This Week’s Reading: Bird on Fire

This week, I’m rereading Andrew Ross’s book, “Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City.”

Bird on Fire coverThis week, I’m rereading Andrew Ross’s book, Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City. I haven’t really read it since it came out in 2011, just finding snippets to share as needed. It will be interesting to see what (if anything) has changed here since his original assessment.

I’m not bringing this up simply to share what I’m reading or because I wish to agitate the Very Serious People in Phoenix thought circles. There’s something that’s been on my mind and I want to see if there’s historic backing to it or if I’m overthinking it. (More later.)

This might not also be related to my latest contribution to Instagram. (More on that later, too.)

Little Canyon Trail

Giving Little Canyon Trail and Little Canyon Park to the private Grand Canyon University because they asked nicely is a bad idea.

There’s a very bad plan that’s being considered by the City of Phoenix: to hand over Little Canyon Park and Little Canyon Trail in northwest Phoenix to the private Grand Canyon University (GCU) because, well, they asked nicely? GCU says that they’re going to rebuild the park and trail on land they currently own and will then give that over to the City of Phoenix.

Earlier today, I did a site visit of both Little Canyon Park and Little Canyon Trail. While I can’t speak for the history of Little Canyon Park, I can speak a bit on the history of Little Canyon Trail. It was a 2010 City of Phoenix Public Art project that is built alongside the historic Salt River Project Lateral 14.4, or along where 31st Avenue would be between Camelback Road and Missouri Avenue. Veteran Phoenix public art artist Laurie Lundquist worked with the community to transform an abandoned and forgotten piece of infrastructure to a well-loved community treasure that transports non-auto users from the residential neighborhoods north of Missouri Avenue to the commercial and transit corridor of Camelback Road. This was a $1.2 million public investment in that part of Phoenix.

Fast forward to 2015. Grand Canyon University has expanded from a small campus to a major presence in northwest Phoenix and wants to block off part of the trail for students to access residence halls on the east side of the 31st Avenue alignment to the campus on the west side. Everyone at that time agreed that preserving the continuity and artistic integrity of the trail is of paramount importance. Even GCU seemed to agree with that assessment.

And fast forward, again, to today. I’ve learned about a series of public meetings to discuss the latest threat to Little Canyon Park and Little Canyon Trail, which is why I’m writing this essay. There is a final public meeting tomorrow (Wednesday September 6) at 6pm at the Helen Drake Senior Center at 7600 N 27th Avenue and if your schedule permits, you should listen.

In 2015, City of Phoenix voters approved the latest revision of the City’s General Plan. The overriding theme of the plan was Phoenix as connected oasis.

The Vision of the Connected Oasis was derived from all the major themes from PlanPHX participants’ ideas; it is a concept that has been around Phoenix for some time. Most recently it was utilized to describe the “big idea” of creating a vibrant pedestrian path and open space network for downtown Phoenix as part of the Downtown Urban Form Project in 2008. But the concept of the Connected Oasis goes well beyond a pedestrian and open space network. It is an ideal with deep roots in Phoenix’s history and one that provides a simple, yet intriguing direction for the city to follow into the future. [Phoenix General Plan 2015, p. 15]

Little Canyon Trail is the perfect embodiment of that connected oasis and of all of the major themes of the General Plan. It connects people to places; it celebrates water, that most precious resource for a desert metropolis; it is an open space in the midst of a university campus and thriving neighborhoods.

It would be a great shame if the City of Phoenix allowed Little Canyon Trail to go to private hands that would destroy the continuity and artistic integrity of the trail just because GCU asked nicely. Fiscal hawks should lament this as it is a loss of a $1.2 million investment that the City made in northwest Phoenix. The historic preservation community should lament the loss of one more of Phoenix’s historic laterals. And all of Phoenix should lament this loss as the erosion of its core principles in its 2015 General Plan.

The City of Phoenix should say no.

