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January 31, 2011

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While I mostly agree with Ms. Copeland's assessment of downtown, I take issue with a few things.

First, ASU Downtown is not insular but does feel slightly isolated. This issue will not be helped if the city approves a temporary parking lot in place of the Ramada Inn. Instead, a downtown residential committee has appealed for a creation of a dog park.

Here is where the bullshit smells most foul: The city has forbade the Ad Hoc Park Committee from commenting online about the ongoing debate. http://www.azcentral.com/community/phoenix/articles/2010/12/25/20101225phoenix-dog-park-discussion.html

The reason ASU DT is not completely isolated is that it faces the street, a park, a transit station including the light rail stop, and has street level retail. However, because the Westin and Freeport McMoRan headquarters tower is not yet complete it feels staved off from the rest of the high-rise "center" of downtown. South of Van Buren is where the CityScape development can be found.

Ms. Copeland's CityScape definition is also incorrect. It is far from a suburban mall but is, for the most part, one of those new faux entertainment, "new urbanist" creations. There are many reasons it is no mall of any type: It is not enclosed, there are no large "anchors" to a centralized uni-body building, it is way too small, and most of the retail is street level and faces pedestrian traffic. On the second level lounges, bars, and galleries with large windows face the street and can only be accessed by going outside.

Another reason CityScape isn't a complete failure is that all the retail on the second block of the development (high-rise block) will be located on the street level, sidewalk facing facade of the two high-rises; one an office tower, the second a hotel/condo tower. I do take issue with the modern "staircase plaza" between the two towers and pray that the trees grow quickly.

Other than that, CityScape is one of the few ares in downtown where one can stand and not see any parking lots. Here the environment is surrounded by buildings. This gives downtown Phoenix the feel that some form of urbanity is approaching. With the light rail passing along three sides of the place and the stations a few feet away, this area can have a huge impact.

Other than that, much of the other comments are dead on. Downtown Phoenix will not have a spectacular revival without private investment, affordable housing for artist, young professionals, and young families (to begin the mass re-population of downtown). I scoffed at most of the high-rise condo tower development in Phoenix to date. I am no millionaire. "Copper Square" is not Manhattan; therefore, real estate should not be priced as such.

I'm not paying $430,000 for an 800sq ft studio in New York, much less Phoenix no matter how much I love living here. 44 Monroe should have created a realistic building by pricing the residences in range of those who would first venture to this part of the city.

Turning 44 Monroe into apartments with pricing comparable to other "luxury" rentals in the area, like Alta Lofts and The Post, will benefit downtown residential growth. So that means no rent should start at $1,200 (for a small studio)!

Another point I'll make is that Portland's is actually located downtown. It is south of McDowell and east of 7th Ave but west of 7th St and therefore, within the footprint of downtown.

Since there are so many empty lots in downtown the Roosevelt Row, where Portland's is located, feels like a trek from the high-rise center. In reality it is but many small city blocks away. Trees along the street scape along Central and, say 3rd Ave, would go a long way in making the walk between these downtown neighborhoods inviting.


I think of downtown as a burn patient in critical condition. But instead of grafting skin between existing islands of tissue, planners and developers have looked for the "game changer", the "lollapalooza" operation that will suddenly reverse what preceded it - that is, all the other botched surgeries that made the patient much worse. What downtown lacks is organic, fine-grained development. The first-aid kit of planners, unfortunately, is land assemblage, RFPs, various abatements and infrastructure subsidies, all geared to the full catastrophe of inside players looking for the big score at taxpayers' expense.

Phoenix is at the point where the damage done to repair previous damage done to reverse the original neglect is simply beyond any kind of fix. There are not enough decorative lamp-posts and sidewalk benches and downtown ambassadors to make this patient appear lifelike.

Still, in the interest of discussion, here's what I'd do if I were chief surgeon.

I'd call HUD and immediately cancel the contract providing social housing at the Westward Ho Hotel. I'd then issue bonds to either return this hotel to it glory or perhaps to condos. Then again, maybe ASU could use it, including its priceless public spaces. As it stands, it's the most glaringly misused and undervalued resource downtown.

I'd then use magical thinking to find a way to complete the refurbishing of the Professional Building. Once again, there are spaces here that are wonderful, unique, and woefully neglected. The banking lobby here, an art deco masterpiece, was extensively damaged by Merabank during its occupancy. Restoring it to its former glory would give downtown something magnificent, something Scottsdale will never have no matter how many billions they pump into their nouveau riche shopping frenzy. There are other spaces in the building that can house clubs and restaurants along with the requisite boutique hotel.

