Questions for Superintendent of Public Instruction candidates

Beyond the issues, here are some questions for the four candidates for Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction.

[editor’s note: All this week on edwardjensen.net, we are bringing you some questions for the various candidates for statewide office that aren’t necessarily being offered by the candidates themselves nor are they being asked. On Saturday, we started the series off with questions for the several candidates for Arizona’s Congressional District #7; at publication, none of the candidates had responded.]

elex2014questionsOne of the statewide offices up for grabs is the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. The office is filled by John Huppenthal, whose recent online activities have landed him in a bit of hot water.

Schools in central cities are a big deal. Many parents feel they have to make a decision between living in an urban environment and all of its inherent conveniences or live in the suburbs with good schools for their children. This isn’t a uniquely Phoenix or Arizona thing; this is a nationwide story. If we want Phoenix to have a vibrant, dense, and family-friendly urban core, it will need to have quality public education opportunities.

Here are my questions:

  1. Many parents have to make the choice between living in urban cores with inner-city schools or in the suburbs with high quality schools. Do you (a) agree with their premise and (b) if so, how will you work to achieve parity so these central-city schools are of the same high quality as their suburban counterparts?
  2. In his book Triumph of the City (the book club selection for The Downtown Phoenix Podcast‘s THE URBAN BOOK CLUB…but I digress), the urban economist Dr Edward Glaeser comments: “If America imitated the best aspect of European socialism and invested enough in public schools so that they were all good, then there would be little reason for the rich to leave cities to get better schooling. If America allowed vouchers or charter schools that would foster more competition in urban school districts, then their quality would rise and might even become a draw for prosperous parents.”  In other words, Dr. Glaeser posits that urban schools should be fully funded and completely public (the “socialist left,” as he says) or completely private (“free-market right”). Which solution agrees with your policy proposals and how will you work with the State Legislature, school districts, teachers’ groups, parents, and all stakeholders to realize your proposals?

Here are the candidates running and their website information:

Questions for Congressional District 7 candidates

Some questions for candidates running for Arizona’s Congressional District 7 seat.

[editor’s note: All this week on edwardjensen.net, we are bringing you some questions for the various candidates for statewide office that aren’t necessarily being offered by the candidates themselves nor are they being asked. This is the first post in the series. As of Sunday evening, August 3, none of the candidates had responded to the questions. In addition, this post has been updated with a new graphic and a list of the candidates running for the Arizona Congressional District 7 seat.]

elex2014questionsWe’ve all seen the mailers, received telephone calls, and heard the campaign commercials: it’s political campaign season once again.  But something’s missing from the discussion: policy proposals for the geographic area that is Congressional District 7 in the great State of Arizona.  It’s easily forgotten by candidates and their cheerleaders that the representative does just that: represent the entire constituency, not just those who supported them.

Congressional District 7 includes central Phoenix, downtown Glendale, the city of Tolleson and the town of Guadalupe in toto, and (most importantly) downtown Phoenix. With that, here are some questions I’d like to ask the candidates:

  1. In your opinion, what is the role of the Federal government in creating vibrant, strong, and diverse urban spaces, like downtown Phoenix?  How will you work with cities to achieve your vision?
  2. How will you help cities humanely address immigration?
  3. A study came out in the past couple months saying that at the end of this century, the average summer temperature will rise 10º F (5.6º C).  What are your policy proposals and how will you work past those who incorrectly deny climate change to address the climate crisis?
  4. The Arizona Department of Transportation is in discussion to build intercity passenger rail between Phoenix and Tucson.  What is your view on this project and does your support include making Federal financial support happen?
  5. What is your view on expansions to the Phoenix metropolitan area’s transit system, including METRO light rail?
  6. How will you work with your fellow Arizona congressional colleagues to continue to bring Federal financial support for large-scale infrastructure improvements to our constituency?
  7. What is your approach to governance?  Do you intend to remain ideologically rigid or will you seek compromise and consensus?
  8. What is the last book you have read on cities or urban issues?

I invite you to ask your own questions below and I invite the candidates to respond to these questions.

Here are all of the candidates running per the Arizona Secretary of State’s candidates list:

Another Day, Another Strikeout

News broke of a local company moving their HQ to farther-north Phoenix. This does not bode well for downtown Phoenix at all.

render_citynorth54thstThe news broke earlier this week that Phoenix-based Sprouts Farmers Market had signed a deal to move their corporate headquarters from near Paradise Valley Mall to the farther-removed and failed CityNorth development near Loop 101 and 56 Street. The new offices will include a Sprouts market. What’s ironic in the article is this quote from Sprouts CEO Doug Sanders: “It also will better reflect the Sprouts brand and our commitment to sustainability.” Yes, because having all of your HQ employees continue to drive to their jobs really is sustainable.

