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: Chromebooks

A couple of weeks with one of the Google Chromebooks. Is it right for you?

[Editor’s note: This blog will take a slight turn this year. To be sure, comment will still be offered on the urban condition in Phoenix as needed. But we will be starting to talk about the role of technology in daily life. This post is the first of that new focus.]

Friday Five: Google ChromebookA few weeks ago, my trusty Dell Latitude XT2, whose adventures have been chronicled on this blog several times, decided that it had had enough. This was a sad day because it was probably my favorite computer – a relic from the first time Tablet PCs went around about 10 years ago but one that worked brilliantly.

My main mobile machine is my trusty iPad Air but there are times when it’s nice to have a full laptop. I had been wanting to restart regular writing and I found that my iPad just had too many distractions on it to be useful. But finding a machine that doesn’t break the bank can be a challenge. I had always been interested in the Google Chromebook series of devices, even though I’m an Apple user through and through.

I picked up a refurbished Asus Chromebook C201 for about $140 online a few weeks ago and here are some of my initial thoughts on the device:

The Chromebook is not a home computer replacement. Chromebooks are powered by Chrome OS and the OS has only one purpose: to get to you launch the Google Chrome web browser. That’s it. There are no OS-level offline things except for the system settings and a rudimentary file browser (that has deep integration into Google Drive). It is all handled in the Chrome browser. In this sense, Chrome OS is essentially a thin client – the processing of anything you do is done on Google’s servers elsewhere. If you’re fine with that, then that’s great.

Chrome OS really works best if you’ve gone fully Google. Chrome OS’s web-based applications are tied hand-in-hand with the Google Apps suite (Gmail, Google Calendar, Google Drive, etc.). Other online suites do work but bear in mind you’re accessing these through whatever web interfaces they offer. You sign in with a Google Account (be it personal or issued through your workplace or school) instead of a local user account or some sort of on-premises Active Directory credentials. This gets messy if you’re using a password manager with a randomly generated password to manage your Google Account credentials!

Enterprise-level management requires an expensive additional subscription. Whenever I evaluate a piece of tech, I wonder about its integration into enterprise or managed environments. As it turns out, even if you have a paid Google Apps for Work subscription for your business users, you still need to purchase yearly per-device management licenses that range from $30 per device per year up to $250, depending on what the device does. And, unfortunately, navigating these licenses is as perplexing as navigating Microsoft license programs.

Battery life is exceptional. Considering I purchased a refurbished device, I wasn’t expecting too much in the way of battery life. I’m finding I’m getting about 7-8 hours on a full charge. Not too bad, considering the device is always connected to the Internet and therefore has to have the wi-fi radio on all the time.

If you keep in mind what this device is, it’s actually a compelling piece of technology. As a test for if a Chromebook would work for you, ask yourself this: Can you do your task within Google Chrome? If the answer is yes, then this will work. If you need a separate app, then it won’t work. I bought this device to do, really, one thing: provide a distraction-free environment for writing. Google Docs runs magnificently on this.

There are a couple limitations of this due to the nature of this system. First, if you use a separate application on your other machines for password management (e.g., 1Password), you will find that it won’t work on the Chromebook. In the case of 1Password, you’ll have to sign up for 1Password for Families or 1Password for Teams to access your password vaults. The other issue is that as offline support is an always evolving thing, offline access to your data is spotty at best. You have to pin files for offline access in Google Drive, for example, if you want to work on them where you don’t have an Internet connection. But since this device never leaves my home, this is a non-issue.

When Google announced the launch of the Chromebook on its blog back in May 2011, they said, “These are not typical notebooks. … Your apps, games, photos, music, movies and documents will be accessible wherever you are and you won’t need to worry about losing your computer or forgetting to back up files.” That’s true. Seeing how wi-fi has become more and more ubiquitous over the past five years, the potential for these thin clients for the masses is greatly increasing. The hardware is only as good as its software, it seems, and thin client computing is becoming more and more used in enterprise environments.

I’m happy with this device. I don’t expect it to do everything my Mac can do because it can’t.

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?

Friday Five: Weekend Symphonies

Like symphonic music? This edition of The Friday Five recommends some works for your weekend symphonies playlist. Complete with Spotify link, too!

The Friday Five: Weekend SymphoniesThis is a personal blog, after all, so we’re taking things a little differently for this edition of The Friday Five: five symphonies that should be on your list for the weekend and some suggested recordings. If you’re on Spotify, you can subscribe to the playlist here.