Continue reading “Little Canyon Trail”

Thoughts on Burton Barr Central Library

Phoenix’s Burton Barr Central Library won’t reopen until June 2018. I offer some thoughts.

Downtown Phoenix skylineThe Arizona Republic‘s Brenna Goth reports that midtown’s Burton Barr Central Library won’t re-open until June 2018.

Like all Phoenicians, I was shocked when I heard the news that the library sustained water damage during a particularly intense thunderstorm back in July. Thanks to the quick working of the City’s library staff, the Fire Department, and facilities workers, the damage was mitigated before it could be much worse. Although it’s hard to think of it being worse.

Initial reports were that many of the priceless archives and City historical documents were largely spared. But the building serves as more than a memorial to a Phoenix that’s long gone: it is a temple to the Phoenix of the present and a space for all its patrons to learn about the present to make informed decisions in the future.

It’s also a place of refuge for many, be it in the comfort of a good book or in the necessity of air conditioning on a hot summer day. It’s a cornerstone of Hance Park, the 32.5-acre park that’s a part of the new Phoenix urban moment.

In the fight against anti-intellectualism that’s regrettably become so prevalent in American society, our libraries are a key defense. Burton Barr Central Library’s closure takes away a core part of that for so many.

All City leaders should commit the City’s resources to opening the building ahead of schedule. It is that important to the City’s life and to its future.

 

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.

Friday Five: Urban Dispatches

The Friday Urban Dispatch for 10 July 2015: comments on Roosevelt Row, civics lesson, and moving Phoenix.

Phoenix Mayor QuestionsAs part of this blog’s The Friday Five series, The Friday Urban Dispatch is a unique boots-on-the-ground report on the urban condition in Phoenix.

Roosevelt Streets Improvements. This week marked the completion and public dedication of the Roosevelt Street streetscape improvements, the anchor of which is shade structures designed by the artist Meejin Yoon. There have also been some controversial planter pots installed on the south side of Roosevelt between 1 and 3 Streets. I like them. I think they add a level of whimsy and artistic quality to a street that is supposedly about those things.

BIDding for Roosevelt, part II. As part of this month’s Hance Park Conservancy meeting (of which I am a member of their Board of Directors), a presentation was given by Nancy Hormann, the consultant helping to organize the proposed Roosevelt Row Business Improvement District. While on the surface, this is a good idea, the devil’s in the details. Of great concern is the non-inclusion of major cultural anchors in that part of the world, such as Burton Barr Central Library and Hance Park. A business improvement district, it would seem, would be more robust and more viable if it drew from a bigger pool of support.

Entertainment districts and civics lessons. The City of Phoenix is set to create the first of its three allotted “entertainment districts” in downtown Phoenix. As I explained to the Downtown Phoenix Partnership on their Facebook page (because there is no wrong time for a civics lesson), this entertainment district is something that is a function of Arizona Revised Statues (Title 4, Section 207). It has nothing to do with what we conceive of entertainment. Nor is meant the Legends Entertainment District, which is neither legendary nor entertaining. All it has to do with is that in this entertainment district, the State Liquor Board may entertain issuing a liquor license that is within 300 feet of a school or church, subject to the customary and normal approval mechanisms like everywhere else.

Moving Phoenix. In August, Phoenix voters will vote for Mayor and those in the odd-numbered Council Districts will vote for their councilperson. This blog recommends returning each incumbent to their seats. Five ballot questions are also for consideration and this blog recommends a YES vote on all of them, especially on Proposition 104, the adoption of Transit 2050. The package involves improvements to Phoenix’s public transportation network as well as financing much-needed repairs to our streets. If Phoenix is to have any chance to compete in the world economy, public transportation is a key component. Voters should vote YES on Proposition 104.

