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 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.

Sky Harbor Terminal 2: Its demise is greatly exaggerated

Some thoughts on the future of Sky Harbor Airport’s Terminal 2 and why its demise might be greatly exaggerated

The year was 1962. A brand new building arrived at Phoenix’s fledgling Sky Harbor Airport: its second terminal building. The building was made for jets — the old Terminal 1 (opened 10 years previously but demolished in 1991) saw the golden age of propeller aviation. Toward its end, Terminal 1 was home to Southwest Airlines before they moved into the just recently opened Barry M. Goldwater Terminal 4 at the east end of the airport campus.

Fast forward just over half a century from Terminal 2’s opening in 1962 to 2013. The airport is now a regional hub for two major airlines – Southwest Airlines and U.S. Airways – and ha nonstop international service to cities in Canada, Mexico, Costa Rica, and the United Kingdom. But Terminal 2, at 51 years old, still plays its part in Phoenix aviation.

Sky Harbor Terminal 2, ca. 1962 (photo credit: Chanen Construction)
Sky Harbor Terminal 2, ca. 1962 (photo credit: Chanen Construction)

Walking in to Terminal 2 is a different experience than its more modern — and more austere — counterparts. At the west end of the terminal headhouse building (now over the security checkpoints) is a mural by the late French-American artist Paul Coze. “The Phoenix” is one of Phoenix’s best midcentury murals and the phoenix bird is also replicated in his sculpture outside the Town and Country shopping center at 20th St and Camelback. In 2000, artwork from Terminal 3 was also placed in the Terminal 2 headhouse – a series of two paintings by the Western artist Billy Schenck and a 3D copper piece by Jose Bermudez.

When the Phoenix City Council signed off on new Sky Harbor Terminal 3 expansion project, it was mentioned that Terminal 2 would be closed. Many in the historic preservation community thought that by “closed,” the airport meant that it would be demolished. The Arizona Preservation Foundation wrote on its Facebook page that “[n]ot only will it close, it will be demolished.” A column in the East Valley (Phoenix) Tribune lamented that “The airport announced this past that it intends to spend millions of dollars to expand Terminal 3 to the east of Terminal 2, the latter destined to be torn down. It was only a matter of time.”

I’m here to say this: The demise of Terminal 2 is greatly exaggerated. While it will certainly close in the wake of Terminal 3’s westward expansion, the headhouse — the building with midcentury charm, the Paul Coze mural, and 51 years of history — will not be demolished. I have had conversations with high-ranking airport officials as well as those who work at Sky Harbor’s Airport Museum, the largest airport museum in the country and one of the largest in the world. Even if the building was slated for demolition, there is a great team (including myself) in place to protect, preserve, and conserve all of artwork that is in Terminal 2. The rumors on the street, while completely unofficial, are that the terminal headhouse will be converted into offices.

As we go forward, we need to get the facts straight and our stories correct. Nostalgia is an important part of place, placemaking, and propinquity: Terminal 2 is one of those wonderful structures in Phoenix’s history as well as in aviation history. But we need to be mindful that there are systems, teams, and people working on protecting the Paul Coze mural as well as the other portable art works in that building. Nobody wants to see those works damaged or destroyed.

Sky Harbor Terminal 3 - Stained GlassIt is necessary that we do not let our guard down. In addition to the artwork in Terminal 2, there are spectacular pieces of non-portable art in Terminal 3. I am thinking of the award-winning terrazzo floor by the baggage claim carousels designed by Teresa Villegas or the stained glass that is above the main escalator well (look above the hanging airplane!) designed by Ken Toney in collaboration with the architects (see picture at right). But again, I am confident in the team that has been assembled in the preservation and protection of these works of art.

A great city doesn’t need great art, it requires great art. So, too, does an airport: A great airport requires great art. It’s great that Sky Harbor has some of the best airport art out there.

Downtown Technology Company to rebrand, relaunch as techstudioworks

Continuing the tradition of excellence of Downtown Technology Company, it was announced today that the firm has begun its next chapter as techstudioworks, a full-service technology studio, consulting service, and education resource based in central Phoenix, Arizona.

tsw-interimLogoPHOENIX, ARIZONA (1 April 2013) — Continuing the tradition of excellence of Downtown Technology Company, it was announced today that the firm is going to begin its next chapter as techstudioworks, a full-service technology studio, consulting service, and education resource based in central Phoenix.  The new firm will maintain its commitment to all existing contracts and business.