Now, a couple of magic wand moments later, we begin to knit together the Central Avenue spaces between this building and the Ho. We ask ASU to open the ground floor to retail at its 411 building. If the student union is still slated for the old post-office building, we make it inviting to the public as well. We then take some Central Station street frontage and construct a basic shell building for low-cost businesses (think taquerias, funky stores (say, head shops!), anything that is cheap, authentic, and messy. Oh, and we turn up the wattage on the lighting for that art installation/giant diaphragm. It's virtually invisible during the day so we might as well be able to look at it during the night.

Okay, the hard part: we seize the Chase Bank parking garage and blow it up. There is nothing, NOTHING, uglier and more anti-human that this obscenity. It's perhaps the most crucial block downtown and it symbolizes just about everything that is wrong about downtown. In its place, we reconstruct the Fox Theater where the Phoenix Symphony will now play instead of that horror that could be mistaken for the Pyongyang Visitors Center.

Then we hold an international competition of designers and architects to retrofit the Chase Bank Building for urban uses. The sterile plaza will give way to something welcoming and beautiful and vital.

A couple of more doable things: we construct retail spaces on street level at the Phoenix Convention Center. Why this behemoth was allowed to further cement in place the deadness of downtown is a mystery. One large space will be given to Changing Hands Bookstore for $1 a year.

Also, after My Big Fat Greek Restaurant is closed down at Arizona Center for multiple culinary and aesthetic violations, its space is handed over to Silvia Esparza to make something wonderful happen there.

Okay, time for a nap.

Confession: none of this will happen, could happen, or truth be told, should happen. Downtown Phoenix had its moment and there's nothing to do except remember. Maybe the best we are fated to do is a kind of ceremonial pile of special uses: sports, concerts, government, law, and banking. On that level, downtown Phoenix has already succeeded.

The things that are necessary to make downtown come alive are beyond our means as citizens in a democracy. We cannot abrogate property rights, or make the economy surge again, or find the civic impulses to create great public spaces. We are, for better or worse, consumers of a dream designed by nobody for nobody. We live here to be left alone. It's entirely fitting that downtown feels the same way about us.


Just what Phoenix needs: More bad press! I'm not saying you're not right about our downtown, but it would be better if you could make some suggestions about practical solutions instead of just pointing out flaws. People still live here, you know--good people who do want positive change in Arizona.

Soleri, here I find common ground with you. Except the end of your otherwise thoughtful prose. I'm a few, many years from 30 and therefore, not near death.

I have have seen (but mostly read) of other cities in more dire straits than Phoenix in which a downtown revival occurred. Seattle being one of them. It is conceivable that some of your very good ideas take place.

I'll add a few; that radio tower atop the Westward Ho must go! Along with the Chase Bank garage demolition, the Compass Bank garage must be imploded along with the "Garage Mahal" across from Chase Field. The Arizona Center must level its monstrously tall garage, convincing more of its employees and patrons to ride the rails.

Since the economy is in the hole, instead of building an inward facing shopping plaza, the AZ Center can plant more lovely grass, trees, and flowers. Central Station is already undergoing redevelopment which will include a larger building stretching over a larger area between the light rail stops topped by solar panels. More trees will be planted and I was told that vendors would be a part of the master plan. We shall see.

Kate, Jon's approach is to condemn the neglect that has devastated the city. I take it as motivation (a kick in the ass); often times it is not the most flattering critique but it has value and adds to the discussion of what can make Phoenix better.

phxSUNfan - talk about downtown neglect; nothing tops that subject in Arizona but a look at the devastation in Tucson. A kick in the pants won't fix either of these situations. Downtowns are dead in both cities without massive private investment with guaranteed profits, and that doesn't look like a likely prospect in either scenario.

You folks are not thinking out of the box. You need to look to the copper dome for inspiration.

Our state, our counties, our cities are bleeding red ink. Legislature's response: loosen up the gun laws. Let the whole country know that Utah has the loosest gun laws and we intend to pass them and become NUMBER ONE. We're tired of being 48th and 49th in everything.

So, along those lines, once all of downtown is completely deserted, we do the following: We turn Arizona center into a two level "largest gun store" in the Southwest. It will have retail on the second level with the bottom level dedicated to indoor ranges of all types. You will be able to shoot trap and skeet on the top floor of the parking garage. The top floor of the parking garage at the Civic center will be an even larger range. The civic enter will be home to a year-round gun show/ swap meet.