Cities attract talent. If Phoenix is to be a world city, which I think is a necessary aspiration, then it means we must not be afraid of new ideas from outside our own boundaries. Come to think of it, it’s what ALL cities must do. So it has been extremely frustrating that many in downtown Phoenix lament the opening of Meejin Yoon’s “Shadow Play” art installation mainly because Ms. Yoon is not a local artist. If that line of thinking is valid, should the Phoenix Public Library only shelve books by local authors? Should the Phoenix Art Museum only show works by Arizona artists? Or should the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks only field players from the area? Of course not because that is not good for all. There is a definite place for local involvement and the advancing of local interests. It is not, though, in our exposure to the arts and the humanities. We must not feel threatened by the broadening of our horizons.

Good riddance

The Glendale City Council came to their sense to cancel their Arizona Coyotes contract. Let this be a call for the team to move west.

friday essay logoEarlier this week, the Glendale City Council came to their senses and realized that they couldn’t afford to keep the Glendale, Ariz., Coyotes. While I welcome that realization, I wonder what took so long.

Public (read: taxpayer) funding of sports stadiums are always a losing proposition. While I could share formulas and case studies that prove my point, it boils down to simple economics and the following statement: If stadiums did, in fact, make money and were profitable, team owners would privately finance the building of those facilities. Since that doesn’t happen, we’re all on the hook.

A great book I read recently is Circus Maximus: The Economic Gamble Behind Hosting the Olympics and World Cup by the Smith College and Brookings Institution professor, Andrew Zimbalist. It certainly should be on the urbanist’s bookshelf. Dr. Zimbalist appeared on Olbermann a few months ago to talk about his book.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ELKQrkikxL0

To those who think that the Coyotes should move back to downtown Phoenix, I ask this: What City of Phoenix programs are you willing to sacrifice for this endeavor…parks? Community arts grants? After school education? Public safety? Infrastructure? As it emerged after the fire of the downtown Phoenix Sheraton that the City was using funds meant for repairs or replacement of the Gila River Arena (previously US Airways Center) to patch the shortfall created by the hotel’s operation, the City is not in a position to build a new arena.

When the Glendale, Ariz., Coyotes renamed at the start of the 2014-2015 season to be the geographically agnostic “Arizona Coyotes,” I sensed the beginning of the end was in sight. The Coyotes had played in suburban Glendale starting in the 2003-2004 season and were still called the Phoenix Coyotes. Nobody was confused. But with new management for the beleaguered franchise, the name raced to nowhere and we’re left with the “Arizona Coyotes.”

My one request to the Coyotes’ owners and to the National Hockey League: Don’t make this a giant legal battle to stay in suburban Glendale. They’ve clearly said that they don’t want you. Take this as a cue to relocate. Isn’t there considerable interest to put a team in Las Vegas or Seattle? Take a cue from the playbook of the Indianapolis-née-Baltimore Colts: Leave in the middle of the night.

But unlike the Colts, we won’t send our State Police to stop you.

On the Air: KJZZ interview on ASU Downtown Phoenix

Mark Brodie of KJZZ-FM in Phoenix sat down with me to ask some questions on ASU’s expansions into downtown Phoenix.

KJZZ logoIf you thought you heard a familiar voice on KJZZ-FM’s The Show this afternoon, I offered some commentary on ASU’s expansions into downtown Phoenix.

The audio is here: http://kjzz.org/content/66891/asu-expands-downtown-phoenix-new-law-school.

My thanks to Mark Brodie for his excellent questions.

A note: Be back here tomorrow morning for a different take on The Friday Five.

Friday Five: Improving City Council Meetings

Rethinking Phoenix City Council meetings is something that is important for civic and citizen engagement. Here are five different approaches to do that.

Friday Five: Phoenix City Council meetingsThere are some challenges to getting participation at Phoenix City Council meetings.   Meetings range from a few people in attendance to packed houses depending on the business at hand.  Since my academic training is in civic engagement and since I’ve attended my fair share of meetings of the City Council to advocate for a myriad of issues, here are some of my thoughts to encourage citizen engagement and to get more participation in municipal government and governance.