1. Symphony no. 2 in D Major (op. 43) by Jean Sibelius: There are a lot of things to be said about this work. While scholars debate whether this work was meant to be an anthem to independence of Finland from Russia (the finale does have a point), this work paints a picture of the Finnish landscape.  Its opening movement is lyrical, its second movement is hauntingly beautiful, and its third and fourth movements are grand. If you have dry eyes after listening to the finale, then you’ve been doing something wrong. (Suggested recording: Minnesota Orchestra conducted by Osmo Vänskä, along with Sibelius Symphony no. 5, recorded 2011 on the BIS label, BIS-SACD-1986)

2. Symphony no. 36 in C Major “Linz” by Wolfgang Amadé Mozart: While Mozart’s symphonies nos. 25, 40, and 41 might be played more, we are rather partial to Mozart’s Symphony no. 36.  It’s your standard late edition Mozart symphony. Still, though, it’s full of youthful charm and energy. Pay attention to the trio of the menuet: it’s a favorite. (Suggested recording: Scottish Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste, along with Symphonies nos. 32, 39, and 41; recorded 2011 on the Virgin Classics label, Virgin 96370)

3. Symphony no. 2 “Mysterious Mountain” by Alan Hovhaness: Perhaps not a symphony in the four-movement Classical style, this is more of a programmatic work. Two movements with unusual time signatures surround a lovely double fugue, of which Alan Hovhaness was perhaps the best contemporary composer of the fugue format. (Suggested recording: American Composers Orchestra conducted by Dennis Russell Davies, along with Hovhaness’s Lousadzak and Lou Harrison’s Elegiac symphony, re-released 2008 on the Nimbus label, Nimbus 2512)

4. Symphony no. 4 in f minor (op. 36) by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: A staple of the Classical repertory, the San Francisco Symphony and Michael Tilson Thomas’s recording of Tchaikovsky 4 should be a staple of anyone’s Classical library. Few recordings match the artistic excellence presented here. The third movement is a lively scherzo with pizzicato (plucked) strings. Just be sure to reduce your volume before the fourth movement starts! (Suggested recording: San Francisco Symphony conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, on the Keeping Score series, released 2010 on the SFS Media label, SFS Media 30)

5. Symphony no. 1 by Henri Dutilleux: With apologies to Monty Python, this comes from the and now for something completely different file. M. Dutilleux passed away last year and his works cemented himself as the composer par excellence of French classical music in the late 20th century. His Symphony no. 1 is something very different, indeed: a four-bar motif sets the stage for the first movement passacaglia, the third movement has a theme but is introduced well into the movement, and the fourth moment starts with grand fanfare that sounds an awful lot like something from Messaien’s Turangalîla-Symphonie. You’ll have to take my word on this one. (Suggested recording: Seattle Symphony conducted by Ludovic Morlot, along with Dutilleux’s Tout un monde lointain and The Shadows of Time, released 2014 on the Seattle Symphony label, Seattle Symphony 1001)

Friday Five: Election 2014 post-mortem

On the Friday Five this week, we take a look at Election 2014 and some things we’ve learned. We’ve been looking at the results incorrectly.

A lot been made about what the results from Tuesday’s Election 2014 mean. If you’re a die-hard Democrat, one could safely say it was not a good night at all.  If you lean more Republican, then you had an absolute ball. The point of this post is not to comment on specific policies but more about partisanship and the political system.

The Friday Five: Elections 2014 post-mortem1. Tuesday was not a repudiation of liberal ideas but, instead, a repudiation of the Democratic Party.  In numerous races across the country, Democrats lost handily, including a majority of seats in the United States Senate.  While Republicans will infer, incorrectly, that Tuesday’s results were a repudiation of progressive ideals, I believe the Republicans successfully carried the message that the Democratic Party is not in touch with America.  Democrats had walked away from their de facto leader, President Obama, and some of their major policy accomplishments.  This also includes no action on immigration, which would alienate a significant voting bloc.

2. There were some good moments for progressive urbanism, though. In Phoenix, Proposition 480, the bond package for the Maricopa County public health system, handily won and Proposition 487, the elimination of Phoenix’s pension system in favor of a 401(k)-style system, was defeated.  In a night filled with challenging news for those of us with left-leaning philosophies, these were two bright spots and moments of sanity.