My point is this:

Over the last four decades I've waited to see and support the redevelopment of downtown. During that time there have been a few, and I do mean a few individuals who had a brief opportunity to get the ball rolling and build momentum.

Those few failed. Just look around.

With the current leadership in the state, the wrecked economy, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that downtown Phoenix will EVER be revitalized.

You optomists on the blog, are you willing to wait another forty years? Can you wait forty years?

Personally, In a couple of years I'm headed out with Cal and his dog.

What has happened to downtown Phoenix is being replicated in Tempe,Mesa,Scottsdale,and Glendale.Mesa is on it's third generation of white flight as Fiesta Mall and it's environs are on life support.Southern Ave. looks like a bombed out city.The national chains have deserted downtown Tempe and moved to the newest mall,Marketplace.That says to me that this is a statewide problem and needs a comprehensive solution by the state legislature.Since it doesn't concern immigration or guns,that has a snowball's chance in H%$^.

Mike Doughty: "Mesa is on it's third generation of white flight..."

Middle class whites can't flee an area they left in the 80's.

AZrebel, I am not willing to wait 40 years. But unlike the last 4 decades you describe in Phoenix, there were hardly any real downtown players capable or willing to truly create an urban core.

Let's see, the movers and shakers over the last 4 decades "developed" the scallop-windowed beauty that is the Wyndham Hotel(I'm being sarcastic in case there was question) after the razing of the Hotel Adams, the development of civic minded parking "structures" where historic buildings once stood, and the development of the lovely homeless abode known as Patriot's Square. Thank goodness CityScape was built over that Stalinist compound.

The last 4 decades in Central Phoenix were marked by destruction; not the building of community or urban pleasures. Let those old developers begone. Otherwise, I would still be fearing the destruction of what remains; Luhr's Tower, Luhr's Building, Historic City Hall, Security Building, Heard Building, The Orpheum Theater, etc. etc.

That said, I feel a distinction should be made between the characteristics and politics of Phoenix, the Central City/Tempe, and Arizona in general. Pearce and his cohort represent rural districts and ultra conservative small districts that abound while the vast majority of urban Arizona is at a disadvantage (where most the population resides).

These smaller districts overwhelm their heavily populated counterparts (District 15 for example with a truly wonderful Rep. in Sinema). Too bad something cannot be done to fix this imbalance.

Lastly, it is important to realize that there is no longer a market for more Verrados in Buckeye, nor San Tan Villas, Vistas, or Valles. Growth will be geared toward the pockets of Central City neighborhoods and Tempe enclaves. Downtown Scottsdale fits into that picture as well. I know plenty of people who thank the gods that they did not buy houses in Arizona and had rented instead.

At one time these young professionals were willing to rent in North Scottsdale, Chandler, and North Phoenix, but no more. The cost of driving is too much and living in the hinterlands, unfriendly. They are filling Alta Lofts, The Met, One Lexington, what's left at The Post, etc etc.

Some are on waiting list hoping for prime properties to open in the Central City in Midtown, Willo, Roosevelt, etc etc. Let's hope the developers take notice and do not build more overpriced 44 Monroes...

phxSUNfan, you touched on an important point, the cost of driving. The only "incentive" capable of forcing movement towards downtown would be sky high gas prices. So, possible development of downtown Phoenix depends on doubling and tripling of gas prices, which in the end destroys the Arizona and American economy. I'm just afraid we're out of time, out of money and out of options. I wish it were not so.

(on a recent Saturday midday, I went downtown to visit a friend at the Hyatt. After I exited the freeway at 3rd st. and headed downtown, I was the only car on the road for blocks and blocks, No pedestrians. No one. I thought I was in a Sci-fi movie. Did I mention it was mid day? I was stopped by a homeless dude asking for money, IN THE HYATT HOTEL LOBBY. When I left the hotel, I drove past the Arizona Center. No people. The experience did not inspire confidence in a downtown "Renewal".) Maybe I shouldn't discount the possibility that maybe they were filming a sci-fi movie while I was there.

P.S. I gave the guy a few bucks. He had an ASU t-shirt on.

I wouldn't be so quick to reject the idea of turning Arizona Center into a shooting range. When it first opened, the long-departed America's Original Sports Bar bar had a duck hunt video game that was quite popular. Hell, I'm old enough to remember when the Sesame Inn at the Mercado was going to rescue downtown.

