Letters From the Issue of Thursday, December 7, 2006

Core Values

The "lack of vision" thing: Megan Irwin and Robrt L. Pela wrote very insightful articles ("Wrecking Phoenix," November 23). It is a great relief to hear independent voices that question our current "path of progress." The sensation of being surrounded by bobbleheads that can only nod as ridiculous concepts are spoon-fed is just numbing. The last time I checked, universities are in the business of educating, not saving urban cores. The function of light rail is to move people, not symbolize a city's progress. The fact that these very typical building blocks are being loudly trumpeted as grand urban solutions is, I think, an indication of how very deep the lack of vision runs.
George Catone, Phoenix

High-rise hell: You may be concerned that we might wake up one day to a high-rise hell in the downtown area, but you should at least be thankful that having a large concentration of people who live and work downtown will reduce the amount of urban sprawl and congestion on our freeways, and afford workers the option to commute four miles on the light-rail system instead of 40 miles each way to live in suburbia.
Jessica Fielding, Phoenix

Urban wasteland: I agree that this city has no real downtown. I was shocked, though, when I read that they keep the homeless kids on the streets on Mill Avenue just to make it feel more authentic. I grew up in Toronto, about 15 minutes away from downtown, and the atmosphere was completely different from Phoenix. There were parks in every direction you walked, and there were even people on the streets, and a convenience store on every corner. I think Phoenix as a city is lacking something. I don't think putting thought into an urban downtown is going to help much because you can't put thought into those things. I'm glad that there are more people in this city who are aware of this.
Natasha Radlovic, Phoenix

Developing downtown: Although Megan Irwin and Robrt L. Pela's collaboration on "Wrecking Phoenix" certainly deserves a thumbs-up for their combined effort to enlighten Phoenicians of the dilemma of the costs of new development vs. historical preservation and its impact on the cultural fabric of our community, it misses the real point.

Progress is necessary for the evolution of this city and its attempts to have any sort of real historical significance. Visionary developers and municipal leaders are already in place and are spearheading progressive strategies that will aim to make metro Phoenix a model of successful 21st-century sustainable design. People like Anthony Floyd with the City of Scottsdale take pride in drafting new green building requirements (LEEDS) for builders, and these have been embraced by many cutting-edge developers, including myself. Many people, of course, will always have deep sentimental ties to the older homes of the Encanto district or the Maple-Ash neighborhood in Tempe. That much is clear. However, except for sentiment and history, these places are not currently, nor will they ever be, how this city is defined. They are the epitome of the "gingerbread" of a bygone era — Mayberry in the desert — the old "new urbanism," and out of context. As a real estate developer, I don't see any architectural significance of preserving places like this, aside from the intangible value of nostalgia — and for that these places will be saved. Other places will not be as lucky. As Grady Gammage Jr. himself pointed out in his book Phoenix in Perspective (1999), the single most important industry in this city has always been development and growth. What automobiles are to Detroit or computer chips are to Silicon Valley, real estate development is to Phoenix. To ignore that fact is counterproductive.

I guess all I'm saying is that developers read this shit and it pisses us off. In general, we care. I can't speak for Westcor or Pulte — those are big boys. And you're right, you cannot re-create the sense of place that was found by accident and so eloquently illustrated by Jane Jacobs in a 40-year-old book. But you can at least define the parameters of how a city wants to make it happen. Cities and their cultures constantly evolve and will continue to do so. Phoenix in general needs to wake up and get over the inferiority complex, because it is not that far away from becoming something really special. And getting there is half the fun.
David Klein, Tempe

User-friendly city: Let me say that as the fifth largest city in this country, downtown Phoenix will grow and develop. My question is, does it want to be a city center that includes civic, government, educational, entertainment and recreational facilities? I believe that is the way that it is going. Any successful city has a symbiotic relationship with its parts, including its user groups. Downtown is going to support the populace; it may need a bit more time to be more visible and convincing.

Bringing additional facilities for all Arizona universities is definitely a step in increasing the educational user group. This group will support all activities downtown mentioned above. And this populace brings an educated work force that upon graduation can contribute to all activities and even create more. Perhaps graduate and continuing education programs may also be offered in this location.

A civic space or square to gather people together is an excellent development idea. Not only can it offer a place to have political discourse, but it can be a place for performance and the arts to occur, thus adding to the cultural aspect of downtown.

Most major universities have multiple campus locations. This gives the university more chance to reach more people and offer education to all, moving beyond certain perceived borders. The idea of the campus is valid. But the nature of education is that you take it with you wherever you go. At 70,000 populace in Tempe, Arizona State University may be looking for a more community feel, and perhaps the downtown is just the place for this to occur. The change in location offers additional business investment opportunities, unknown expansions, and expressions of buildings and public spaces.

There are various theories of people and movement, and one is that people want to walk in about a 10-minute sphere of activity and have all their social, shopping, parking, and work needs met. This is exemplified in the fact that our concept of the USA Main Street has been known to work in many locations, time and time again. People really find their own neighborhood in a short distance, for the most part. Even in a block or two. If we look at the downtown as having a multitude of space for this to occur, then over time this may. Look for the unexpected design solution to occur and have faith in the unknown to generate its own response to a series of design opportunities.
Nancy Harper, Scottsdale

Culturally challenged: I loved this article because I've been experiencing severe cultural withdrawal ever since moving to Arizona from Colorado four years ago. Robrt L. Pela nailed it! Phoenix has no culture and no character! Phoenix needs to stay with its Wild West identity because at least that is kind of fun and believable. The notion that this town is a small version of L.A. is so laughable! I guess when you are ranked the dumbest state in the country, it's pretty easy for the residents to believe all the hype, and not realize it's really just a clever marketing technique.
Tracey Hunter, Scottsdale

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