Friday Five: 427 Days

It’s been 427 days since I’ve last posted. Let’s change that. Here are 5 things that have been on my mind.

It’s been a considerable time since I’ve last posted – 427 days to be exact. That won’t happen again. Anyway, here are five of the many things that have been on my mind in the last sixty-one weeks and will be the focus of the next few additions to this blog…

1. Still thinking about Chromebooks. This one’s fitting since my last post was about Chromebooks and how I’ve been playing around with them. In the intervening fourteen months, I’ve been off-and-on with mine but I’m still using it. It’s amazing to see how much it’s matured over that time period and how well it plays with Windows infrastructure via a Google-provided SMB share connector or a third-party RDP app. VPN connectivity is interesting with it but that’ll be the subject of a future post.

2. HOAs and IT. One of the big projects I’ve been tackling lately is the IT needs for a midrise condominium complex in midtown Phoenix. This will certainly be the focus of many posts down the road for sure; in the meantime, one theme that’s quickly emerged is that communicating technical issues and needs in non-technical terms is a skill that IT leaders need to embrace.

3. Midtown Phoenix. In 2016, I became disillusioned with the state of downtown-centric advocacy organizations and made a conscious decision to focus on the part of the world where I live and work: Midtown. As a means to that end, I’ve been elected to the board of the Midtown Neighborhood Association. August 2017 will mark the 17th anniversary of when I started to observe Midtown and the 11th anniversary of moving here from the suburbs. This renewed Midtown-centric advocacy focus is part of my love letter to Midtown.

4. Fifth-largest city. The big thing that’s got Phoenix “thought leaders” excited is the news that’s come around that the City of Phoenix proper is now the fifth largest city by population, overtaking Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. How many square miles of desert have we sprawled into to accomplish this “feat”? I mean, where do we collect our prize? What is our prize? Meanwhile, central-city Phoenix continues to suffer and the policy shifts from both Washington, D.C., and our own State Capitol won’t help that cause.

5. The Downtown Phoenix Podcast. I know there have been a few false starts of the resuming of The Downtown Phoenix Podcast and that’s frustrated me. This is a project that needs to happen to bring serious conversation to the issues facing central-city Phoenix. I think I’ve identified a couple new individuals who will help in bringing this back. Stay tuned.

Why 2 (The Need for The Serious City)

Part 2 of the essay introducing and exploring the need for The Serious City. Continues on last week’s essay.

[author’s note: Last week, I wrote Part 1 of this essay. Today’s essay is best suited if you’ve read Part 1 first.]

serious logo 2 smOne of the common criticisms of THE SERIOUS CITY is that people think it tries to invalidate existing ways of thinking about cities, place, and context. As I see it, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. This is a different way of thinking, true, but it builds upon all constructive ways of thinking about cities. It puts the focus of its thought on the policy side of the spectrum as more important than design.

What THE SERIOUS CITY seeks to accomplish is the following three things:

  1. In addition to asking the procedural questions of ‘how,’ ‘what,’ and ’when’ in its decision-making processes, The Serious City asks ‘why.’ Why are we doing this? What long-term effects will come from these processes?
  2. Realizing that each place is unique, The Serious City understands that copying-and-pasting solutions from other cities is not always the best approach. This does not automatically invalidate everything that has been implemented in other places; instead, this causes decision-makers to think about this place and understand context, geography, and environment.
  3. When criticism is levied against a city for any reason (including for no reason), The Serious City is able to evaluate that criticism and respond appropriately to it. It can differentiate factual observations from hyperbole and stretching of the truth. A response can range from no response to the appropriate policy interventions. This is not ‘blind-boosterism’ nor does it say that people who critique a place ‘hate’ it; instead, this is an introspective exercise to understand this place.

That’s really it. I’ve heard too many times that we need to emulate other cities in our urban renaissance. People think we need to look like Portland or Denver and take design and policy cues from them. We need to look like Phoenix. We need to address our core issue — that we live in a desert that gets pretty hot for five months of the year — and create a city that incorporates that.

But design is not the only thing. There are the important elements of policy and those seeking to run for elected office. How can we educate those individuals running for elected office for urban districts about the importance of cities and how to best serve their constituents? What does good urban policy look like at Federal and state levels?