AZreb, Phoenix is unique in the driving aspect on a few fronts. One, gas prices only need to inch up a bit more from now to get people thinking about alternative lifestyles. When prices in metro Phoenix neared $4.00 a gallon (gas now is close to topping $3.00 and some regions already surpass this mark), METRO light rail and many bus routes and express lines recorded record ridership counts.

The increase in ridership also marked the increase of lease renewals and signings in Central City properties. Gas will soon near this "benchmark" again and I'll be interested in seeing if there is a similar outcome.

One thing about downtown pedestrian-ism between the Row, near the freeway exit you took and the high-rise center, is that the street is rather awkward and uninviting except for First Fridays. The shops and restaurants stop one block south of Roosevelt and then the empty lots begin until near Fillmore where Alta Lofts begin. Early I mentioned that the planting of trees along the street scape of "3rd Ave" would invite more pedestrian traffic, but I meant 3rd St (the empty street you took downtown).

As for the Arizona Center; I was there this Saturday, and the Saturday before and there were plenty of people. However, the people in the center aren't readily visible to the street because it is inward facing and nothing faces the street on 3rd or Fillmore.

The Gardens are a huge draw downtown and a crowd always abounds. But the crowd usually walks from the monstrously tall garage, inside the courtyard hermit of the center, to the gardens and then follow this same path out.

As for the lonely homeless peddler in the Hyatt, if that is shocking to you, please don't visit San Francisco or Seattle for that matter. You'll trip over the poor souls and their needles.

The man was probably wearing an ASU shirt because of the student homeless drives on campus. They usually donate their unwanted gear at the end of each semester, during holidays, or just during their volunteer stints at the local shelters, churches, and organizations.

I've also seen tipsy students give the homeless their shirts and/or sweatshirts off their backs if they yell; "hey SUNDEVIL", towards them. LOL, I've actually done this and nearly froze last month on one of our rare freezing nights.

CDT, Sesame Inn??? Like as in Sesame Street?

If only real life were more like The Sims...

Francisco, Sesame Inn was a Chinese restaurant at the NW corner of the Mercado. When that shopping plaza opened, it had a nice mix of businesses. It took the center a few years to die before ASU finally took it over. By that time, Arizona Center had opened and it survives, in a manner of speaking, to this day.

When I think of the chicken/egg problem of downtown, it's about the way to integrate cars and people without damaging the urban fabric to the point where people would just as soon be somewhere else. Phoenix's solution - plenty of parking garages - is not good but it is necessary. The Chase parking garage is by far the worst, although the City parking garage at 3rd Avenue and Monroe is also very ugly and damaging. It blocks views to some of its finest remaining old buildings (the churches on Monroe and the Masonic Temple) and does so in an aggressively brutal way. This is one reason why I'm not hopeful that the city government either has the means or the sensibility to nurture downtown back to health.

Downtown Seattle succeeds because it had all the necessary components in place so it didn't tear itself down in order to reinvent itself like Phoenix has. If anything, the fact that downtown Seattle attracts thousands of tourists daily should tell you something. Downtown Phoenix might get a few dozen. And how long do they linger before scuttling off to the Biltmore or Scottsdale?

San Diego's downtown is not nearly as interesting as Seattle's, but it's worth noting a couple of reasons why it works. It's Gaslamp section somehow avoided getting razed during the urban renewal madness of the 60s. So, all the wonderful old buildings lived to serve another era, attracting people by virtue of their interest, scale, and street life. They have zillions of homeless in SD and it hardly matters. Why? Because there are even more tourists on the streets. The homeless in Phoenix are about the only action going on most downtown streets.

By now, downtown Phoenix is set - literally - in cement. We can add a few more attractions here and there but we can't add magic. We can't make old building reappear that are long gone. We can't make today's downtown function like it did when it was really was downtown. I made my final goodbyes around 1979. That was when there were still a few stores left: Hanny's, Switzer's, Woolworth's Newberry's, Skagg's, and restaurants like the Nogales Cafe, Estelle's, and the Concho Room. Slim pickins to be sure but it was real.

Keep the dream alive but chain restaurants and retail in privately controlled plazas won't help Phoenix in the long run.

Soleri, I'll try to make this short and sweet and then let others chime in for a while. We can continue to outline what downtown lacks but nothing can come of this. It has been done countless times with no outline of what can be done to fix the issues.

This is one of the first blogs I've read and contributed to in which some solutions have been proposed; although some rather sarcastically. My point, although old Phoenix can not be replaced, what eventually is built must follow that which has been lost. This is how Seattle lost much of its beauty.