3. Progressive-minded people need to instill the same importance of voting in their adherents as conservative-minded people do.  I still do not understand why people do not vote.  Some will say that there are barriers to voting but others and I believe that the results would not have changed were those barriers not present.  In Maricopa County, it is painfully easy to vote: the County Recorder’s office will mail you your ballot and a postage-paid envelope to return your ballot. While I believe there should be as few barriers to voting as possible, there are some rules that are set up and, for better or worse, we should play by those until we can get those changed.

4. Arizona is not a “purple state;” it is solidly red.  Despite a few liberal enclaves in Tucson and central-city Phoenix, Arizona is a red state.  I give you one race that proves my point: as I type, Diane Douglas leads David Garcia in the Superintendent of Public Instruction race.  Mr. Garcia had a significant coalition of support for him but he had one fatal flaw: he had a “DEM” next to his name on the ballot.  Meanwhile, Ms. Douglas ran a minimal campaign (in the Republican primary, she was “not John Huppenthal”) and is set to succeed Mr. Huppenthal in the Superintendent’s chair.

5. There is a great opportunity for a new party to take over as this country’s progressive party.  As I mentioned in point #1, the Democratic Party is in a state of disarray. It’s not sure what it publicly believes other than they’re “not Republicans.”  There needs to be a party that loudly and proudly proclaims what I think aren’t controversial issues at all: a desire for a strong commons, equitable and progressive taxation, the need to move away from 19th-century energy to clean energy, and a strong belief that we need to invest in cities. There is a growing discontent with the Democratic Party because it has a reticence to commit to those few things. There are multiple political parties out there other than the two major parties so I encourage you to research all of them and join the one that best suits your beliefs, not what someone tells you is working for you.

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.

Friday Five: Different Urban Talking Points

The Friday Five for September 26: Some different urban talking points when we consider Phoenix’s urban renaissance.

friday five logoWe love talking about urban design in this city.

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?

So here I offer five different urban talking points that we should be discussing about in addition to urban design:

1. Downtown Phoenix’s lack of corporate headquarters. I have written several essays on this topic and I will certainly refer you to those.  As a supposed rebuttal to this, one reader pointed out the then-just announced expansion of WebPT in the Warehouse District, as though that was the ultimate panacea.  That’s great; but why is that the exception to the rule instead of the rule?  While I’ll admit it’s not a perfect measurement, there are 13 companies on the Fortune 1000 list based in the Phoenix metropolitan area.  Two are based in downtown Phoenix (Pinnacle West Capital Corporation and Freeport-McMoRan), making downtown’s Eddie Number -11, not good.  It should be the number 1 priority of civic, business, and governmental leaders to make that number closer to zero.

2. Downtown Phoenix needs to be family-friendly. This takes many different interpretations. When we think about adding residential density to central-city Phoenix, we can’t just think about studio or one-bedroom apartments for young single people to live in, even if that’s the fastest growing demographic.  We have to make sure families with young children can not only live here but thrive here.  We need to think about diversity of everything.  And that also means making sure that there are opportunities for families to enjoy the same amenities that those living alone enjoy.  While I’m glad that there are fantastic restaurants, coffeehouses, and bars in central-city Phoenix, those can be a bit expensive for those who aren’t necessarily independently wealthy or exactly welcoming of families.

3. Quality public educational opportunities for children need to exist. I have heard too many times from new parents who live in central-city Phoenix that when their child needs to go to school, they’ll need to move out to the suburbs where good schools exist.  Even if central-city school districts aren’t as bad as people make them out to be, there is still a perception that they are.  The Madison and Scottsdale districts will always have the perception that they’re better than Phoenix or Osborn school districts.  And unless local charter schools can create spaces for those within a specific geography, those will never be the answer.

4. Maybe downtown Phoenix shouldn’t be treated as a special-case silo. The new draft of the Phoenix General Plan has five key thematic areas to shape City Hall’s philosophy of the City of Phoenix: communities and neighborhoods, the economy, sustainability and “green” living, connectivity, and making downtown vibrant.  The talk in urban circles, certainly in some conversations and groups I’ve led, is to break down the silos in City Hall and to foster interdepartmental collaboration, something unfortunately rare.  I fear that if we make downtown its own special case, we’re making it its own silo, which runs anathema to what we’ve tried to accomplish.  The first four thematic areas are certainly true for just all parts of the city but have a different interpretation and vernacular in the urban context.  All that makes downtown special is that it is the civic, cultural, and commercial core of both the city and region, something that this general plan document doesn’t affirm.

