I had the recent pleasure of attending an event at the Cronkite School of Journalism during Phoenix Urban Design Week which occurred partly last week. Will Bruder and Robert Pela participated in a panel discussion that yielded an interesting dialog on the essential prescription for triggering Phoenix’s full-blown downtown resurgence. Bruder offered that the key to creating a “20-minute city” in which auto-centricity is replaced by walkability across scalable pedestrian environments is adding dense and affordable housing. “Dense,” of course, refers to congregated developments of attached housing stock, built vertically to a significant height like the recent project on Roosevelt Street. Pela’s reaction to Bruder’s comment was most interesting. After reflecting that he’d been working and living in the area for years, he’d concluded that two ingredients have chronically been missing in Phoenix’s downtown and that a blossoming of downtown would continue to be thwarted by lack of those same ingredients. First is the availability of necessaries (primarily, groceries) to the residents of downtown, and second is the availability of schools in the downtown area. Robert’s paradox is that you cannot expect the “creative class” (Richard Florida-coinage) to move downtown if they cannot eat and send their children to school in safe, academically respectable institutions.
Since the program was styled to be about the arts as a trigger to downtown’s resurgence, I was amused that Robert didn’t nod toward the Arizona School of the Arts, which is headquartered at 1410 North 3rd Street, at McDowell Road. ASA seems to be doing just fine for its 800 students in grades 5 through 12, see goasa.org/about/2012ataglance.pdf. Perhaps the solution to Robert’s paradox on the schools front is to double the enrollment of ASA to admit additional children of adults inmigrating downtown. On the other hand, perhaps Robert’s issue is that 3rd Street and McDowell isn’t “downtown enough,” since McDowell Road is a full mile away from Van Buren and it’s north of I-10, a sort of Maginot line. (I can’t say where his attitude lies, since I didn’t ask.) In that case, however, I assume that Pela would acknowledge that ASU Preparatory Academy at 7th & Fillmore, which is K-11 (until next year, when 12th grade is added), is downtown enough. However, that school requires parents to win a “lottery” to enroll their students in grades 1-8 at the present time. Not exactly an open enrollment proposition; thus, the diciness of whether a parent could enroll his/her child would impair that parent’s secure feeling that the child would be able to live, shop for necessaries and be schooled downtown.
Since this is the era of envisioning downtown Phoenix, given the pending text amendment to the Downtown Code, a document in place since April 2010, I thought it would be fun to imagine ways to address Pela’s paradox, that shopping and education infrastructure (and the connectivity of transportation to these venues) must first exist in order to lure in greater residential density. It’s a paradox because those providers don’t typically spend for new construction until the rooftop numbers support development. First, however, I must identify “downtown” for the sake of reader orientation. So, I’ve artificially decided on these boundaries to accommodate Will Bruder’s desire for a 20-minute city. My downtown’s boundaries are Margaret T. Hance Park’s alignment on the North, Jackson Street on the South, 3rd Avenue on the West and 250 feet east of the eastern right of way of 7th Street on the East. I think that a person who is able bodied ought to be able to ride a bicycle or skate-board from one edge of this downtown to the other in 20 minutes or less, and to walk from the center of this rectangle (Van Buren Street, more or less) to either Hance Park or Jackson Street in that same time allotment. For the less able, 20 minutes ought to get one by light rail or the Nos. 0 or 7 bus lines from one edge to the other, north and south and via a bus east and west, including by a circulator-type route. McDowell will not be recognized as part of downtown Phoenix for purposes of these posts. The few following posts will address how Mr. Pela’s “essential ingredients” for downtown flourishing can be the subject of attainable and productive experimentation for City leaders.