Placemaking and Pioneering in Downtown Phoenix

On Monday, I was invited to take part in Arizona State University’s Barrett’s Urban Experience. BUE is a 4-day intensive introduction to downtown Phoenix for Barrett Honors College freshmen enrolled in programs at ASU Downtown. After participating last year, I was asked to make another presentation on “Placemaking and Phoenix.”

Here is a copy of my presentation:

Overall, the 4 day program provided a good overview of what living in downtown Phoenix is all about. Highlights include a public art tour, a trip to the Downtown Public Market (including a discussion about community food by Maya Daily of Maya’s Farm), a talk about Local First, and a tour of Roosevelt Row, among other things.

Unfortunately, a planned visit to Grand Ave was quashed by the bureaucrats in the ASU Office of Student Engagement due to safety and security concerns. However, Barrett students will get a second chance to check out the vibrant neighborhood during the Grand Avenue Festival on September 25, 2010.

This year, local architect and good friend Taz Loomans joined me. We were supposed to share the morning with Tony Arranaga, the Light Rail Blogger. Tony was going to take the students on a light rail tour. Alas Tony fell ill that morning and Taz and I fileld in for him. While I’m sure that we didn’t do Tony justice, we did manage to show them a few of our favorite haunts along light rail, including a stop at Lux for a refreshing lemonade.

When we made it back downtown, we gathered at the Phoenix Urban Research Laboratory (PURL)—probably my favorite space in Phoenix—to give our talks. During my presentation, I realized that the 1,100 ASU students living at Taylor Place represent a significant percentage of the 6,000-8,000 residents of the downtown core. More importantly, they represent an even bigger part of the ‘creative class’ that downtown is so eager to cultivate.

As a result of their sheer presence, these students have become ‘urban pioneers’ whether they like it or not. Their very presence will help shape the services and types of businesses, entertainment and public spaces in our city’s downtown core. (It isn’t a mere coincidence the Mill Ave was once the urban hub of the Valley, at least until the chains moved in).

This is a fact that is too often overlooked, by not only the developers but also the mayor and city government. Instead of meeting the needs of existing residents, these so-called leaders are futilely trying to attract suburbanites and their sales tax dollars by mimicking the corporate schlock that is readily available elsewhere in the Valley. (Again, Mill Ave shows the danger of corporatizing an urban environment).

The good side is that these student genuinely seem happy attending classes in downtown (several noted that they specifically chose to attend programs at the downtown campus over ones in Tempe). The majority have spent their entire lives in small towns our suburban environments and are looking forward to being able to actively participate in urban life.

Be sure to check out Taz’s account of the event. she has some very similar observations, not surprising since we were there together!

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Yuri Artibise

Yuri Artibise is an experienced policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist. I have a Master of Public Administration degree with over 10 years of public policy research, analysis, and advocacy experience.