It will be these questions and these principles that guide our conversation. Let’s do this.

Why 1 (a Primer for The Serious City)

The formal introduction of THE SERIOUS CITY, a new movement to consider why we do things, not just how, what, and where.

[author’s note: When I wrote this essay, it turned out to be quite a long piece. In the interests of shortening it, it will be posted in two parts: the introductory part you are reading right now and the payoff post, as it were, will be published next week.]

the serious cityThis week has been a perfect convergence of several events, conversations, and discoveries from the urban academy.  (I love it when convergences like these happen!)

On the events front, you have probably listened to the final episode of my media project, The Downtown Phoenix Podcast.  After a full eight-episode series with new content, it became readily apparent that if I wanted to accomplish what I had set out to do, a radio program (which the Podcast essentially is) wasn’t the best vehicle.  That said, it was a blast to produce and I certainly learned a whole lot about both the medium of a podcast and the community in which we live.  Still, though, it’s time to move on and stay on the cutting edge when it comes to sharing information about urban advocacy and thinking creatively about our cities.  (If you’re reading this news for the first time, you should read this announcement.)

This week has been full of conversations, too: I had a phone chat with a friend who is spending some time away this brutal Phoenix summer in the Pacific Northwest and we discussed a lot of things, including the continued delays of the GRID Bicycle Share network’s launch.  We discussed that some of the cities in the Pacific Northwest that have a strong bicycle culture and are known across the country and around the world for it (e.g., Portland, Ore.) do not have a bicycle share program but that has neither hindered nor hampered growth of bicycling there.  We also wondered if Phoenix’s bicycle share system would be successful based on these criteria and what would happen during the summer, when outdoor activity should be curtailed.

And then there was the ongoing saga about the 1938 WPA-built Civic Building at the Arizona State Fairgrounds.  The Arizona State Fair Board shelved plans to demolish the building, said to be in a sorry condition, after various preservation-minded people said the building should be preserved.  Observant individuals will note that I was very quiet on this topic.  My views on the historic preservation movement — especially in Phoenix — are in a state of flux.  While I believe that we need to preserve our built environment, I think we need to be mindful of how we preserve things, working toward new and creative uses to incorporate these historic buildings and solely not just preserving their historic form and function.  It’s nice and certainly a feel-good moment to save buildings but is it fundamentally okay to dictate to individuals and groups what to do with their buildings in the absence of proposals?  As I commented in my 14 March 2014 edition of The Friday Urban Dispatches, we might need to rethink our decision-making philosophy: “Rather than saying ‘no’ outright, let’s ask this question: ‘No…but what are our alternatives?’”  So, in this case, here’s the beginning of a conversation: “No, you shouldn’t demolish the Civic Building but here are some ideas — and funding sources — to rehabilitate the building to make the building useful for another 50-60 years.”

All of these conversations and events converged at a moment when I am asking of both myself and of our community: “What’s next?”  My academic training is in urban studies and urban policy, after all, so I know my approach is different.  I bring a different perspective to the table, something that I definitely understand.  It’s frustrating to me when we consider some projects that have no academic basis for their success and, in my considered opinion, unfortunately won’t work.  When we consider design above policy or economic activity, something I’ve strongly argued for in previous essays on this blog, that’s something that we should not be sustaining.

Enter in THE SERIOUS CITY.  I’ll be talking about it more in depth on Monday’s essay, as promised, but I’ll quickly explain it here.  A Serious City is a city that asks “why” in its decision-making processes.  It understands true urban context and understands that sometimes, the best approach isn’t the one that’s being done in every other city.  That’s not to say that benchmarking and taking smart practices from other cities is verboten; instead, it takes those practices and evaluates them in a manner consistent with its urban environment.  It also understands how to respond and react to criticism levied against it, differentiating factual observations from hyperbole and stretching of the truth.

Whew. Next week’s essay — part II, if you will — will explain this in greater detail.  Have a great weekend.

The Serious City (Only Every Day)

There’s a definite lack of seriousness in Phoenix. How can Phoenix become The Serious City?