While that city does have a better downtown with more, older buildings, the central city is filled with boxy modern dwellings (many sitting empty) that have the feel of Phoenix parking garages with windows. In Seattle they call these condos.

This, as I've stated before, is what Phoenix must avoid in its rebuild of the urban core. Even with our modern techniques and materials, we should be able to avoid staid Columbia Center glassed-smokestacks dubbed skyscrapers. I've posted this site before: http://cheapshitcondos.com/wordpress/

This must not happen in downtown.

You say downtown Phoenix is set in "cement" and nothing can be done. Yet comment on how nothing exists on dirt lots...it can't be both. Basically, downtown is a mostly vacant dirt lot in which much can happen and nothing is cemented.

No mention of the "brown cloud" in the essay or the comments. Just sayin'.


Francisco, downtown Phoenix is mostly done because even if by magic some billionaire appears to plop down stunning buildings in the dirt lots, the core itself is inert. There's no continuity or contiguous blocks of "live tissue" there. There's no focal point, no gravitational pull, few architectural treasures, no amazing amenity or leavening human touch to rescue this mess.

Jacob's reference to the Sims is apropos. I'm not sure if you hung out at Skyscraperpage.com, but that what the kids love to do: playing God with cities by depicting cities as things to manipulate with ever taller and taller buildings. The Phoenix partisans are a particularly obsessive bunch in this respect. They outvie one another is taking high-zoom photos of downtown to compress downtown and North Central into a single downtown. Visually manipulating Phoenix into a vibrant and exciting mirage is the strategy of aging starlets and yesterday's political titans.

You seem particularly obsessed from the other side to prove that Seattle is "not all that". Well, Seattle is functional. It's downtown makes an emphatic statement in terms of human activity. There are thousands of people on the streets and in the office towers. You notice also the youthfulness of the place, always a good sign. Yes, individual buildings disappoint. They do that in every city this side of Paris. But Seattle doesn't have to succeed in every block because it works as a galvanizing force regionally. It doesn't require strategists or press agents. Downtown Phoenix, by contrast, is unthinkable without its public relations, its Downtown Partnership, its promotional nicknaming, its puffery and sloganeering. Downtown Phoenix, at long last, is indistinguishable from the desperate sunniness of its primary cheerleaders. I loved all of them, from Margaret Mullan to Brian Kearney to Marty Schulz to Don Keuth but I'm not confusing salesmanship with the actual product.

One other city worth mentioning here is LA. Its downtown is also an afterthought, a largely ceremonial relic, a Potemkin village of set pieces and totemic props. But downtown LA is amazing in its potential. There's the familiar lack of vibrancy on many streets, particularly the urban renewal areas around Bunker Hill. But on Broadway and Main streets, the place explodes with humanity. It's the wrong kind, if truth be told, for most urban visionaries. Hispanics are "downscale" and not the kind of people who shop at "exciting boutiques", or eat at "world-class restaurants". But LA is an Hispanic city, both in history and in its demographic destiny. The contrast to Phoenix is instructive. We shooed them out as quickly as we could so our product wouldn't be tainted by brown skin. And the result is an area that feels more like a deed-restricted mausoleum.

If cities don't allow messiness and random acts of human being, there's no real point. There's no "lifestyle mall" that's going to rescue us from the void of our own self disgust. We sterilized downtown in order to save it from the life that terrorizes our dreams. We're safe now. And dead.


Very interesting ideas - couple points:

1. There aren't many regulations standing in the way of organic, fine grained development in Phoenix relative to other cities. There are numerous small buildings waiting to be adaptively reused for these purposes - it simlpy requires a larger supply of risk-taking entrepreneurs who "get" urbanism.

2. If ASU downtown and a Biomedical campus are worthwile, land assemblage is required.

3. Governments of every successful downtown provide tax abatements and infrastructure subsidies.

4. Most downtowns require several "catalysts" to spark redevelopment. I agree, restoring every remaining historic building (requiring RFPs - as would redesigning Chase plaza) and providing every tool we can muster to fill them with tenants (various abatements, infrastructure subsidies) should be the top priority now.

5. Downtown is extremely over-parked. We could eliminate 50% of our parking and still have similar ratios as Downtown LA (google Donald Shoup's 2005 study for more info). There is nothing that kills walkable urbanism more than excessive parking.

"There is nothing that kills walkable urbanism more than excessive parking." - PhxPlanner

Noxious brown clouds.