5. We need to stop thinking of a downtown with specific boundaries. I live in Midtown Phoenix near the Heard Museum; as I write this, I’m looking from my office window of my third-floor Midtown apartment and I see the various towers of Midtown.  By any definition, it’s just as urban than, say, Central and Van Buren.  I will freely admit that it was a massive planning mistake in the 1950s and 1960s to allow dense development to happen outside of downtown.  These are, though, the historical cards that were dealt and we need to find ways to celebrate the fact that we have, as I’ve commented before, a linear downtown.  But our talk about making downtown better ends south of McDowell Road.  The same problems that plague Downtown also affect Midtown.  Empty or underutilized lots?  Transit-oriented development?  We’ve got it all.  Before you say what I think you’ll be saying, I am not saying that we should immediately abandon our labels of what is “downtown” and what isn’t nor am I saying that, for instance, 24 St and Camelback is downtown (it’s not and never will be).  Phoenix’s urban core runs along Central Avenue from Camelback to Jefferson.

Friday Five: Transportation Improvements II

The Friday Five for August 29: More public transportation improvements for Phoenix.

friday five logoAs it turns out, one list of five items to improve Phoenix’s transit network isn’t enough! There are certainly a lot of areas for transportation improvements in this city. Building on last week’s installment of The Friday Five, here is another set of five improvements for public transportation in this city, with a refresher on the first five:

1. Get rid of the $2 bus tax; reintroduce transfers.

2. Designate high-capacity / high-frequency routes.

3. Retrofit existing light rail stations with cooled spaces; shade all bus stops.

4. Have bus system achieve schedule parity with light rail.

5. Introduce stored-value fare cards for all riders.

6. Connect transit to trailheads. I’ve written on this extensively in an essay comment from Monday so I will refer you to that for more detail.  In summary, if we want to alleviate parking problems at some of our most popular parks, trails, and mountain preserves, we must think about different ways to get people there.  I propose connecting our bus system to those trailheads.

7. Establish site guidelines for bus stop locations, especially during construction. Especially in central Phoenix, bus stop locations can be located quite a distance from the intersection they serve. For instance, the eastbound Thomas Road bus stop is 250 feet from its corner, which doesn’t include any street crossings needing to be made by passengers. During construction, as we are seeing on 19 Ave for light rail’s extension, bus stops can be 1/8 – 1/4 mile away from the intersection and can constantly change. When transfer times are in the 1-2 minute range instead of 5-6 minutes and especially in unshaded environments, bus connections are missed. Guidelines should be created and enforced (especially during construction) that bus stops should be no more than 100 feet from the intersection.

8. Improve bicycle infrastructure on buses, trains, and at major stations. Public transportation is a great way to get from point A to point B without having to pedal everywhere. Most times when I ride the train, the hanging bike racks are full.  Often times, too, bicycle racks on buses are full.  (Trains can hold four bicycles per car; a bus can hold two or three bicycles.)  Bicycles are not allowed on the bus so if a bicycle rack is full, a rider has to wait or cycle to their destination; on trains, when the bike racks are full, bicycles and their riders are blocking aisles and doors.  As METRO orders new rolling stock for its system and evaluates its current equipment, more bicycle racks are certainly an imperative!  Something that’s equally important is the addition of practice bicycle racks at major transit centers. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen try to load their own bicycles into the trains with bad results. I know that I’ve had problems loading my own bicycle into the hanging bike rack. “Practice makes perfect,” as the saying goes, and I am sure that some practice bicycle racks at major transit centers would provide some no-pressure/no-stress practice for both novice and experienced transit users alike.

9. Update schedules with real data. More often than not, there is a disconnect between what the schedule says and when the next bus or train arrives.  On a recent bus trip, the schedule was off by 10 minutes.  Trains are usually off by 1-2 minutes.  As Valley Metro updates their schedules for the future, perhaps they should add this experiential information and realize that while schedules are nice, they are often aspirational.

10. Make Valley Metro data, including real-time positions, truly open source. We’ve heard that Valley Metro is in the process of creating their own in-house app for bus and train schedules, route guidance, and general information about the system. While their limited release of GTFS data is welcome, why not make it open source for everyone? There are great mobile apps for getting transit directions, many often times better than Valley Metro’s own website. In addition, some of these apps contain GTFS-Realtime information, meaning directions are based on realtime bus and train positions, not predetermined schedules.