Scooters

Electric scooters have arrived in downtown Phoenix. It’s a shame the Phoenix City Council isn’t supporting the program.

[Editor’s note: This post has been updated with recent reporting on scooters from local media. See the bottom of this post.]

The Friday Essay: Scooting MidtownAfter attempts in other cities, electric scooters have finally made their way into downtown Phoenix. A six-month pilot program began on 16 September 2019 and will certainly be watched by many interested parties, not least the Phoenix City Council.

As my friend Lauren Potter wrote in a blog post for Downtown Phoenix Inc., the electric scooter pilot program involves scooters from three different companies. The pilot program will be immediately constrained to downtown Phoenix, where scooters can be picked up and dropped off from almost 400 designated parking areas. Scooters can’t be driven on sidewalks, they have to stay on streets or in bike lanes. They also can’t be taken into areas that are pedestrian-oriented, such as the eastern portion of Hance Park (the west portion of Hance Park is outside of the boundaries, turns out). Unique to the electric scooters as a part of this program is that scooters will slow down and stop if they are nearing one of these no-ride zones; it will be interesting to see how that works in practice. Continue reading “Scooters”

Suns arena wrap-up

The vote’s over and Talking Stick Resort Arena gets a remodel. Some final thoughts on the matter…

From the outset of the discussions about what the City of Phoenix should do with Talking Stick Resort Arena in downtown Phoenix, it seemed like it was a fait accompli that the $230 million remodeling project proposal would pass, despite the posturing and outrage from some on the City Council. And they got their way, passing a deal that, in my opinion, punts the decision on what to do with sports in the Phoenix metro area for 10-15 years and still doesn’t answer any long-term questions about a combined basketball/hockey facility to share with the Arizona Coyotes.

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.

The Downtown Phoenix of 2019 is far different—and far better—than the downtown Phoenix of 1992, when the then-America West Arena opened. It is starting to become active again not just during the day but at night. Roosevelt Street and Grand Avenue are becoming vibrant arts corridors above and beyond the major monthly art walks. All of Arizona’s public universities have major presences Downtown and support biomedical research (ironically, built on land originally assembled to be a new stadium for the Arizona Cardinals). People are choosing to live downtown. And, perhaps most importantly, light rail links downtown Phoenix with some of our metro area’s most important places.

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.

May Phoenix not become Glendale and have to close parks and libraries just to pay a stadium bond debt.

METRO at 10: A WBIYB Retrospective

Today marks the 10th anniversary of METRO light rail’s inauguration. In celebration of METRO at 10, relive the day with some photos.

Ten years ago today (27 December 2008), Phoenix made history. It had opened the first part of its new METRO light rail (WBIYB) connecting many different parts of our community. The initial system was touted to be the starter line of a system that would spread tentacle-like throughout the Phoenix metro area, linking commercial corridors, cultural institutions, residential communities, sports arenas, and educational opportunities to each other.

While the promise of METRO is under attack by reactionary anti-transit individuals upset by the proposed extensions into south Phoenix (my take: Build the damn train!), it’s a system that has transformed our city and tried to make us somewhat relevant in the global city-driven economy.

To mark METRO’s 10th anniversary, here are some photos I’ve unearthed from the archives of the opening day festivities. Phoenicians will also recall that it was also on this day that the new North Building of the Phoenix Convention Center was also opened to the public.

Friday Five: Midtown Accomplishments

This year marks the conclusion of my service on the Midtown Neighborhood Association Board. In that spirit, I offer five Midtown accomplishments from 2018.

Friday Five Midtown in Review December 2018This year wraps up my tenure as Board President as well as my service on the Board of the Midtown Neighborhood Association. One of the greatest honors I have known in my young advocacy career has been to be President of the Midtown Neighborhood Association Board. In the spirit of looking back, I thought it would be appropriate to outline some of what I think are the biggest Midtown accomplishments that I’ve had a hand in over my tenure as a Board Member and as Board President in these past couple of years.