Commenters on my Facebook were quick to point out the usual failed Phoenix logic: “At least it’s still Phoenix instead of another town” was a chorus repeated on several occasions. It was suggested by a commenter that this was OK since Phoenix made a massive investment in the downtown-killing CityNorth project despite, as another commenter pointed out, it being a failed project. Other commenters suggested that we should work with Sprouts to have a grocery store downtown, possibly as part of the new development at Central & McDowell.

This idea that we must have economic activity all across the 550 square miles in Phoenix is killing our city and any hope we have to compete in the 21st century global marketplace that will be based on urban areas, urban activity, and urban economics. It may be very downtown-centric of me but there are two Phoenixes, if you will: there’s Phoenix proper, the urban part that is a much smaller size, say between I-17 on the west and south, SR-51 on the east, and Dunlap Avenue to the north. Then there’s the other part that I do not like to call Phoenix: the suburb of Phoenix that is subdivisions and sprawl, even if it is within the city limits of Phoenix. That other “Phoenix” is sucking all of the life from the Phoenix I know and love. When you’re both a suburb and central city, as Phoenix and “Phoenix” are, this is what happens.

All of the research and all of the trends suggest one thing: Downtowns of core cities will carry cities and regions forward, full stop. Even worse is this idea that Phoenix will succeed if our other suburban cities succeed. In a recent Twitter exchange I had with Jon Talton (@jontalton), author and Phoenix observer (and guest on an early episode of The Downtown Phoenix Podcast), he noted that “‘Regional’” is killing Phoenix. It’s the civic destruction without the entertainment value of Rob Ford.”

Other cities in our metropolitan area are certainly succeeding while downtown Phoenix falls behind. I have frequently praised Tempe for landing the new home for the U.S. national basketball team and State Farm Insurance developing in their downtown. I have publicly lauded Mesa and their former Mayor, Scott Smith, for the work done to bring quality economic development to downtown Mesa. If you would have told me 15 years ago that downtown Mesa would have a world-class performing arts center, light rail, and a nice downtown, I would have laughed at you. Outside of Arizona, we hear of developments moving specifically to downtown environments. California’s Active Network is moving their headquarters with 1,000 jobs to downtown Dallas.

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? Or any headquarters for a major or emerging company? The lack of central-city economic stewards makes the downtown development case challenging, especially when the City of Phoenix has adopted the policy (in my estimation) that we need to spread the thin wealth of economic activity and development over the entire 550 square mile footprint.

Another troubling question that needs to be asked: Where have our central-city councilpeople been? Or what about the economic development groups that are tasked with downtown’s growth? My fears are that they were, again, asleep at the wheel. At last year’s overly contentious Phoenix City Council elections, one of the candidates said that they thought midtown Phoenix needed an economic development strategy; perhaps presciently, that same candidate called midtown an “inner city.” Absent an economic development strategy, we will become one in no time.

While we focus on walkability and creative temporary uses for undeveloped land in urban Phoenix, the good quality development—the stuff we want and so desperately need—moves away from here. We can have the most walkable streets and good urban design, if there’s nothing to walk to, then what’s the point?

This needs to be a wake-up call for all of us. We need to do better.

The Serious City (Only Every Day)

There’s a definite lack of seriousness in Phoenix. How can Phoenix become The Serious City?

[editor’s note: This essay provides context and a general theme for Series 2 episodes of our media project, The Downtown Phoenix Podcast, whose series 2 première and ninth episode in toto is set to be released next Monday, 7 July 2014.  Subscribe and listen to its Series 1 episodes at downtownphoenixpodcast.com.]

the serious cityBy way of introduction, last week I was in conversation with a couple of people about the future of Phoenix and assessing its condition on a lot of issues.  I think one of the most poignant questions asked of me if I had ever thought of leaving Phoenix for somewhere else.  I sense they were taken aback by my answer: “Only every day.”  Of course, I have no economic reason to leave here: I’d be taking a tremendous gamble that I’d find something elsewhere.   In addition, my support network of friends, family, and colleagues are all here in this place.  When further asked if this should make people think positively about coming or staying here, I replied, “It shouldn’t.  It should give people pause and make us assess the urban condition here to make the necessary policy and design interventions so this place can be economically viable in the global economy.”

