The Downtown Phoenix Podcast Archives

The Downtown Phoenix Podcast has a new home for its original eight-episode season.

The Downtown Phoenix PodcastBack in 2014, I worked on a project called The Downtown Phoenix Podcast. While production of new content for the Podcast has been on hold for the past 4 1/2 years, I thought it would be appropriate to put a snapshot of that work on my new website (which, by the way, has a new set of servers hosting it!).

What’s fascinating is that even though we’re nearly five years removed from the production of those eight episodes, a lot of the content is as timely as ever. That was one of the goals of the project: to be relevant whether it’s 2014 or well into the future. It was also an effort to create some sort of serious journalism about central-city Phoenix issues. I had drafted a set of editorial principles to guide the Podcast‘s direction.

A lot of people ask about its future. “Is it coming back?” I certainly hope so! The challenge, as always, is time. I wanted to do a good job on The Downtown Phoenix Podcast and produce important content, which takes a lot of time to do. Fitting in production time into my schedule and my other projects is rather challenging. But if a central-city Phoenix organization is willing to take it on, then I’m willing to chat. I’m even thinking of my own ideas, too!

This was a project that I still remain incredibly proud of and I hope its new home shows that. Click here or on the big blue “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast” button to see it.

Build the damn train

The South Central Avenue light rail project is under attack and needs our support against an increasingly anti-urban City Council. Build the damn train.

The South Central Avenue light rail extension is in the news again. If you’ve not heard, the project is on life support. I don’t believe this to be hyperbole. Following Greg Stanton’s resignation as Mayor to run for Congress, two councilmenbers (Kate Gallego and Daniel Valenzuela) decided to resign to run for Mayor. That means that the Council has to appoint two individuals. In District 5, the City Council appointed Vania Guevara to replace Mr. Valenzuela. But in District 8, the Council appointed councilmember Michael Nowakowski’s chief of staff, Felicita Mendoza, to replace Ms. Gallego. Nothing much is known on Ms. Mendoza’s urban viewpoints but it’s telling that at this week’s City Council meeting, she provided a key vote to study alternatives for the money that would have been spent on the South Central Avenue light rail project. Transit is something that brings controversy. The idea of large public expenditure on transit doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. But public transportation is the great social equalizer. It connects people to the places that are important to their lives: jobs, education, recreation, arts, and culture. There’s a trend going around that political groups connected to Americans for Prosperity (AfP) and the Koch Brothers are trying to kill public transportation projects around the country. They were successful in Nashville, providing the final nail in the coffin for their ambitious transit program. It seems like the group that’s morphed from “4 Lanes or No Train” to “No Train or No Train” is one of those astroturf-roots groups. This group has a major ally in Councilman Sal DiCiccio, who’s aligned with AfP. More troubling is that groups advocating for Latinx communities have taken a position against light rail. To those who say that this light rail project is a new thing that’s being shoved down people’s throats, I say nonsense. This has been voted on three times and passed all three times: Transit 2000 in March 2000, Proposition 400 in 2004, and Transit 2015 (Move PHX) in August 2015. All three times, the vote in favor was by a resounding majority. With the South Central Avenue light rail alignment, over 300 community meetings were held to explain what was going to be happening (see p. 569 of this report, caution, very large PDF file).
This raises a worrying thought: If the Phoenix City Council foolishly kills the South Central Avenue light rail, a project voted on three times by the citizens of Phoenix, then what point is there on voting for master plans for the City when elements of them can be set aside for political expedience? Why should I vote for General Plans or major transit initiatives when a feckless City Council can do what they please? The Phoenix of today has descended so far from the Phoenix of 1993, winning the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Best Run City in the World award.
The Citizens of Phoenix want light rail. Stop this political nonsense. Build the damn train.

Mural, mural on the wall

My thoughts on the feigned controversy about murals in central-city Phoenix

The following email was conveyed to members of the Phoenix City Council, the Historic Preservation Office, and others within the City of Phoenix to express my disdain for unnecessary regulations on murals in light of a few individuals’ complaints about the Phoenix Mural Festival:

In no uncertain terms, I am strongly opposed to the creation of any regulations or restrictions on private property owners to engage in artistic expression and paint a mural on their property. Further, I am concerned that if murals become regulated, other elements of personality and individuality will be up for additional regulations and the City would become one large homeowners’ association with all of the restrictions that have made HOAs infamous.