Let me be absolutely clear that none of these Midtown accomplishments are my own. I was extremely fortunate to work with a dedicated group of Board colleagues that constantly challenged each other to think about what a urban-serving neighborhood association should look like. These accomplishments were made possible because of their commitment to midtown Phoenix. Our Board worked to establish consensus not only on our mission imperatives but in how we decided to execute upon those imperatives.

It is therefore in that spirit (and because it’s been unacceptably long since I’ve rolled out a Friday Five post) that I thought it appropriate to encapsulate what I think are the five greatest accomplishments that I’ve had a hand in as part of the Midtown Neighborhood Association Board.

5. We continued to deepen partnerships with other leadership organizations and leveraged their reach to help the Association’s mission. I think one of the most enduring of these Midtown accomplishments is that we continued to develop and deepen partnerships with other Phoenix leadership organizations. The Midtown Neighborhood Association is a dues-paying member of Phoenix Community Alliance and it was imperative for me to make sure we were engaging that group for all we could. While, at best, we could try to wrangle advertising for our quarterly magazine, The MUSE, or sponsorship for our major events, at worst, we were out in the community showing that we are a force for midtown Phoenix.

4. We were able to use our connections with kindred organizations on a shared advocacy agenda. One of the ongoing issues with central-city Phoenix advocacy is that many organizations have blinders on to only the issues happening in their neighborhoods and missing the greater picture. Top-of-building signage has been a big issue since the owners of the BMO Tower (1850 N Central Avenue) inaugurated their sign. When similar signs were proposed for two towers in Downtown in late 2017, we worked with our partners at the Phoenix Downtown Neighborhood Alliance (PHXDNA) on trying to create guidelines for top-of-building LED signage. As I’ve written previously, the issues that Midtown faces are largely the same as Downtown, and it’s imperative that organizations work together to lift and amplify each other’s voices.

3. We continued on the journey of implementing a committee structure. Like all of these, this one in particular was a joint lift involving many of my Board colleagues. The sustaining idea behind this is that we wanted to divorce Association-related tasks from individual people and put those roles in institutional committees that persist. This is also a great avenue to engage the community in our work! While it was a slow start this year, the foundations have been firmly established and it will only continue to grow.

2. We co-presented The Central-City Phoenix Neighborhoods Mayoral Debate in September. I reached out to my friends and fellow neighborhood organization presidents at Downtown Voices Coalition and PHXDNA to see about co-presenting a mayoral debate that was relevant to issues we face in urban Phoenix neighborhoods. Despite the disruption of fire alarms, we did the only debate on central-city Phoenix issues on 26 September 2018 at Burton Barr Library. KJZZ’s Christina Estes moderated using questions and themes developed by our three organizations’ boards and all four mayoral candidates were in attendance. Unique to our debate, we discussed issues like homelessness, transportation, and what the candidates’ plans were to build consensus in City Hall.

1. Midtown’s on the map. The big announcement for Phoenix in 2018 was that Creighton University is set to build a new campus in Midtown at Park Central Mall. With this campus, thousands of students, faculty, staff, will become a part of the Midtown community. Just as light rail and ASU aided in transforming downtown Phoenix, Creighton’s expansion has the potential to transform Midtown, and especially in concert with the transformation going on at Park Central Mall. As I have said, as Park Central goes, so, too, does Midtown. This is a tremendous opportunity and it’s incumbent on any Midtown leadership organization to be sure to capitalize on this tremendous gift.

Even though my service on the Midtown Neighborhood Association Board is about to come to a close, by no means is this the end of my commitment and dedication to Midtown advocacy! I’ve lived in Midtown now for the better part of 13 years. As 2019 rolls in, I hope to have some announcements to share about the next chapter in my Midtown–and urban Phoenix–advocacy.

There is still a lot to do and an uncertain future ahead of us. Let’s get to work.

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.

