Join Edward Jensen online on Tuesday 24 March 7:00pm for an encore presentation of his lecture, A Brief History of Midtown Phoenix.
As we’re all practicing safe and smart social distancing to try to #FlattenTheCurve to slow the spread of COVID-19, I thought I’d do my part and offer a little bit of education while we’re all stuck inside.
Last year, I debuted my new lecture, A Brief History of Midtown Phoenix. The talk spanned the last 1,500 years of midtown Phoenix history and walked through Midtown’s past and present using historical imagery, primary sources, and contemporary photography. We saw the people who played a role in making Phoenix–and Midtown–the place it is today. We understood the effects World War II had on Phoenix and how it paved the way for Midtown’s urban form.
But this is more than that: A Brief History of Midtown Phoenix is a love letter to Midtown. I know we’re all hurting. We’re all wondering what life’s going to look like tomorrow, next week, next month. We’re all hoping that Midtown will bounce back after the dust settles.
It’s not a secret that I’m against public funds going to fund sports stadia, even if those funds are allocated from some pot of money that’s theoretically not paid by the taxpayers of that city (e.g., hotel taxes). Nothing in law prevents those funds from being used elsewhere (see page 2 of this PDF file).
In the month-long effort of councilsplaining (credit to Neil deMause for that wonderful word) why Talking Stick Resort Arena needed public funds for its remodel, one of the arguments made by the Suns and the City was that downtown Phoenix would be struggling if the Suns were to decamp for other places. Even if you discount that argument as pure absurdity seeing how the Suns only play 41 games at home per year during the regular season and the few other concerts and events happening there, downtown Phoenix still seems to do OK on the remaining 300-ish days.
As an advocate for central-city Phoenix, I recognize I’m in the minority opinion on this matter. It was enlightening to see all of the organizations doing their full-court press to pass these subsidies for the arena and to see our councilmembers parrot the talking points put forth.
The Downtown Phoenix Podcast has a new home for its original eight-episode season.
Back 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.
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.
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.
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 thingsthatI’vesaidbefore.
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.
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.
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:
Want #dtphx to suck less? Encourage civic leaders to come up with an ACTUAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT PLAN for central-city Phoenix.
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.
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.
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 withgreatregularity 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.
The Friday Urban Dispatch for 10 July 2015: comments on Roosevelt Row, civics lesson, and moving Phoenix.
As 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.