The firm will continue the celebrated tradition of Edward Jensen’s unique hands-on approach to technology support, design, and education.  He returns fully to the private sector after working for Arizona School for the Arts, a performing arts charter school just outside downtown Phoenix, where he helped craft the school’s technology aspirations alongside helping the school’s 80 faculty and staff with daily technology needs.

“I have always taken pride in my hands-on approach with my clients: be they successful nonprofits, individuals in our community, or faculty at a school,” said Jensen.  “It has struck me as odd that there are people in many disciplines who do not recognize the value of a hands-on approach.  The new firm with the new name really emphasizes that we’re not a technology company; instead, we are a technology studio.  And I strongly believe that it’s a very important difference.”

Like Downtown Technology Company, techstudioworks will continue to provide a wide array of solutions for its clients across diverse disciplines.  Central to the firm’s mission is hands-on research-guided education on various technology themes, including owner Edward Jensen’s popular series of introductory and intermediate lectures on computer use geared toward K-12 students and senior citizens.  In addition to its strong education component, the firm will collaborate with its clients to provide, maintain, and strategically plan an online and digital presence, including social media.  All of the firm’s services are guided by a continuous emphasis on technology research, including emerging technology, new media, and technology policy.

about Edward Jensen: Edward Jensen is the owner and president at techstudioworks, a technology studio in central Phoenix.  He brings a celebrated hands-on approach to his work in advancing clients’ and organizations’ technology needs through education and research.  A lifelong Phoenix resident, he serves on the boards of several prominent local organizations.  For details, visit edwardjensen.net.

about techstudioworks: The result of years of study into technology education, techstudioworks is a new approach in providing technology services to clients across diverse disciplines.  Not your ordinary technology consultancy company, it is a technology studio where owner Edward Jensen collaborates with his clients to find the best technology solutions and provide comprehensive technology education, all guided by relevant research.  For details, visit techstudioworks.com.

Creative Computing I: Linux on Netbooks

Computing in K-12 educational environments takes creativity especially when resources are scarce.

One of the big initiatives that I worked on at/for Arizona School for the Arts was the creation and standardization of mobile computer labs (MCLs for short) around the campus. The centerpiece of this initiative is a fleet of fifty MacBooks — more on that in another post. Predating those MacBooks is a collection of about thirty netbooks, or sub-notebooks: computers that are inexpensive but are woefully underpowered. On a good day, the netbooks could barely run Windows. On a bad day, they just didn’t work.

Ubuntu on NetbooksWhile it’s the dream of many in the faculty as well as the school’s administration to replace those netbooks with MacBooks, that’s a pipe dream that won’t happen. The least expensive Mac notebook is $1,000; it’d be foolish to spend that money. We’ve got these netbooks so let’s make them work better. Seeing how Windows is too bloated for the limited processing power of these machines, I thought of experimenting with a different operating system on these machines: Ubuntu Linux, a free/libre operating system.

Continue reading “Creative Computing I: Linux on Netbooks”

thoughts on Civic Ego

Civic ego (n.): “A city’s (or a city’s inhabitants’) sense of self-esteem or self-importance.”

[editor’s note: It’s great to be writing again.]

The notion of civic ego is something that seems like it hasn’t been explored a lot.  Great cities – and even nascent great cities – have it.  The great cities are very clear when they say that they are the great cities.  Consider this sentence: “Oh, well of course New York City is the cultural capital of the US.”  There are thousands of arts organizations in NYC, including the Metropolitan Opera, Carnegie Hall, the Julliard School of Music, and far too many others to mention.

So I thought of a phrase that takes this all into account: civic ego.  The definition isn’t any more than the sum of its constituent words: civic meaning of cities and ego meaning a person’s sense of self-esteem or self-importance.  Combined, I posit that the definition of civic ego is this: “A city’s (or a city’s inhabitants’) sense of self-esteem or self-importance.”  (Of course, this implies that cities are living, breathing entities.  I think that we would all agree with that.)