There is a definite crisis of seriousness in this city.  While other urban environments across the country and in our metropolitan area score dense transit-oriented development, the best we can muster in Phoenix is four-story suburban residential complexes.  While downtown Tempe gets major operations centers for U.S.A. Basketball and State Farm Insurance, a Phoenix councilman touts two new fast food restaurants opening near a shopping mall as investment.  We’re not taking ourselves seriously and expecting great things of ourselves, our civic leaders, and our elected officials.

We know that the global economy is becoming more and more focused on cities and urban agglomerations instead of countries or states.  Cities are competing against other cities for economic development: it’s Phoenix vs. Seattle or Fortaleza, not Arizona vs. Washington or Brazil.  Unfortunately, Arizona’s cities get the short end of the stick when it comes to who defines whom: it’s always Phoenix that gets branded by the crazy political environment of either the State of Arizona or Maricopa County. 

One last thing: In his first monologue returning to television after the 9/11 attacks on 17 September 2001, David Letterman, urging his audience to face the coming uncertain days with courage, said that “pretending to be courageous is just as good as the real thing.”  As a 13-year-old kid confused and wondering what was happening and what was going to happen next, Mr. Letterman’s words resonated — and still resonate — with me.

The same philosophy applies to what I’m trying to get at here: If we want Phoenix to be an important city, we need to pretend and act that it already is.  The rest should follow.

More on this later — especially as part of Series 2 of The Downtown Phoenix Podcast.

Friday Urban Dispatch: May 9

The Friday Urban Dispatch for May 9: Comparing Phoenix’s urban progress to cities that have done the urban thing for a couple centuries.

The Friday Urban Dispatches are a unique boots-on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening in our own backyard of downtown Phoenix. For this edition, there’s a unique twist.

friDispatchThings have been quiet here on edwardjensen.net over the past couple weeks as I’ve been away from Phoenix taking some much-needed time in different cities. Using the Amtrak Northeast Regional intercity train as the connector, I visited Washington, Philadelphia, New York City, and Boston. This week’s Friday Urban Dispatch highlights some of the highlights from my two weeks away and how we can implement them in Phoenix…

Density, density, density! The average population density of Phoenix is 2,798 people per square mile. Of the quartet of cities I visited, Washington, D.C., had the lowest population density at 9,856 people per square mile, an almost fourfold increase over Phoenix. One certainly feels the increased density of all of the cities because there is a definite energy — a certain je ne sais quoi — in those cities. Public transportation is beyond wonderful. The sidewalks are full. People are enjoying third places in public and private spaces. (For your edification, Philadelphia’s population density is 11,379 people per square mile; Boston is 12,793; all five boroughs of New York City is 27,012; Manhattan proper is 48,201.)

Stored-value transit cards. Washington’s WMATA has SmarTrip. New York City’s MTA has the Metrocard. Boston’s MBTA has the Charlie Card. And Philadelphia’s SEPTA is working on its own system. All of these cards are reusable cards that have combinations of stored value and day / week / month unlimited-ride passes for bus, subway, or commuter rail. These cards can be purchased by anyone from a vending machine or a station agent. Phoenix doesn’t have that system and it’s long past time we have something like that. Our closest thing is the Platinum Pass but that’s only for companies through trip-reduction programs. Paper tickets for various passes are available. If we want to make public transportation a truly viable and equal option for urban dwellers as we want it to be, a stored-value card program available to the masses has to be introduced.

Blending old and new. By far, Boston was the best city in which the old and the new were seamlessly blended together: one enriched the other. In lower Manhattan, skyscrapers were built around and even integrated historic buildings seamlessly and beautifully. Were this happening in Phoenix, I am sure the historic preservation community would cringe. If our definition of historic preservation is that we must retain buildings as they were when they were built, then we will not achieve the density Phoenix needs to have. By museum-ifying buildings and neighborhoods, that is a fast path to ensuring that we will not get there, these historic buildings will deteriorate, and we won’t get the urban density and quality we need to be in Phoenix to be competitive in the 21st century world economy. Preservation is important; however, we must reuse buildings in ways that celebrate history but look toward the future.