Central Phoenix is a dead horse. Stop flogging it.

Just thought I'd throw this out, but the Bidwills are the new owners of Tom's Tavern.

Rate Crimes, brown cloud or not, this should have little impact on downtown development. It should serve as a warning as to why downtown is imperative. Less destruction of the desert soil in the exurbs will lessen the brown cloud effect.

I don't visit skyscraper forum because it isn't really something I see as important. I don't think ultra tall buildings are essential to a vibrant and dense downtown.

As for the rest, I'm sure we won't be seeing any billionaires plopping down buildings anytime soon, but that is unnecessary.

But a team of development groups, companies, and interest groups can continue to pull together to entice residential corporations to build more compact, high density, spaces (like Alta, Post, etc) within the downtown core. These buildings aren't the largess of a Trump, but of a much more modest community builder.

Even if the Sims could be duplicated, I say save it for cities that already take on that feel; Seattle let's say. Sorry, Sol, couldn't resist. It's not that I am obsessed with Seattle, but am familiar with it and know how close that city was to becoming a stellar, modern city. Instead, we have a rather dull one.

Also, not sure if you realize, but I am Hispanic, downtown is nearly half Hispanic (and not just in Garfield). We are young students, grads, professionals, artists, etc etc whom decided to make downtown home. Our pockets of "living tissue" exists in our neighborhoods; Roosevelt, Willo, Evans-Churchill (the Row), and yes, now N. Garfield.

PhxPlanner, I think your first and second points are in rough contradiction. The land assemblage for ASU and the biomedical campus took out a significant number of old buildings, particularly in the Evans Churchill neighborhood. If you think fine-grained development is possible in a city of dirt lots, you either have to ordain a certain kind of development, the kind real-estate moguls resist, or you have to find a way to make office parks sing urban hymns. Adaptive re-use is better done before the bulldozers arrive.

I'm not necessarily against any of this, btw. I just think it's worth noting the inherent problem in constantly reinventing downtown and then wondering why it never comes alive. We've been doing this for most of my long life. Even in the 1950s, downtown was pockmarked with surface parking lots. It was clear even then that Phoenix was going to change dramatically. What we didn't foresee was that disemboweling downtown would be done in the name of saving it.

The best word used so far, downtown is "sterile".

Let's not bring LA into the discussion anymore, please. Seattle and San Diego and Denver and Boston, OK. Not LA.

I was in LA a a couple of years ago to visit a large reinsurer in the financial district. I had been there numerous times in the past. We parked and walked up the block to the entrance of the building where the office was located. An ultra modern and I'm sure expensive office location. Instead of ground level Starbucks, upscale retail, etc. there were open air shops selling misc. food products and even live chickens. Some of the chickens were even wondering the sidewalk. I grew up on a ranch, so I loved it. However, my traveling companions were mortified.

So, soleri, concerning your chicken or the egg question about downtown, I can tell you that if LA is to be our model, then we need the chickens first.

Especially, since LA has been our model for the past 60 years.

One last point, many other cities in the Northwest (I'll stop naming one) don't feel very young; they feel rather middle aged. Which is fine, but I wouldn't call it happening and exciting.

I'd call it Starbucks and turtlenecks. There is only so much excitement building possible when surrounded by a grayscale environment.

A city that has overcome this and truly built an exciting center with interesting, bright modern buildings is Vancouver, B.C. Seattle could have been a Vancouver, but alas it is not.

Francisco, my twin sister lives in Vancouver so I visit there quite often. She lives in the South Main area, a few miles south of downtown. The gentrification tsunami has hit it fairly hard, and it appears the funky shops and diners there are all on borrowed time. As for the rest of Vancouver, it's stunning natural setting makes up for a depressing amount of mediocre architecture. Don't get me wrong: I love the transformation. It's what I would want Phoenix to do if given the opportunity. Still, much of this cheap, fast and forgettable. On the other hand, Vancouver is, like really any city, sui generis. It's called "Lotusland" in Canada for its comparatively mild winters. It's also very nearly an Asian city because of immigration rules favoring Commonwealth nations. And its housing prices are in nosebleed territory.

Seattle is not Vancouver for several good reasons. One is that its built environment has been significantly superior over the past century. Compare Pioneer Square to Gastown, and you'll also understand how much wealthier Seattle was. By the 1980s, Seattle liberal NIMBYs decided, successfully, to fight intense high-rise condo development. Obviously that is beginning to change now (a hat tip to Greg Nickels, I presume) but it did allow Seattle to think more deeply about what and how to develop. The plus side here is that Belltown will not simply be South Yaletown, that it will contain greater social and architectural diversity.

