Phoenix Rising?

A peek at the future cityscape

Edwards' best advice to locals: "If you don't own your building, figure out a way to buy it."

It doesn't take a genius to figure out what that really means is, "If you don't own your building, be prepared to move out."

Click here to view this map showing Phoenix's possible future districts.
Dyett & Bhatia
Click here to view this map showing Phoenix's possible future districts.

Location Info


Downtown Phoenix

Washington St. & Second St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Category: Community Venues

Region: Central Phoenix


For better or worse, that just might be life in the big city, folks. And maybe, for the first time, downtown Phoenix is headed toward big-citydom. The good news is that finally, the city's leaders have a plan. In 2004, the city council created what it calls the "strategic vision and blueprint for the future," which lays out specific goals for the city. A lot of it's in pretty cliché new urbanist lingo, but at least it's written down.

One key part of pulling off the city's scheme is fixing a lot of rules that just don't work. The city's first step was the hiring of Dyett & Bhatia to create the Urban Form Project. Dean Brennan, the lead planner for the project, is one of the good guys at the city. Someone who realizes urban renewal is complicated, but doesn't let the long process make him cynical.

The goal of the project is to make the 1,500 acres between Seventh Avenue and Seventh Street to the east and west, and McDowell and Buckeye roads to the north and south, easier to redevelop. The way Phoenix is currently zoned, parcel by parcel, has created an area of land extremely tough to build on because of generic regulations that designate certain areas as only residential or only commercial. Under the new plan, Phoenix will be split into districts each zoned in a way that will, hopefully, encourage what is already growing and being developed there.

There will also be a master plan for traffic circulation. In the future, many of downtown's streets will be narrowed, making them more pedestrian-friendly, but irritating drivers. It's a little-known (to the public) urban planners' trick to make streets less car-friendly and include on-street parking where the cars create a barrier between pedestrians and the street. In a city that loves to drive as much as Phoenix, it's important to plan where these streets will go, since, face it, everyone living and working downtown is still going to drive.

There is some hope that when light rail is done, people in Phoenix will start to utilize public transportation, but the transition might take time. In the meantime, it will be extremely important for the city to focus on how to turn certain streets into pedestrian-friendly corridors.

Brennan and the consulting firm are also focused on figuring out how much "open space" — that's planner talk for "parks" — the city needs, as well as planning a way to integrate public art into the city, where currently even hanging posters is prohibited and considered graffiti.

Sounds great, if not a little contrived, but on the plus side, locals are involved and giving their input through almost every step of the process. And Brennan doesn't share Edwards' thoughts on independent businesses. Actually, quite the opposite.

"We'll have national chains downtown, but more importantly are the mom-and-pop operations," he says. "Mom and pop create a unique character."

One local development group is working to build off the Urban Form Project, but in a more focused way. For 10 blocks along Jackson Street, bordered by Jefferson Street to the north, Central Avenue to the west, Fourth Street to the east, and the railroad tracks to the south, Dale Jensen and Michael Hallmark plan to develop their entertainment district.

It's a little strange to think about a single developer creating an entire street — after all, it sounds a little like a mall. But Hallmark insists that the group wants to preserve as many of the historic buildings on the street as it can, as well as encouraging local business.

"Success will hinge on authenticity. Is it Disneyfied? We're not interested in that," he says. "We will hire a variety of architects. The worst thing would be for me to design all the buildings."

At least he doesn't talk like a typical development guy. It will be interesting to see what ultimately happens with the district, which is still in its early planning phases, with the group hoping to reach a development agreement with the city by early 2007. He doesn't even believe in critical mass, pointing out it's more the authenticity of a place or a business that will make it a success than the number of people living in proximity.

"Go to Postino," he says of the popular wine bar at 40th Street and Campbell Avenue in the Arcadia neighborhood. "There's no critical mass there, but you can't find a parking spot."

The same could be said for a place like Pizzeria Bianco, the now-famous restaurant just off Seventh Street north of Washington, where people start lining up for tables before the pizzeria opens — even when there isn't a baseball game or a concert going on nearby.

If the answer lies in individual business owners and entrepreneurs, will the experiment work? Maybe. For one thing, Jensen's group is extremely focused on sustainable building standards, hoping to build each new structure on the street to the highest environmental standard. For another, the group is providing easements on each building to ensure that in 10 years no one can tear them down to make way for something else — a pretty progressive idea in a city that loves to rip itself apart and start over every few years.

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