As in many other cities, Phoenix has politicized its development process. Almost every project of any size is reviewed in a way that stretches out the process inordinately. The time and money involved favor politically connected developers with the “deep pockets” needed to get through it.
This politicization creates a “duopoly” that links the developer’s interests with their political gatekeepers. It produces oversized and overly prepackaged projects of a scale and nature at odds with their surroundings and even with the city itself as a place with a unique character.
Prewar developers left room for democratic content in their projects. Not just in the retail mix, but also in the ways that “communal” open space was provided and used. Over the last seventy years, this ‘art’ of balancing commercial and community needs has been all but stomped out by boot grip of this duopoly.
Today, our city fails to encourage ordinary people to take part in its reshaping over time. There’s no flux, and no real life, and we are a poorer community because of it.
We are all, partly, to blame for this. We didn’t protest when the duopoly started to squeeze out the public. Instead of protesting and pushing for change, we turned our backs on the public realm; trading it for a few more square feet of private living space and a few cents savings on our tax bills. We have given up public participation so we don’t miss American Idol. Meanwhile the developers have stepped in. Not only with their money but their connections and time.
We need to return the ‘public’ to the policy process. This requires us to take the time to get involved—to write our city councillors, to attend (or at least submit comments to) public hearings, to publicly protest wrongheaded developments and to propose better uses of existing spaces.
If we don’t get involved, ‘private’ policy will continue to shape our city.