As previously posted, I was greatly annoyed with the results of my previous attempt, so I turned to more traditional methods of information gathering and contacted several local urbanites to get their opinions on these particular topics (for more info, read More Vanilla Than Guerrilla). I emailed local blogger and sarcastic extraordinaire Tyler Hurst with a combination of original and slightly modified questions and got some compelling answers.
According to Hurst, a former Phoenix urbanite, the biggest thing holding Phoenix back from becoming the glittering oasis in the desert is its inability to focus on the real issues it faces: being “an underachieving metropolis with a Napoleon complex”. Ha! I audibly laughed out loud when I read this, though I agree with the Napoleon part. We keep hearing how Phoenix is the fifth (now sixth, ps) largest city in the U.S., yet we don’t have the kind of community that is indicative of our size.
“Phoenix” covers 517 square miles of land (Los Angeles has 498 square miles, and New York has 303 square miles) and has a population of 1.59 million people (L.A. has 3.8 million, N.Y.C. has 8.4 million). This is what we like to call the “sprawl”, my friends. Want Phoenix to look more like Los Angeles or New York? We gotta get more people downtown!! How do we do that? Make it accessible. Make it comfortable. Make it affordable. Why should the numbers matter if the majority can’t even afford to live downtown? I would like to see a Phoenix more like Boston, Philadelphia (now the fifth largest city, ps), or Seattle in vibe. Certainly not climate…that’s reaching for unattainable stars. And THAT may be our biggest challenge: climate.
Hurst shares my opinion that more shade = more people in the downtown area. To me, I see it as an opportunity for local artists to create solutions to our 334-days-of-sunshine “problem”. It could be a great collaborative investment between the city, local businesses, and local artists to utilize potential public art pieces that create massive amounts of shade. And to incorporate solar panels in them, which could be used to run the necessary air conditioning for buildings in the surrounding area, or at least offset the cost to do so. By the way, why are there not solar panels on every roof in this city?! Um, screw the kitchen renovation, take that money and go solar. THAT would be a worth while investment folks.
Look at Burton Barr Library as an example, every aspect of that building was designed specifically for our climate and weather patterns: the way the sun moves through the sky and how that affects the daily temperature, what times of day are the brightest and which sides need more light control, even the building materials were specifically chosen for their climate control properties. Additionally, decreasing the amount of concrete, asphalt, even brick (though it breaks my heart) on horizontal surfaces and replacing it with natural vegetation (xeriscaping) which doesn’t require supplemental irrigation would help to combat the heat sink effect and still look beautiful.
And on that note…our efforts to create a more “favorable” (foreign) climate have actually escalated the problem! Greenhouse 101 states that combining standing bodies of water with hard surfaces such as concrete and natural rock is the best, and most common, way to retain heat. Yea, as if we needed more heat here in the Valley…
Anyway, back to my point. Hurst makes another good point: instead of trying to make the entire city a little bit better, we could have more success by focusing on and developing our “Urban Core”. By making the Downtown area (I-10 to Lincoln, 7th Ave to 7th St) amazing, not only will people from all over the Metro area want to come down to eat, play, and be merry, it will attract young professionals and ol’ pros alike to call the downtown area home. (Think of the that commute!) Along with structural revitalization efforts, we’re also working to make downtown feel safe again. No matter how “cool” we build it to be, if it’s not safe no one will want to live here or raise kids here.
Obviously, there are infinite lists of things we could do, or shouldn’t do, or have to do in order to make the downtown area the perfect place for all ages to live, because ultimately that’s what we want: residents. What kind of urban core only exists from 9-5? Admittedly, urban living isn’t for everyone, but it could be a whole lot more appealing if we listen to what people want and need.