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.]

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.