In his 2011 book Triumph of the City, the Harvard economist Edward Glaeser made this comment: “There is great value in protecting the most beautiful parts of our urban past, but cities shouldn’t be embalmed in amber” (p. 136). Cities are living and breathing embodiments of our history where the present is informed by the past. Like museum relics, however, if something is embalmed in amber, it is most likely deceased.

I am greatly troubled to hear about this row caused by murals painted in historic neighborhoods. I am sure that others have spoken to you about potential First Amendment implications and problems of mural regulation. I am also sure some have spoken to you about if it’s appropriate for City government to police murals painted on private property. As a Midtown community leader and a supporter of the arts, I am compelled to speak at this from a different angle.

In the City’s 2015 General Plan, arts and culture is a core part of the City’s identity. The General Plan’s goal for the arts in Phoenix is, “Ensure Phoenix becomes an Arts & Culture destination by encouraging new public art projects, maintenance of existing public art, and support for arts and cultural activities throughout our communities” (p. 126, emphasis mine). The General Plan was created through a celebrated program of community consensus. But now when its application is at hand, does this City- and community-driven plan mean anything, or will its guiding principles and specific recommendations be ignored?

Creating regulations because a small minority of Phoenix citizens have complained about recent murals undermines the great tradition of free artistic expression that has made Phoenix a welcoming community for artists to make our city better and for all of us as urban advocates to keep fighting for Phoenix.

In closing, I am strongly opposed to the creation of any regulations in any neighborhood to limit the painting of murals on private property.

Phoenix on the rise?

Navel-gazing doesn’t make a city better. If Phoenix is a city on the rise, where are we in relation to our peer cities?

Downtown Phoenix skyline at sunsetI hate to rain on the Phoenix good news parade and that “Phoenix on the rise” video…

There’s a story circulating around on all of Phoenix’s social media channels about Yahoo! News’s Katie Couric focusing on Phoenix. I even watched it, because self-denial or something like that. It’s got all of the local players you’d expect in it, because they’re the Very Serious People in town.

And all of what was said in the video may be true.

But what Phoenix’s leaders are forgetting at best (or ignoring at worst) is that this isn’t a competition about Phoenix in 2017 vs. Phoenix just after the Great Recession. Navel gazing doesn’t make our city better; it lets other cities pass us while we congratulate ourselves over smaller accomplishments. It’s Phoenix vs. our peer cities both in the United States and around the world. So it’s not just Phoenix vs. Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, or Philadelphia, it’s Phoenix vs. Melbourne, Brasilia, Johannesburg, Stuttgart, and Osaka. These are all things that I’ve said before.

Let’s deconstruct one of the points of the P.R. piece very serious journalism: that Phoenix is the “next big tech hub.” Again, it may be compared itself a few years ago. But a landmark study commissioned by the real estate conglomerate Cushman and Wakefield, Tech Cities 1.0: An Interactive Look at Metrics and Cities to Watch, Phoenix didn’t make the top 25, despite being the 5th largest city by population and the 12th largest metro area by population. In in a passing bullet point on a piece on Tech Cities 1.0, cities are assessed on the quality of their institutions of higher learning, supply of tech workers, amount of venture capital, skilled knowledge workers, and entrepreneurial growth engines. Phoenix isn’t mentioned except CityLab by Richard Florida: “Phoenix ($269 million), which is not on the chart above, attracted more venture capital investment than Baltimore ($254 million).”

Is it nice that Phoenix is getting attention? Probably. But while attention is nice, we have to remember that we have a long way to go to break even with our peer cities nationally and internationally.

What Downtown Phoenix Needs

There’s one thing downtown Phoenix needs. Where are our elected leaders on it?

Quick bite for a Wednesday morning: There’s a piece that’s been making the rounds in the downtown Phoenix thought circles about how to get involved in the downtown Phoenix community to make it “suck less.”

First things first: I’m not a fan of solutions journalism, that idea that journalism must always have some sort of solution to it. It just seems like it’s a new approach on feel-good reporting. I guess I’m old-school in the fact that good journalism must cast light to what’s going on. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant,” said the late Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis. So it’s up to us – the public citizenry – to decide what to do with that information.

The article in question is Want Downtown Phoenix To Suck Less? Here’s How To Get Involved by Antonia Noori Farzan. The premise of the article is that there are several downtown Phoenix advocacy groups that downtown-inclined individuals should join and then go to every single downtown meeting and talk to every single downtown elected or appointed official about design-related things.

