It’s perfectly logical to conclude that persons having no permanent stake in a neighborhood are less inclined to invest in its present upkeep or the future state of repairs – except to the degree that inclination affects those persons’ bottom line. Ironically, that “neighborhood investment” cuts both ways; the greater the investment, in other words, the greater the commitment, if your world – view encompasses economic reality. If it does, then you may agree that an urban form in which folks who work in a place live on the spot makes some sense. Take a look, for instance, in the couple of blocks along Roosevelt Street just west of 7th Street at the lofts that top the shops and restaurants (like the Nile Café at 610 East) on the ground floor. The vested interests of those worker/dwellers, whether a function of aesthetic perception or property values, are directly evident and palpable. There’s pride of business and residential ownership.
Segregation of commercial from residential functions lengthens distances required for essential travel. In turn, that circumstance increases traffic and parking demands at “central gathering points” like shopping centers, a situation improved by mass transit options. So, what would result in Phoenix if we allowed folks who produced – on a low-key scale – goods and services to live in two and three story buildings along the path of the light rail system above the businesses they operate? Envision that the goods are produced on the second floor, sold from the ground level, and the owner rests her head anywhere there’s room for a pillow. Suppose further little pockets of grouped buildings where foot traffic is stimulated is by rows of shade trees or some other kind of shade structures. Imagine the invitation emanating from buildings not set back 25’ feet from the sidewalk but instead that are open for shopping right adjacent to the shade structures. Is that threatening? Not if minimal parking spaces were afforded in shared configurations to discourage vehicular traffic aggregating in these live – work situations.
I think it’s highly likely that such spaces would become neighborhood gathering places where an intimacy develops between the producers and the consumers. Would not that fact offset the inconvenience of minimal parking opportunities? An illustration of how that works occurs at Central and Camelback with the coffee drive through flanked by the retailers at Red Hot Robot, Smeeks, Frances and Halo. Those merchants earlier this month had an outdoor craft fair that drew a boatload of folks who, of course, had to drive so as to “contain” their purchases somewhere – but I had the sense that many attending walked or rode light rail. It was wall to wall humanity, and it was fun just to gauge the mood of the crowd which seemed relaxed and festive. That corner is not multistory, but I’ll wager the owners would love to live right there where they work, and it’s right next to the Camelback stop for the light rail.
Transit Villages aren’t new concepts, folks. Michael Bernick and Amy Freilich were writing about the concept of building new communities at transit stations in suburban and inner city areas in the late 1990s. If the cities (Phoenix, Tempe and Mesa, for now) own any excess property near the stations, they should request development offers and sell these excess parcels for live-work development at market rates, nothing more. And while they’re at it, Valley METRO should try out this wacky idea: charge 50 cents for one-way and 75 cents for all-evening ridership after 7:00 p.m. on weekdays and all day on Sundays. The increase in ridership likely will nurture a culture of “taking the train” all the time, including during peak ridership hours. Or, Valley METRO could sell a monthly “night pass” for one fee for ridership on light rail and busses valid only after 7:00 p.m. Would that encourage “undesirable elements” to crowd the valley’s transit system? Doubtful; see, gang-bangers and pickpockets both require a “quick getaway” option that doesn’t exist with bus or light rail travel, unless the rascal intends to hurl himself out the window. Not gonna happen. The growth of usage of the transit system in this ever-increasingly crowded metroplex justifies a trial of such a concept.