This is something that we don’t have a lot of here in Phoenix.  We’re a nascent city and a city that’s generally on the correct track.  Something that we lack here in Phoenix is civic ego.  We’re definitely deferential to the cultural and physical amenities that we have here.  Instead of saying, “We’re a great city and we deserve these great amenities,” we say, “How lucky we are to have this in Phoenix.”

While it’s sometimes good to adopt the more deferential tone, if Phoenix is to be a great city, then we need to adopt the mindset that we are a great city.  This isn’t blind boosterism: this is changing our thinking from “being lucky” to “of course this should be in Phoenix.”  We can have nice things, too.  So let’s be unabashedly proud of what’s here.

More thoughts on this later. For now, your thoughts are always appreciated! How can we improve Phoenix’s civic ego?

Priorities for Downtown Phoenix

The first post of five that outlines attainable solutions for making downtown Phoenix a great place to be.

There’s been a lot made about that op-ed in Sunday’s edition of The Arizona Republic about downtown Phoenix. Personally, I thought it was full of aspirational platitudes that could easily be applied to Pittsburgh as much as Phoenix or Poughkeepsie. But, like the attention-craved downtowners that we are, any publicity is good and we have to go at it and spin our way through it.

I reject that. Completely.

I read through the piece a couple times and it seemed like a generic consultant’s report instead of a piece that offered solutions tailored to our desert downtown. And, after reading through the piece a couple times, I was very confused. It didn’t offer any new ideas or concepts for our downtown. It talked on and on about educational issues, something that downtown inherently cannot solve.

In other words, it didn’t do anything for me. And reading through the blogs and Twitter streams of some of downtown’s most critical thinkers, who bought in to that op-ed, I was very dismayed.

It’s time for an honest look at downtown’s priorities. Over the next four Tuesdays, I’m going to shine a light on those priorities. Some of the priorities can be applied to downtowns and urban areas in general. Some of them are uniquely Phoenix needs.

Which leads me to this: I’m prepared to argue that downtown Phoenix’s four priority areas should be shade, connection, grocery, and density.

I really don’t like to employ the overused Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs because it’s just that: overused. But each of the areas here build on each other. In downtown Phoenix, that bottommost level would be shade. Hot summers aren’t a new invention for Phoenix, even the Hohokam had to deal with them. (We’ve just made them hotter by clear-cutting agricultural fields around the urban core to make way for exurban development.) If one looks at recent architecture in Phoenix, one could reasonably deduct that it doesn’t get warm here.

The next level up on that hierarchy is connection. Urban areas require connection by non-automobile needs. The connections, however, aren’t there. Bike lanes exist in islands and vacuums by themselves. Key parts of our downtown, like Grand Avenue, aren’t connected to the rest of the Phoenix public transportation system. Light rail is a wonderful asset to the community but very few spur lines from that initial twenty-mile starter line have been contemplated; I doubt the usefulness of those lines that have been considered.

Another level up is grocery. Perhaps this is a uniquely Phoenix case since we don’t have a true walkable grocery store in our community. Need groceries? The nearest full-service grocery store to downtown Phoenix is a Safeway at 7th St and McDowell. Within downtown, there are two convenience stores and two mini-markets that sometimes don’t cut it. As much as we all loved the indoor Urban Grocery at the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, it had limited selection and high prices.

Once you have these three fundamentals, then you can achieve the big thing that makes urban environments shine: DENSITY. (If you’ve been engaged with me in any sort of conversation lately, then you know that this is my constant rallying cry.) Consider the following: There are about thirty coffeehouses in downtown Phoenix, including independent places like Fair Trade and One Coffee and chains like Starbucks and Dutch Bros Coffee. There’s also a score of expensive “destination” restaurants in the same area. But who lives here? The biggest continuous population in downtown Phoenix is ASU students. Aside from a few others who live at 44 Monroe, the Orpheum Lofts, and Alta Lofts, that’s not a lot of non-ASU density.

I hope I’ve piqued your interest for the next four weeks. This should be a wild ride and a good critical analysis of our downtown. It’s time to leave the analysis to true urbanists: those who live here and those who know what makes cities go forward. (Perhaps I should remind you that my ASU degree is in Urban Studies.)