There’s one fatal problem with that: The premise of Ms Farzan’s article seems to go on the failed notion that downtown Phoenix’s issues are design-related and that a bike lane here or tree there would suddenly cure our urban ills and make our downtown on par with those of Seattle, Denver, Minneapolis, or Philadelphia.

As this blog has noted with great regularity, that’s not the case. There are way too many macro issues that are ignored because, well, I’m not sure why. But they all stem back to one thing, something I tweeted about earlier today:

That’s the thing that’s missing. And this isn’t a new chorus or refrain of mine.

  • In 2014, after Sprouts Farmers Market announced their corporate office moving from near Paradise Valley Mall to CityNorth, I wrote in Another Day, Another Strikeout, “What is the economic development strategy for downtown and midtown Phoenix? I fear to ask the next question, but I will: Is there one? I think it’s admirable that we are trying to have lots of incubator spaces and attract individual entrepreneurs but we need to ask: What is their economic impact compared to, say, the Sprouts Farmers Market headquarters?”
  • In a 2014 edition of The Friday Five suggesting alternate urban talking points (which was in reaction to a feel-good design-focused thing going on that weekend), I wrote, “As we learn of other suburban cities or, in fact, suburban parts of Phoenix, taking jobs and economic development away from central-city Phoenix, we still think about how to make a better design for our streets, sidewalks, and bicycle lanes.  That’s nice, to be sure, but I still maintain that if we don’t have the economic activity to support those physical amenities, then what’s the point?”
  • There was a metric I created as well called The Eddie Number. The premise of that is to get a sense of economic headquarters in a downtown area compared to the rest of the metropolitan area. Also in 2014 (yeah, I wrote more back then), downtown Phoenix’s Eddie Number was -11.

So this is nothing new. This has been my common refrain but it’s gone on deaf ears.

Want downtown Phoenix to “suck less”? Get money and civic leaders back downtown.

Friday Five: Moving Phoenix

As the first ballots for August’s election have been mailed out, here are five reasons why you should vote for Proposition 104 in Phoenix.

As the first ballots for August’s election have been mailed out, here are five reasons why, if you live in Phoenix, you should vote for Proposition 104. This blog also recommends returning each incumbent to their elected position as well as voting yes on all of the other propositions.

The Friday Five: Moving Phoenix (Proposition 104)It’s more than just new light rail lines. One of the common misconceptions being conveniently perpetuated by opponents of Proposition 104 is that it’s just for new METRO light rail lines within the City of Phoenix. While, certainly, those are welcome and needed, it’s more than that. The plan expands service on city buses, accelerates repairs and improvements to roads and sidewalks, adds bicycle lanes, and enhances technology for Phoenix’s transportation system. There is something for everyone.

No, we can’t just spend this money on teachers instead. A repeated talking point by opponents of Proposition 104 is that this money could be better spent on teachers and education. Since education in Arizona is the domain of the State of Arizona, I ask: Why can’t we have both? In an op-ed opposing Proposition 104 in The Arizona Republic by Tyler Bowyer, the chair of the Republican Party of Maricopa County, Mr. Bowyer repeats this tired talking point. But given his party’s proclivity against raising taxes, I would think that if his alternate proposal were on the table, Mr. Bowyer and those using that talking point would have encouraged us to vote no on that proposal, too.

As people go back to the city, our infrastructure must go back to the city. As has been documented with great regularity on this blog, there is a trend nationwide of moving back to our central cities. Some promising news came out this past week about the amount of public and private investment near the initial 20-mile line of light rail. Even amid the Great Recession, $8.2 billion in public and private investment was made near the line in 204 projects. That’s a near-sixfold return on our collective community investment. Tempe has perhaps made the most of light rail, garnering $3.4 billion in investment on their smaller section of line.

World cities require people-based transportation. If Phoenix is to be a world city, which I believe is a necessary aspiration for us to have any chance to compete in the global economy, we will need to have a transportation system in our central city that focuses on moving people around, not just private automobiles. Phoenix may have grown up and developed in the age of peak automobile; however, this gives us a chance to make quality and sensible investments in our infrastructure. As we mark the 25th anniversary of the enacting of the Americans with Disabilities Act 1990, it’s important to note that public transportation and paratransit (dial-a-ride) services, both enhanced by Proposition 104, provide a wonderful mechanism for people with disabilities to be strong contributors in the new global economy.