At the moment, Vancouver seems to be almost recklessly dynamic by comparison to Seattle. A debate continues to rage in Vancouver over its de facto decision to let downtown become a mecca for condos rather than office towers. It's the kind of battle I wish we were fighting here instead of further chewing up the Sonoran desert for stuccoed chalets. Vancouver is a world-class city (Gamma +) and so is Seattle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_city Phoenix, decidedly, is not on the list.


Azrebel, I know LA is a monster to be despised. That said, I love exploring it for the pre-war prey that still exist in and around its dagger-toothed maw. Downtown LA is more interesting than downtown Phoenix by a factor of, say, 100. If there's a stray chicken to step over, all the better to distract the monster.

Rate, here are some brown cloud comments for you.

1. Were you around in the 70's to remember the days when the smog was so bad you could be driving towards downtown and not be able to see the high rises until you were around 7th street. Then they only became clear around 3rd street.

2. Before we surrounded the valley with freeways, it was possible to stand on the top of Camelback Mountain and see smog in Phoenix and clear air in Scottsdale.

3. Maybe it was my imagination, but I think we had a string of pretty good years with mostly clear air. I'm not saying clean air, but clear air.

4. Now the generally bad air/ brown cloud is with us most days. When we return from the White Mountains I can see the valley smog from Mt. Ord, which is about 50 miles from the valley.

I always get a kick out of "No Burn Days". It is craziness. I believe we have two investigators to cover all of maricopa county. Good luck with that task. Also, on no burn days, you can drive through Scottsdale and feel like you are driving through San Diego fog the smoke is so thick. The no burn rule doesn't apply to certain financial demographic areas.

"brown cloud or not, this should have little impact on downtown development." - phxSUNSfan

I was referring to the "walkable" portion of "walkable urbanism". No child should be subject to the noxious cloud that hovers over the entire, poisonous Phoenix metro area.

azrebel, I arrived in the early 90's, when the skies were clearer. I lived near Camelback and climbed it regularly. I walked to work and rode my bike with the spare time that doing so afforded me. Over the years, I saw the city from the tops of both Camelback and South Mountain on a regular basis. When I last climbed Camelback in early 2007 I was disgusted.

Soleri - believe me, I understand the contradiction. But there are always tradeoffs - if one believes that having a biomedical cluster downtown was worth the loss of those beautiful bungalows in Evans Churchill that is.

I do think there is plenty of opportunity for "funky" development left (both in downtown and the remaining bungalows in Evans along Garfield could help establish a sense of place by contrasting with the modern or "sterile" buildings that the biotech facilities will no doubt bring.

This could provide a template for other organic focal points in the Roosevelt neighborhood north of Fillmore as well as the gateway corridors of east Van Buren, Grand Avenue and South Central.

But your point is well taken - much has been lost.

PhxPlanner, the biggest problem for adaptive re-use is the market itself. Once investors sniff "high-rise opportunity", the wolves are unleashed and the lambs are eaten. When we look around Roosevelt Row, what we see is a moonscape where eminently adaptable buildings once stood. This is not simply the price we paid to speculators at the height of the boom, either. The damage is ongoing as the recent razings on 1st St and along Portland show. Just a week ago, I was jogging through the neighborhood and saw the Leighton Knipe house mostly destroyed due to a fire. There are not enough of these artifacts left to create a genuine urban neighborhood north of downtown. Yes, we can fake a lot of "brownstone" townhouses but we can't fake the desire to be in this devastated landscape in the first place. This is the fruit of developer-driven zoning decisions and planning.

So, I have a question: is there a perverse incentive in our tax code for property owners to simply raze irreplaceable buildings? That is, are the carrying costs (maintenance, taxes, insurance, etc.) onerous to the point that it's simply cheaper to tear them down (or burn them down in some cases) than preserve them for future re-use?

This is not simply a downtown issue, either. It's happening throughout central Phoenix. The NWC of Indian School and Central is now 20 acres of gravel. The Beadle tear-down at 3rd St & Earll is a 10 acre pile of rubble.

What is happening to Phoenix? Why is this not a scandal? And is there any hope to stop this destruction?

Soleri, the NWC of Indian School and Central...the travesty! We lost a strip mall with a parking lot!

And the "Beadle tear-down" wasn’t a colossal loss; it isn't really a loss. The "international style" of the Beadle Box is a high misleading architectural title. It was a plain glass cube; the Cavco Building is more impressive.