[editor’s note: This essay provides context and a general theme for Series 2 episodes of our media project, The Downtown Phoenix Podcast, whose series 2 première and ninth episode in toto is set to be released next Monday, 7 July 2014.  Subscribe and listen to its Series 1 episodes at downtownphoenixpodcast.com.]

the serious cityBy way of introduction, last week I was in conversation with a couple of people about the future of Phoenix and assessing its condition on a lot of issues.  I think one of the most poignant questions asked of me if I had ever thought of leaving Phoenix for somewhere else.  I sense they were taken aback by my answer: “Only every day.”  Of course, I have no economic reason to leave here: I’d be taking a tremendous gamble that I’d find something elsewhere.   In addition, my support network of friends, family, and colleagues are all here in this place.  When further asked if this should make people think positively about coming or staying here, I replied, “It shouldn’t.  It should give people pause and make us assess the urban condition here to make the necessary policy and design interventions so this place can be economically viable in the global economy.”

There is a definite crisis of seriousness in this city.  While other urban environments across the country and in our metropolitan area score dense transit-oriented development, the best we can muster in Phoenix is four-story suburban residential complexes.  While downtown Tempe gets major operations centers for U.S.A. Basketball and State Farm Insurance, a Phoenix councilman touts two new fast food restaurants opening near a shopping mall as investment.  We’re not taking ourselves seriously and expecting great things of ourselves, our civic leaders, and our elected officials.

We know that the global economy is becoming more and more focused on cities and urban agglomerations instead of countries or states.  Cities are competing against other cities for economic development: it’s Phoenix vs. Seattle or Fortaleza, not Arizona vs. Washington or Brazil.  Unfortunately, Arizona’s cities get the short end of the stick when it comes to who defines whom: it’s always Phoenix that gets branded by the crazy political environment of either the State of Arizona or Maricopa County. 

One last thing: In his first monologue returning to television after the 9/11 attacks on 17 September 2001, David Letterman, urging his audience to face the coming uncertain days with courage, said that “pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing.”  As a 13-year-old kid confused and wondering what was happening and what was going to happen next, Mr. Letterman’s words resonated — and still resonate — with me.

The same philosophy applies to what I’m trying to get at here: If we want Phoenix to be an important city, we need to pretend and act that it already is.  The rest should follow.

More on this later — especially as part of Series 2 of The Downtown Phoenix Podcast.

PERSPECTIVE on Hance Park

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.]

ep3_coverWEB

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 downtownphoenixpodcast.com.

Announcing the Launch of “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast”

The launch of “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast” was announced this morning by Edward Jensen of Edward Jensen urban productions.

“The Downtown Phoenix Podcast” To Launch March 3, Bringing Conversation-Driven, Action-Oriented Programming To Downtown Phoenix

PHOENIX, ARIZONA (12 February 2014) — The launch of “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast” was announced this morning by Edward Jensen of Edward Jensen urban productions.  “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast” will bring high-quality, conversation-driven, and action-oriented programming to the downtown Phoenix scene.

The “Podcast” is a project of Edward Jensen, hailed by many in this community as one of downtown Phoenix’s most critical thinkers.  New podcast episodes will be available for free download each Monday morning beginning March 3, 2014, at the Podcast’s website, downtownphoenixpodcast.com.  Subscriptions through iTunes® and other popular podcast programs will be available as well.

“Doing a downtown-centric podcast is something that I have wanted to do for awhile and I am very happy to get this project off of the ground,” said Jensen. “Ever since my four one-on-one conversations with Phoenix City Council candidates last year, the community has wanted a continuation of that conversation-driven format.  Keeping with the theme of this year that we have set, ‘A Year of Action for Downtown Phoenix,’ our initial series of episodes will encourage people to get involved in making our communities better places to be.”

The first program will feature a conversation with David Krietor, the CEO of the nascent Downtown Phoenix, Inc., the new group tasked with looking at downtown Phoenix livability and economic development.  Future programming will include conversations with new and diverse voices from around the community and in-person events will be held to get a pulse of the community for community engagement and neighborhood improvement initiatives.

about Edward Jensen urban productions: A new approach in thinking about urban issues and quality-of-life issues, Edward Jensen urban productions brings deliberative hands-on action to improving our communities.  The firm is also in charge of the “2014: A Year of Action for Downtown Phoenix” project, challenging our neighbors to get involved to make our neighborhoods and communities better.