This is a chance to take our future into our own hands. The City of Phoenix gets no love from our state government. In fact, they try to do things that actively harm Phoenix’s future. SB 1070 in 2010 and SB 1062 in 2014 are two bills that come to mind amid many others. So what better way is there for all Phoenicians to take our city’s future into our own hands by providing a mechanism for us to create, fund, and evaluate our own transportation system? While other big cities in other states get help in building infrastructure from their state legislatures, we in Phoenix get the ‘drop dead’ message from ours. If we want Phoenix to be a world city, then we are left to do the fundraising ourselves.

If we want Phoenix to be a world city, then we need to have a forward-thinking transportation system that seamlessly blends buses, trains, bikes, and people. Please join me in voting YES in Proposition 104.

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.

Tuesday Twelve: Phoenix Mayor Questions

As campaign season heats up, here are questions for the next Phoenix mayor.

Phoenix Mayor QuestionsThings have been very quiet here on edwardjensen.net since the end of 2014. It does feel good, though, to get back in the writing saddle.

As municipal campaigns in Phoenix are heating up in advance of August’s elections for Mayor, odd-numbered council districts, and several ballot questions, it’s time to pose some questions for those seeking to represent us. In a special edition of The Friday Five, here is The Tuesday Twelve (because alliteration is always acceptable): a list of twelve questions for discussion as Phoenix elects her next Mayor:

  1. The optics of Phoenix being in the state of Arizona have come up again in this year’s legislative session. Arizona’s State Legislature and Governor Doug Ducey have enacted one of the most vindictive and anti-urban budgets in recent memory. In this session, the State Legislature is debating legislation to take powers away from cities, as seen in the proposed statewide ban of municipal single-use plastic bag bans. Critics have observed that instead of Phoenix (as Arizona’s largest city) setting policy at the State level, it is the other way around. Define Phoenix’s relationship with the government of the State of Arizona. How is Phoenix lobbying at the State Capitol to advance Phoenix’s interests?
  2. There is a movement happening in America’s cities to move back to the central cities away from the suburbs and farther-flung areas. In Phoenix, the opposite seems to happen. In 2014, Sprouts Farmers Markets announced their corporate HQ relocation to CityNorth at 56th Street and the Loop 101. In January, the Phoenix Business Journal reported that in 2014, 93% of this metro area’s office leasing took place in the East Valley and that more office space was vacated in central-city Phoenix than was occupied. Why is Phoenix not catching on to this trend? What City policies can be enacted so Phoenix catches on to this back-to-the-city movement and doesn’t become the hole in the doughnut?
  3. Central-city Phoenix neighborhoods have come under assault in 2014. In September, the Federal Aviation Administration revised its flight paths for westbound departing aircraft from Sky Harbor International Airport, taking them over the Grand Avenue corridor. The Internet retailer eBay has proposed a giant monolithic building for 3rd Street and Indian School Road. Some neighborhoods lack suitable streets infrastructure. Urban transportation infrastructure like adequate sidewalks and bicycle lanes are not in good repair. How can City Hall help those who choose to live an urban lifestyle—something rare in this place—protect their neighborhoods from these assaults?
  4. Despite a wet end to 2014, Arizona is still in the midst of a multi-year drought that shows no signs of easing. In 2014, Smithsonian reported that Arizona could run out of water by 2020, citing the Phoenix metropolitan area’s leapfrog growth compounded by the effects of climate change. What immediate action does Phoenix need to take today to lessen our environmental impact? Is now the time to implement an urban growth ring to stop our encroachment on the magical deserts that surround us?
  5. Last week marked one year since the approval and public unveiling of the Hance Park Master Plan, a new approach to creating a true urban ethic in Phoenix. In the intervening year, that plan has languished in the bookcases of City Hall, as very little has been accomplished towards its implementation despite a unanimous approval by the Phoenix City Council in 2014. As this blog will comment on Friday, Hance Park is the best shot that Phoenix has to create an urban focal point; despite its $118 million price tag, it must be built. How will you help the City of Phoenix build Hance Park within this decade?
  6. The Roosevelt Row arts district has been in the news lately as two proposed apartment complexes are slated to be built surrounding the intersection of Roosevelt and 3rd Street, involving the demolition of the former GreenHAUS building, which contained several murals by the painter Ted DeGrazia (1909-1982). The proposed replacement apartment project takes its design cues from a suburban rather than urban context. This is true in other developments in central-city Phoenix as well, like the project proposed for the northwest corner of Central Avenue and McDowell Road. While other cities demand excellence and get a better quality of project, why is this the best we can get in Phoenix? How should Phoenix do better?
  7. In 2014, the City of Phoenix Community and Economic Development (C.E.D.) Department hired Christine Mackay as that department’s new director. Ms. Mackay is a 16-year veteran of the City of Chandler, including serving as their Economic Development Director from 2008-2014. In your assessment, what should the top three priorities be for C.E.D.?
  8. Phoenix’s urban circles have been openly debating changing the Phoenix City Charter regarding our city’s form of government or number of seats on the Phoenix City Council. Phoenix is a Council-Manager form of government, meaning that the Phoenix City Council sets policy and city staff (under the City Manager) implements that policy. If only one of the following could happen in this next mayoral term, which would you rather see and help make the case to voters for them to approve: making Phoenix a strong-mayor form of government (mayor-council) or adding more seats to the Phoenix City Council? What arguments would you use to help make that case?
  9. As Phoenix grows, it has looked to other cities for smart practices on how to become more urban. Which of the following most exemplifies a strong, healthy, and vibrant city: Portland (Ore.) or Houston? Why?
  10. Unlike other cities, schools and public education are not the prerogative of the City of Phoenix. Despite this, however, the City has recently approved construction bonds for several privately run charter schools at recent City Council meetings through the City’s Industrial Development Authority. Is this acceptable? Why or why not?
  11. Partisan politics has created unacceptable gridlock in Washington. Governance at the Arizona State Capitol has, at best, forgotten about Phoenix or, at worst, hindered progress. In their book The Metropolitan Revolution, authors Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley make the case that cities are tasked to lead the way in advancing progressive agendas. How will Phoenix lead the way in 21st century urban governance? What is holding Phoenix back? What reforms need to be made so Phoenix can lead?
  12. In 2016, which is the first year of the next mayoral term, the United States Senate seat occupied by John McCain will be up for election along with all seats in the House of Representatives. Would you finish your four-year term as Mayor or run for any of those seats?