Great cities require great parks. One of the common elements of these four cities are their use and love of parks and public spaces. Among other parks, Washington has the National Mall and various squares; New York City has Central, Bryant, Brooklyn Bridge, and Prospect Parks; Boston has the Boston Common, Boston Public Garden, and Kennedy Greenway. All of these parks have public-private partnerships and conservancies that fund the parks’ operations and maintenance. We have some nice parks and preserves in Phoenix that are sometimes woefully underused. As I have commented previously, there is a hopeful future of downtown’s Hance Park: its Hance Park Conservancy is beginning to implement a wonderful new Master Plan that celebrates desert urbanism.

Grand statements. As my friend Will Bruder said once, “it takes one really good street to make a city.” To take that a step farther and to build on that philosophy, it takes one statement to show that we are who we think we should be. I am proudly serving on the City of Phoenix’s Bicycle & Pedestrian Ad Hoc Task Force and one of our first deliverables is to come up with a new Bicycle Master Plan for Phoenix. I have been reminding my colleagues on this citizens’ panel not to think linearly but to think disruptively. What interventions can we make to make a statement not only to ourselves but to the world that we take cycling seriously here? A two-way cycle track ran the length of Pennsylvania Avenue from The White House to the Capitol in Washington. New York City has closed off Broadway to automobiles in Times Square. These are grand statements and it’s time that Phoenix have some grand statements of its own. What about making Central Avenue in midtown and downtown Phoenix’s first truly complete street? Or what about making all of the canal crossings to go above or below major streets?

Toward D.C., not New York City. A lot of Phoenix advocates think that buildings should be tall just for the sake of being tall. The new Arizona Center for Law & Society building in downtown Phoenix’s University District? Too short. Roosevelt Point? Ditto. Just recently announced is a tower to go on the Central Station site that will block much-needed winter sun for the Civic Space Park. I’m a big believer in a constant and continuous density that features buildings about 6-10 stories tall, which is what is found in downtown Washington. It’s a perfect height in which the buildings and the street engage each other intimately and one is not detached from the other. While the towering skyscrapers in Manhattan are certainly engineering marvels and some are nice to see, they create a cavernous feeling and limit seeing the sky. In Washington, the sky is readily viewable and accessible. There’s also a rebellious nature on proud public display in Washington. Their official motto and rallying cry is taxation without representation, noting that while Washington residents pay Federal income taxes, they do not have voting representation in the U.S. Congress, sending a nonvoting delegate to the House of Representatives. While Phoenix has voting representation in Congress and in the Arizona State Legislature, the values of urban Phoenix are certainly different from what our representatives in the Arizona State Legislature are trying to force upon us.

enHANCE Park: Statement to the Parks Board

This statement was delivered on 26 March 2014 to the City of Phoenix Parks & Recreation Board to urge them to approve the new Hance Park Master Plan.

[editor’s note: This statement was delivered on 26 March 2014 to the City of Phoenix Parks & Recreation Board to urge them to approve the new Hance Park Master Plan, which they did unanimously. Please join me and the downtown Phoenix community tonight at Hance Park to see and celebrate the kickoff of the next phase of Hance Park’s life…5-8pm at Hance Park. The best way to get there is via light rail.]

enhance statementChairman Peck and Members of the City of Phoenix Parks and Recreation Board:

I speak before you this afternoon to talk to you about my park, Hance Park. As the Master Plan Design Team and City of Phoenix staff have indicated, it’s not every day that 32.5 acres of urban space comes up for discussion. And that is what this really is: urban space.

What the Master Plan Design Team have come up with is a truly urban design that will set the standard of excellence for urban parks. Our work, however, is not complete when you approve this plan nor is it complete when the full Phoenix City Council approves it in April. What you’re approving tonight, Mr. Chair and members of the Parks Board, is a plan of action.

To get our new Hance Park, it is contingent upon both you as the Parks and Recreation Board and us as citizens of this great city to work together in partnership. The interest is there: dozens of community meetings with packed houses have been held since the Master Plan Design Team started their work in August 2013. The interim design presentations had capacity crowds in their repsective auditoria. Estimates of attendance for [tonight’s] enHANCE event are in the thousands.

The point I am making here, Chairman Peck and members of the Parks and Recreation Board, is this: There is considerable desire that Phoenix should have a forward-thinking urban park. There is consensus that it should be Hance Park.

Thank you.

PERSPECTIVE on Hance Park

Some PERSPECTIVE on Hance Park from Episode 3 of “The Downtown Phoenix Podcast”

[editorial note: This is the text of the PERSPECTIVE essay for Episode 3 of my media project, The Downtown Phoenix Podcast. A new feature on the Podcast, the PERSPECTIVE essay is a miniature essay in which I establish context and, well, perspective, on the contents of that show.]

ep3_coverWEB

There have been a lot of stories flying around about what the enHANCE Park celebration is on the 27th of March from 5-8pm at downtown Phoenix’s Hance Park.

