In and near downtown Phoenix, three developments are worth examining.
• Renderings have been made public of the proposed Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law building for the downtown ASU campus (above and below). Someone told me it requires "seven variances" in the city code. And this code has given us a lovely cityscape? For god's sake build it, before somebody — ASU, the regents — changes his mind.
Would I have preferred a Mission-revival or other human-scale style to get away from the deadening modernism that makes downtown less interesting? Sure. Has the design been improved from its original rollout in response to community feedback. Yes, to some extent. But the perfect shouldn't be the enemy of the good. And bringing the law school downtown will be a substantial coup. Now people need to demand that the block have real shade trees (and grass!), not palo verde skeletons and gravel.
The building would go on the block between First Street and Second Street, Taylor and Polk, the site of the old Ramada Inn (Sahara). There is still bad blood with preservationists that ASU demolished this mid-century building rather than opting for reuse.
• Then we face the question of what is "good enough" or a good start. Many have been wondering how the city would use land it bought in and near the Evans-Churchill neighborhood just north of downtown since most of it was assembled for the abortive Cardinals stadium.
Now we have an indication, and it is disappointing to risk understatement.
Apparently the city favors using two blocks at Second Street and Roosevelt for apartments that would be age-restricted (55 and older) and subsidized. This is more warehousing of the poor in and near downtown. On the other hand, it "pencils out."
This is a complex issue, a moving target, and I don't want to oversimplify. But it is important to understand two things:
First, what was originally called the Churchill Addition and Central Place, running from Fillmore to McDowell and bounded by Central Avenue ("Boulevard" in a 1911 map) and Seventh Street, was once a complete neighborhood.
Its palm-lined streets ran past handsome bungalows and apartments of different styles. Roosevelt was an unbroken commercial street with a shop every few paces. Several churches were there, too. It was shady and beautiful, walkable and convenient, even as it headed downhill in the 1970s.
This neighborhood was almost destroyed by several acts of civic malpractice: Long neglect as the 100-foot-tall freeway plan stymied everything along its path; the dispersal of the Deuce people as their SRO hotels were demolished, and, worst of all, the mass tear-downs as deliberate city policy.
A deep understanding of this history — what was lost, why it was lost — is essential to moving ahead in a constructive way. Evans-Churchill is not "a blank slate." It is a graveyard of a once-magnificent city neighborhood. This loss deserves to be honored and redeemed.
Second, some of the finest members of the Resistance have spent nearly two decades trying to rescue pieces that are left. If not for them, there would be no Roosevelt Row, no new investment, none of the relatively few buildings and houses that were saved.
They feel proprietary about this neighborhood. Their voices — and they are of many viewpoints — deserve to be heard.
Evans-Churchill is one of Phoenix's last changes to create an urban neighborhood that is sought by young talented professionals. A place worth cherishing and caring about, not merely driving past at 50-miles-per-hour on the way to the shopping strip.
I can't figure out why Phoenix, perhaps soon to again be the nation's fifth largest city, can't assemble the capital, imagination and leadership to make this happen.
With a shady oasis at the deck park, Evans-Churchill could once again be knitted into the historic districts that were successfully saved. It could be an essential part of what Phoenix most needs: Building critical mass and saving at least part of itself from what social critic James Howard Kunstler aptly calls "the tortured landscapes and townscapes we created for ourselves in the past century."
Remember, every place Phoenix competes against for talent and capital has automobile suburbs, malls, freeways, etc. The best also have vibrant downtowns and great city neighborhoods.
To be fair, the Knipe project on Second is promising at least some market-rate units. And some EC advocates say the city is listening more than was the case a few years ago. I'm not trying to take sides, but offer some perspective.
• Then there's the ugly. City Council approved a liquor license for a Circle K on Roosevelt, despite the opposition of the neighborhood. Only Mayor Greg Stanton voted against it.
This is the last thing this area needs. It is the socio-economic equivalent of City Hall's mania to throw down gravel and destroy the oasis.