Downtown Phoenix In Review 2014: Opportunities

As 2014 winds down, let’s look back on the year that was in downtown Phoenix. In this finale post, I’ll look at downtown Phoenix’s opportunities for 2015.

[editor’s note: Over the previous ten days, we’ve published our year-end Downtown Phoenix In Review 2014 series. In four posts, we looked at downtown’s strengths, weaknesses, and threats that shaped its 2014 and set the stage for 2015 and beyond. You are invited to read all of the published essays here.]

Downtown Phoenix In Review 2014 graphicDowntown Phoenix In Review 2014: IV. Opportunities

1. Building on economic momentum of the University District. In December, a study was released that showed University of Arizona’s Medical School in downtown Phoenix had a $1.3 billion economic impact in 2013. Not in this study was the economic impact of Arizona State University’s presence, though I’ve teen told that those studies are in the works. There is a curious dislike of the presence of these universities in downtown Phoenix but this is the best thing that we have going for us at the moment. These institutions also have something that private ventures might not have: permanence. This quote from an article in CityLab (formerly The Atlantic Cities) summarizes this well: “‘General Motors in Flint, Michigan, picked up and left. And with it went all of these jobs, and that really decimated the economy,’ says [author Tracey] Ross. ‘Wayne State University in Detroit? They’re not going to be picking up and leaving.’”

2. The “Central Arts District” if it gets going and becomes more inclusive. Not much is known about the Central Arts District other than it consists of several of the arts organizations in Midtown, the Phoenix Community Alliance, and the ownership of the VIAD corporate center. The Midtown Museum District, whose mission and boundaries are the same, seems to have been kept in the dark about this. Even the Phoenix Arts and Culture Commission, of which I am a Commissioner, knows nil about this group.

3. New residential projects coming to downtown. Ground is set to be broken on several residential projects in the central core this year: the Union at 1 Avenue and Roosevelt, the Muse at Central and McDowell, and projects surrounding the Barrister Place project at Central & Jefferson. Physical design notwithstanding, these projects will bring some new density downtown, always a positive. If Phoenix is going to latch on to the back-to-the-city movement happening nationwide, then some new residential density is needed. This is a start.

