serves on the board of the Hance Park Conservancy as a Neighborhood Stakeholder, the viewpoints and opinions presented in this post do not represent the views of the Hance Park Conservancy, who has not taken a position on the park’s name.]

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?

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.

Why I’m opposed to a First Street dog park

…in which I express concerns and reservations about the latest iteration being thrown around of a downtown Phoenix dog park.

There’s been a lively debate on Facebook about the merits of yet another incarnation of a downtown Phoenix dog park. The latest iteration has the dog park as a series of two linear parks on 1st Street between Hance Park and Roosevelt Street. One of the latest plans is seen in the very long diagram to the right. At the top is Moreland St and Hance Park. At the bottom is Roosevelt St. North is up.

I have to admit that I’m not a dog owner and that I’ve never had a pet (save for a fish that I “rescued” — yes, Virginia, there’s a VERY long story to that one). I did support the first iteration of a downtown Phoenix dog park when it was proposed to be built on the site of the former Sahara/Ramada Inn at 1st St and Polk. I was supportive of a dog park when it was considered to be built at Hance Park, although with growing reservations.

But this latest iteration, put forth by Sean Sweat, the urbanist and downtown Phoenix resident, seems to fall short on a few different levels.

One of my qualms is that this location is not located in any current residential areas. The major buildings near this proposed location are the Southwest Center for HIV/AIDS in the former KPNX building, the 1001 N Central Ave office building, and the Firehouse art space.   The Post Roosevelt Square apartments and condominiums as well as Portland Place are on the west side of Central Avenue and the heart of the historic Roosevelt neighborhood also falls to the west of Central. For those living in Post Roosevelt Square, the Portland Parkway is leaps and bounds more suitable. For residents of the Roosevelt neighborhood, there is Roosevelt Park on 3rd Avenue. To access this location, residents and their dogs would have to cross (at least) Central Avenue. I don’t see this happening.

Another major qualm that I have is that it creates inconsistency in 1st Street. 1st Street is a very wide street all the way from Washington to Hance Park, and then north of Hance Park to McDowell. Although some blocks of 1st St have been altered with new car parking facilities, this would be a great opportunity to have some sort of a grand linear mall that extends over a mile. I remember that when I visited Boston last May, I was so impressed with the Commonwealth Avenue Mall, a grand linear park that runs from the Boston Public Garden to the Back Bay neighborhood. Although 1st Ave isn’t as wide as “Comm Ave,” it could be a grand statement for Phoenix. In fact, an idea put forth for the redesign of Hance Park is making 1st St from Roosevelt to McDowell a linear park that includes the existing Cancer Survivors’ Park.

My biggest qualm, and one that I have expressed repeatedly and continually about Phoenix’s construction habits, is that this project spurns existing infrastructure in favor of building new infrastructure. We have great park spaces in downtown Phoenix that could be absolutely grand for this. Instead of building a new facility, how about taking a part of the Portland Parkway and making that a dog park? Or what about Roosevelt Park? Or even Hance Park? Why must we not look to our existing stock of infrastructure and see what we already have? As a preservationist, we are taught that “the greenest building is the one already there.” So, too, the greenest park is the one that’s already there. Or, if we have our hearts set on building a dog park east of Central, let’s use one of the dirt lots that are a scar on the community.

There is a lot more to urban vitality than dog parks. I think that any urbanist or student of urban design and urban policy knows that. We must look at different ideas and not pin downtown Phoenix’s salvation du jour to be a dog park.