1. Simulcast the proceedings in the City Hall atrium. The space is underutilized during the day except for special events, like the various events taking place for National Arts & Humanities Month.  But because the City Council Chambers are a small venue, when contentious items are on the agenda, the 225 seats quickly fill and the Chambers become standing room only.  So people can observe the City Council doing the people’s work, why not make the atrium of City Hall a space for civic engagement and dialogue on important municipal issues and a spot to simulcast City Council meetings?  With a powerful projector, a large screen, and decent speakers, the Phoenix Channel 11 broadcast of City Council meetings can happen inside the atrium.  Some might say this would be noisy for visitors to City Hall or those who work inside but this “noise” is your government at work.

2. Have speakers’ cards available outside the Council Chambers security checkpoint. Some times, people want to have their support or opposition for an item on the Council’s agenda on the record but do not necessarily wish to speak.  In addition to writing their councilperson, one way to do that is to use the speaker’s card to indicate support or opposition, even if an individual doesn’t want to speak before the council.  But the only way to do that is to go through the security checkpoint, fill out a card, then leave.  Have some cards in a kiosk outside the entrance doors and a council staff person in charge of collecting them to be delivered to the council dais.  An easy option would be have them available at spaces within City Hall before and during the meetings, like the City Hall atrium (see point #1, above).

3. Rethink the security screening process to get inside the Council Chambers. I have wondered why there is TSA-style screening to enter the Phoenix City Council chambers but not the other buildings of the City of Phoenix, like City Hall.  I appreciate the desire to keep those in attendance at Council meetings as well as city staff and elected officials safe; however, one wonders why this started.  As commented in point number 2, above, speakers’ cards are only available post-security, which makes it challenging for people to put their views on the official record even if they do not wish to speak.

4. Hold City Council meetings at various sites around the City of Phoenix. While this might not always work for all meetings, when business for particular areas of the City can be held at one time, take the meetings on the road to that area.  So if items of general relevance to, say, inner west Phoenix and Maryvale are on the table, hold the meeting at the Adam Diaz Senior Center at 41 Ave and Thomas.  This would also introduce all of the council members to all constituencies in the entire city and to hear from everyone, not just their own home district.  In other words, let’s bring the people’s business to the people.

5. Move City Council meetings to the Orpheum TheatreThis one would require a lot of forethought and planning to do it right and to work out some logistical challenges but I think this is something that needs to be done.  The City Council Chambers, built in the early 1960s, seats 225 people.  While that might have worked for a city that was 1/3 the size of today, when there are contentious issues on the Council’s agenda, that space quickly becomes way too small.  The City Council has held meetings at the 1,364-seat Orpheum Theatre in the past and it should start to do that in the future.  The City Council Chambers building would still be used for smaller civic functions, like meetings of various City boards and commissions, lectures, and other civic events.

Introducing the Eddie Number

In which we introduce The Eddie Number, a measurement of economic activity in a downtown.

Eddie Number graphicI’m creating a new statistic here: the “Eddie Number.”

The Eddie Number is a measurement of economic sprawl based on where large corporations set up shop in a city or metropolitan area. This will be used in tomorrow’s edition of The Friday Five / The Friday Urban Dispatch and it seems appropriate to introduce it here first.

To find the Eddie Number, subtract the number of downtown-based corporate headquarters from the corporate headquarters in the rest of the metro area.  For standard calculations, I recommend using the Fortune 1000 list. (This is the default list to use. You can create your own modified Eddie Number using your own list of data but when sharing your calculation, you must make that list known.)

So based on that Fortune 1000 list, there are 13 companies based in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  Only 2 of the 13 are based in downtown Phoenix, the rest are based in either other cities or in suburban Phoenix office parks.  That said, downtown Phoenix’s Eddie Number is:

Eddie Number - Phoenix

An Eddie Number will always be negative (you can’t have more downtown-based corporate headquarters than companies based in an entire metropolitan region) and an Eddie Number closer to 0 is better because it means there is more economic activity happening in that city’s downtown.

Oh, and about the name: If you want a statistic named after yourself, then come up with your own statistic.