By New Times
By Connor Radnovich
By Robrt L. Pela and Amy Silverman
By Ray Stern
By Keegan Hamilton
By Matthew Hendley
By Monica Alonzo
By Monica Alonzo
They did it by adopting the city's first General Plan. The General Plan specified nine "urban villages" or city cores and declared downtown Phoenix to be the "supercore" that would benefit the entire city. It has gained national recognition as the first General Plan based on "urban villages."
The importance of a "supercore" has proven to be more than a slightly prophetic vision: As shopping malls such as Park Central and Thomas Mall have failed while those in the suburbs have thrived, as car dealerships have become concentrated outside Phoenix city limits, the city's sales-tax revenues have plummeted. Last year, revenues were down by 2 percent while rising 2 to 4 percent in neighboring cities. Only downtown Phoenix showed an increase in revenues, between 3 and 4 percent, because of the successful Arizona Center.
When Goddard and his crew went to work for downtown, they were both zealous and rolling in the money of the Eighties. They accomplished quite a bit in a short period--enough that Phoenicians have come to regard as a given the continued growth of downtown. This offhanded attitude is dangerous. Today, the city is struggling mightily for funds, and Goddard, Nadolski and Wilcox have all left the council. They have been replaced, according to the very kindest observers, by newcomers without an understanding of the importance of planning.
Others are less charitable. "Surely you jest," says Nadolski when asked whether there is concern for planning among the present city council. "There simply is none. The General Plan isn't followed by the council."
It is certainly true in terms of the Square One decision, which goes against the 25-year plan for downtown adopted by the council in 1991, that specifies there will be no more surface parking, a prime creator of dead space, in the downtown area. Almost invariably, city staff and councilmembers justify this about-face by claiming that the parking lot is only an "interim use--which they then admit, if pressed, may last indefinitely.
"It seems like their bottom priority is planning, and somewhere way far beyond that is long-range planning," says Kay Jeffries, long a neighborhood activist who keeps a close eye on the council. "Things that would provide future continuity are looked at as almost a hindrance at this point. It is the 'p' word."
But why? "I don't think anybody on the council thinks the 25-year plan is their plan, because they weren't there when it was made," says Jeffries. And because there is no money, "I think they are running scared, looking for short-term solutions."
The solutions being chosen, according to numerous observers, are whatever will not get in the way of business, an approach that Jeffries refers to as "the round-heel school of development." (The entire human-rights-ordinance debate was that it was too hard on business," says Nadolski, pointing out that the anxiety to pacify business cuts clear through some of the council's most publicized decisions.) It's an orientation that argues against adhering to rules and regulations that will enhance the lives of city dwellers but that will restrict developers and other business people. It also argues for creating lots of clean, blank space--parking lots, for instance--instead of struggling to save and protect old buildings that developers who must incorporate them into their projects will only regard as nuisances.
"They are being penny-wise and pound-foolish, in that what makes people want to live here, shop here, put their homes here, is quality of life--everything they are eliminating!" says Jeffries. "Being able to come up with short-term solutions is not leadership."
It is conclusions that dovetail with these that this summer led to the resignation of former planning director Ron Short, according to Short. Short, who came here from Tampa five years ago to lead the planning department, is a man who, like a bird fluffing its feathers, seems to balloon in size when recounting his accomplishments. He points glowingly to the freeway mitigation program that in particular has made the Squaw Peak Parkway a pleasure to drive (It is absolutely unique in the nation, cutting edge!" he crows), to the plans for an artwalk downtown (That is going to be very exciting!), to very specific urban-village plans that stand, for instance, to transform the Camelback corridor from 16th to 24th Street into a haven for pedestrians (When I come back ten years from now, I will be able to see the things I have done!), to the city's adoption of design review standards (Phoenix had never done that before!). Not everyone is as unrestrainedly enthusiastic about Short's tenure: He is soundly criticized for not educating the public about the importance of urban planning and for not confronting the councilmembers with the consequences of their antiplanning decisions. But one cannot talk with him for long without believing at least that he wishes to represent innovation in planning as his enduring passion.
And that he has felt hugely hamstrung in this pursuit by the city council. He says that, when the council rated its budget priorities recently, he knew it was time to move on. "What convinced me was that updating the General Plan got a very low rating--133rd out of 135 items," he says. "The only things we beat out were the EEO and the laser beam!" Since the General Plan is the tool for long-range planning, the planning department's budget has been cut until planning for the future is impossible. "I think being able to look forward and relate short-term decision making to long-range planning is critical to the survival of the community. I think you have to put strong resources into planning and maintain those resources and continue with those plans in good times and bad times," he says. "I have got a plan in my heart and I am going to continue to do plans."