The Next Mayor of Phoenix

Now that Greg Stanton has resigned, the process begins to elect the next Mayor of the City of Phoenix. In a multi-part series of essays, we’ll explore the challenges that face Phoenix.

The Next Mayor of Phoenix graphicIt’s been a bit quiet on this blog to start out 2018. Sorry about that. But the big news is that now-former Phoenix mayor Greg Stanton has resigned, kicking off the process to elect the next mayor of Phoenix.

In the weeks ahead, this blog will explore some of the major issues that are facing Phoenix and Phoenix City Hall for the upcoming 15-20 years. These are issues that, if not addressed very soon, will lead to major problems for Phoenix. This blog will explore issues like climate change, leap-frog sprawl, water, and even Phoenix’s form of government.

Do stay tuned over the coming weeks for some in-depth analysis of Phoenix.

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.

Phoenix, not Arizona: Geographical Ambiguity, Aiding, and Abetting

friday essay logoThere’s a certain level of geographical ambiguity in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  Everything is branded as Arizona, which although it is technically correct, it is not exactly precise.  Or we’re the Valley of the Sun, which reminds us of endless summer.  I’m a strong believer in city identity: so we are (and we should be branded as) Phoenix and the Phoenix metropolitan area.

The local NHL team recently abandoned the name Phoenix Coyotes to become the location-agnostic Arizona Coyotes, despite having played in suburban Glendale (and possibly wrecking that once-great city, but that’s another essay) from 2003 to 2014 as the Phoenix Coyotes.  The NFL team, the Arizona Cardinals, were the Phoenix Cardinals from 1988 to 1993 despite playing in Tempe at Sun Devil Stadium.  I don’t think anybody was confused by these city-centric names.  The Phoenix Suns of the NBA enjoy fan support from all across the state.

So why is there this desire for geographical ambiguity?  Why must we be “Arizona” and not “Phoenix”?  There are several thoughts going around.  The erstwhile columnist for The Arizona Republic, Jon Talton, has argued that there is a hatred of the name “Phoenix.”  Others say, especially in the context of sports, say that this is an attempt to “broaden the fan base,” whatever that means.  (I don’t buy this.)  A third line of thought says that since most people in Arizona live in the Phoenix metropolitan area, then we essentially are Arizona.  (Note to everyone: Phoenix is not Arizona and Arizona is not Phoenix.)

Here’s how I see it: We’ve lived in a media landscape in the Phoenix metropolitan area that has historically branded itself as Arizona and not Phoenix.  We don’t know better; we’re just following this precedent.

With the exception of the website URL for the local Fox television affiliate (KSAZ, ch. 10), all of the news stations, the radio stations, the newspapers, and their programming makes reference to Arizona, not Phoenix.  We’re inundated with references to the state in which we live and not the city or metropolitan area within which we live.

Television stations call themselves things “Arizona’s Family,” “Arizona PBS,” and “ABC 15 Arizona.”  Their programs are called, as examples, “Good Morning Arizona,” “Arizona Horizon,” and “Arizona Midday.”  Our local newspaper, The Arizona Republic, joins forces with KPNX channel 12 as “AZCentral.”  There is no Phoenix.  And there hasn’t been for quite some time.

Arizona’s other metropolitan area, the Tucson metro, has their own set of media outlets, many of which carry that city’s name.  We must remember that Tucson and southern Arizona has had a strong skepticism of what happens here in Phoenix and Arizona, mainly in the contrast of political ideology.  Remember Baja Arizona?

So if we want to create a true city identity here in Phoenix, it has to start with the media.  How about we call it “Good Morning Phoenix?”  Or “ABC 15 Phoenix?”  And what about bringing back, even if it’s just an online publication, The Phoenix Gazette?

In the future, it will be cities and metropolitan areas competing against other cities and other metropolitan areas: Phoenix’s competition isn’t Washington or Colorado, it’s Seattle and Denver.

Note to Media: You’re mainly serving Phoenix and the Phoenix metropolitan area.  Please rebrand accordingly.