4. The Super Bowl comes to Phoenix in February. As the world descends to Phoenix for February’s Super Bowl, Phoenix has started to put its best foot forward. While the game is in suburban Glendale, most of the main events are in downtown Phoenix. This is a great chance to show the world about Phoenix. Despite the problems of the N.F.L. this year surrounding domestic abuse (among other things), the Super Bowl brings the eyes of the world to its host city. Phoenix’s urban leaders should capitalize on this.

5. A new Chief for the Phoenix Police Department. After a tumultuous tenure as Chief of Police, Daniel V. Garcia was fired by Phoenix City Manager Ed Zuercher on 18 December after Mr. Garcia called a press conference slamming his critics and demanding a contract extension from the same City that ordered him not to hold that press conference. Telling of Mr. Garcia’s tenure was his curious absence from a marathon City Council meeting the previous day to address community-police relationships. With community-police relationships on everyone’s minds these days following high-profile incidents in Ferguson, New York City, and even here in Phoenix, a new start was needed.

Downtown Phoenix In Review 2014: Threats

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

[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. You can see all the published essays to date here. Part IV will be published tomorrow.]

Downtown Phoenix In Review 2014 graphicDowntown Phoenix In Review 2014: III. Threats

1. A lack of major economic players in downtown Phoenix. In December, it was announced that Actors’ Theatre closed down after nearly three decades of performance.  The artistic director of the group, Matthew Wiener, said that the most important factor that led to the troupe’s closing was the decline in institutional support.  “We have very few Fortune 500 companies headquartered here.  Those things are very important.”  And of the major companies that are here, they settle in other cities or in the far reaches of Phoenix.  In July, Sprouts Farmers Market announced they were moving their corporate headquarters to the downtown-killing CityNorth development.  It is problematic that Phoenix is both central-city and suburb in one.  The idea that we must have economic activity all across the 550 square miles in Phoenix is killing our city, as is the next point…

2. Thinking regionally. This is a major mantra of a few of those in positions of power and influence in Phoenix: that we are better off as a region than as individual cities.  While that sounds idyllic and certainly nice, in practice, it means that other cities run laps around Phoenix for economic development.  Downtown Tempe, for instance, is growing tremendously.  No more evident was this than at last month’s PlanPHX community gathering.  I attended the economic development session and one could have easily thought one was in something from the State of Arizona or metro-wide economic development organizations.  It took a full half hour to get to Phoenix; I was almost at the point of interrupting their regionalism reverie to say, “I am sorry, but I thought this was a session on improving Phoenix’s economy, not the state’s or other cities’ economies.”  The longer we think that we will succeed in Phoenix by letting other cities run laps around us, the more irreparable Phoenix’s economic future will become.

3. Future of Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury in downtown Phoenix. In the wake of the electrical fire at the downtown Phoenix Sheraton Hotel, owned by the City of Phoenix but operated by Sheraton, news came out that the City was taking a financial loss on the hotel’s operation.  It emerged that the City was using funds set to finance improvements to or a potential replacement for the 22-year-old U.S. Airways Center to make up the balance.  With the facility now called Talking Stick Resort Arena, after the casino resort operated by the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community (east of Phoenix) and with the expectation that private sports teams must have publicly funded and operated sports stadia, one must wonder if the Suns’ and Mercury’s days in downtown Phoenix will come to a close in a few years’ time.

4. Failing to capture “back-to-the-city” movement happening nationwide. In 2013’s strengths list, I wrote that there was a nationwide renewed interest in downtowns and urban areas. Unfortunately, that renewed interest has not really been captured here in Phoenix.  The cities of Tempe and Mesa have run laps around Phoenix vis-à-vis economic development.  Everything here is labeled as “the Valley” or “Arizona” despite being in or for Phoenix.  The local NHL team abandoned the name Phoenix Coyotes for the ambiguous “Arizona Coyotes” for the start of this season.  The 21st century global marketplace will be based on urban: urban areas, urban activity, and urban economics, not states or broad regions.

5. More “brain drain” from Phoenix. There were several notable departures from Phoenix this year and one more has been announced for early 2015.  Whatever their reasons for leaving (and there is no wrong reason to depart Phoenix), we wish them the best on their new adventures.  This doesn’t include the hundreds and thousands of those whose departures go unnoticed or unheralded.  For Phoenix, though, this is something that desperately needs to be addressed: why are people leaving and what structural things can be done to make the case for people staying in this place?