As for Vancouver; thanks for the history lesson. I assumed Seattle did have a wealthy past, in 1924, but in 2011 Vancouver is a much more dynamic, younger and livelier place. I don't care if the city is an immigrant enclave; it has an inspiring vibe.

The buildings in Vancouver are an upgrade from Seattle's. They employ more texture, color, and are thinner. Giving the city a much more walkable and dense feel. Transit is impressively better than anything in Seattle and it boast North America's densest neighborhood (although a Manhattan hood is soon to retake the crown).

If there was a city or cities Phoenix should look to for inspiration I would choose Vancouver along with Melbourne. Melbourne is a turn gem. It is Vancouver with the preservation of many of its loveliest, old neighborhoods.

PhxPlanner; if ASU DT and the Bio-med Campus require land assemblage, let's hope that city government continues to allow these institutions to leave out parking as a stipulation for issuance of building permits. The downtown campus already is geared toward this type of development. They encourage their faculty, students, and support staff to use transit.

The natural energy downtown is much lower than other areas of Phoenix. It doesn't benefit from the energies of mountains or water like other places in the metropolitan area. It may simply be at a vibrational disadvantage that planning or good choices cannot overcome.

Soleri: in a word “yes”. Property assessment in Maricopa County is a bit of a “black box” process where only a handful of people truly understand all the various complexities of mass appraisal. In a nutshell, your property is taxed primarily based on the improvements (e.g. the square footage of the buildings and their physical condition). Other factors such as the size of the property and – supposedly - zoning and geographic factors are also factored in to the algorithm. But these are secondary and are almost certainly not applied consistently in the central core.

But, you can explore this question a bit yourself. Go Maricopa.gov/assessor and go to their interactive map. Click on..oh, I don’t know, the high rise zone dirt lot on the southwest corner of Central and Camelback. Many boosters tout this as “the” premier corner in Phoenix. Then click on the button “view tax info”. Now compare that number to, oh I don’t know, the coffee shop across the street paid – or what you paid on your house this year. You’ll get the picture.

JMAV; there are a few places in metro Phoenix with more energy than downtown on most days. Generally Mill Ave, Scottsdale Road (in Old Town), and Westgate in Glendale are the only places with more energy on non-game-days.

Only Old Town can truly trump downtown Phoenix if you compare them annually and for amount of daily visitors. Downtown has them all beat in terms of density and residents within the true boundaries of those areas, nonetheless.

Remember Apple's ad campaign from yesteryear: "THINK DIFFERENT"? Here's hoping for some creative thinking on our much maligned downtown. One word comes to mind: OASIS! Connotes cool, shady and green vs. our mindless penchant for concrete, asphalt and glass.

Jim Hamblin; couldn't agree more! I am an advocate for planting more and more trees to start on every block of downtown. And not "Palo Verde del Museo" either, LOL!

The City has done a good job planting some nice leafy trees on 3rd Ave in Roosevelt to about McKinley. The need to do this along Central, 3rd Street, 7th Street, etc.

Central and Camelback has very little going for it. Changing hands and Hoodlums in Tempe have more energy than most downtown Phoenix locals. A recent small energy ball has perked up at the Urban Bean in Phoenix, 7 Street, North of Osborn. Speaking of energy there seems to be a lot on this blog.How about we work on getting Bill and Melinda to refocus their $$ into a population control effort rather than aids. I'll kick start it by donating a few condoms I have left over from the South West Bio Diversity Group's population control arm. "Save the Big Cat, wear a jimmy hat."
Cal and his dog Spot on their recumbent somewhere in what's left of the Sonoran desert

OK Cal, come clean. Your last post leads me to believe you are still local and you are not out in the desert.

Answer me these three questions:

1. Do you really have a recumbent?

2. Do you really have a dog Spot?

3. How far away are you from a Circle K?

P.S. I'm totally with you about the population thing. It's the elephant in the room pertaining to all things earthly.

You know what really blights downtown phoenix? Empty lots that are being held for the mythical big payout.

Without a change in the tax structure penalizing unbuilt land, you get this ridiculous pricing of the land, combined with the ability to hold on until some big sucker (now usually government) can pay.

It has wrecked the entire rebuild cycle for downtown, and encouraged land banking.

Raise those taxes, and the folks would sell the property for uses that would cost less, allowing a real community to develop again.

It all starts with high priced real estate and no commercial traffic to cover that cost.

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