As we see it, the celebration isn’t about the completion of a process.  Were it that, this plan would end up as yet another plan sitting on a shelf at Phoenix City Hall.

This celebration is a kick-off for the multi-generation project that is the rebirth of Hance Park as a truly urban park in the emerging urban community of Phoenix.  While we’re generally loathe to use phrases like “watershed moment” or “turning-point” in our conversation, this kick-off event has the potential to be one of those events.

Dozens of community meetings with packed houses have been held since the Master Plan Design Team started their work in September 2013.  The interim design  presentations have had capacity crowds at their respective auditoria.   Estimates of attendance for the 27 March enHANCE event are in the thousands.  The point I’m making here is this: There is a considerable desire that Phoenix should have a forward-thinking urban park.  There is consensus that it should be Hance Park.

It’s up to us to get that park built and to get the density built around the park.

The Downtown Phoenix Podcast is a new media project in and for downtown Phoenix that champions serious conversation to bring positive action to our communities and neighborhoods. To learn more and to subscribe to the Podcast, visit downtownphoenixpodcast.com.

Two Arizonas

The conversation about Arizona’s Senate Bill 1062, the state-sanctioned LGBTQ discrimination ordinance, has showed that there are two Arizonas.

The conversation about Arizona’s Senate Bill 1062, the state-sanctioned LGBTQ discrimination ordinance, has showed that there are two Arizonas.  There’s the Arizona that is wanting to be a part of the 21st Century international marketplace.  On the other side, there’s the Arizona that wants no place in the international community, instead seeking to be isolated from it.

The former Arizona—the 21st Century Arizona—is present in our cities.  Cities are the powerhouse for innovation in this new economy and they’re the places that are getting it.  They’re building light rail, they’re doing economic development, they’re realizing that density and diversity are strong assets.

The latter Arizona—the isolationist Arizona—is present in the reactionary State Legislature.  They see the 21st Century as a threat to “traditional” values (whatever those might be) and the notion that Arizona can exist on its own.

Time marches on and the international economy will seek team players.  Isolationist economies and societies will wither and fade off into the sunset.

Phoenix is watching. This state is watching. The world is watching.

Which Arizona will we be?

Debra Friedman (1955-2014), an appreciation

News came early Sunday evening of the passing of UW Tacoma chancellor Debra Friedman. I worked with her during her time at ASU. She will be missed.

Friedman_Debra-memorialThe news came early Sunday evening of the passing of Dr. Debra Friedman, the Chancellor of the University of Washington Tacoma and the former Dean of the ASU College of Public Programs. My condolences and sympathies go to Debra’s daughter Eliana, her family, her colleagues at the UW Tacoma and ASU, and the thousands of lives she touched.

While at the ASU College of Public Programs (my alma mater), Dr. Friedman was the Dean in charge of moving that College from its longtime home at ASU’s main Tempe campus to its new home (and very uncertain future) at the burgeoning Downtown Phoenix campus. She believed in open access, strong partnerships between the University and the community it serves, and the notion that our future civic leaders can and will come from all walks of life and from places not normally expected.

I had the great privilege to work with Dr. Friedman during my tenure as a Student Ambassador for the College of Public Programs from 2008-2011. While a student-to-student voice certainly helped in recruiting new students to the College, I was told that part of the reason our program existed was because she wanted students in the Dean’s Office as an ever-present reminder to the faculty and staff that we (the students) are the reason they (the staff) are in their jobs. And we weren’t just student workers–the lowest rung on the totem pole–we were colleagues with the adult staff in one shared mission: to advance the College and make it still better and better.

And so we will do, albeit with heavy hearts, what Dr. Friedman wanted us to do: make our communities still better and better.

Thank you, Debra.

(image credit: The University of Washington Tacoma)

Happy New Year 2014 from edwardjensen.net

Happy New Year 2014!

marching toward 2014

We wish you happiness, peace, joy, and light in 2014. We’re taking a couple days off here at edwardjensen.net but when we return in 2014, big things are on the way.

“Ring out the old, ring in the new / Ring, happy bells, across the snow / The year is going, let him go / Ring out the false, ring in the true.” [Alfred, Lord Tennyson]

Happy New Year 2014!