Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Future of Phoenix

So, I know I've been slacking on this whole blog thing lately--more on that soon. For now, I felt compelled to note a couple of important developments related to our Village's plan and that of the entire city and metro area. First, in case you are not one of the dozen or so people who attended the last meeting, I have proudly joined a great group of people on the Laveen Village Planning Committee. Councilman Nowakowski submitted my name and received City Council approval in a September meeting, and then I sat in on my first official LVPC meeting last week.

This leads to the next important topic: PlanPHX. If you are any sort of community leader (i.e. block watch representative, HOA board member, or similar), City of Phoenix representatives likely found you and invited you to help with Phoenix's 2050 plan (see the website for more info). Please accept the invitation. After all, as one of my readers, I assume it's safe to say that you care about how our region develops and want to have a say. Although we will leave the nuts and bolts up to our highly able planning staff, please understand that they are eager to hear public input and put it to good use. So come to the next LVPC meeting and let Mr. Zonn know what Laveen residents want to see for the future of our city, so he can share with the rest of the planning department as they compile results from all the villages. (BTW, how cool would it be if, for once, Laveen were one of the squeakiest wheels....)

We all know that Phoenix is at a critical point right now, as we prepare to complete several important infrastructure projects to serve an ever-growing population (see the recent news on our population from the Urban Land Institute here). It's important to understand that while we strive to define the overall character and interconnectedness of our metropolitan area, we are directly impacting how future growth will occur here. And as noted by many business leaders, including Phoenix's own Kimber Lanning, our current housing market has forced people to stick around and improve our communities rather than constantly chase greener pastures. Overall, this is a great silver lining on otherwise cloudy skies, but there is plenty of work to do.

It sometimes saddens me that not only must we all try to lead our community down the right path, often arguing about what its true assets are and how to address the challenges, but we also must constantly fight cynicism and apathy. And then there's negative external attention that we definitely do not need..... Please see the blurb that I somehow discovered linked to a more current article, in which the writer bashes Phoenix as one of the cities that will not/should not survive future green planning. As one of my neighbors, I'm sure that you believe this is utter nonsense--especially if you travel frequently to other major metropolitan areas and deal with the traffic, pollution, litter, and other problems that Phoenix seems to handle much more effectively (and at generally lower tax rates--but we can debate our state/local budgets later if you like). Below is my hastily written reply to the author's article; while not nearly perfect, I feel that it effectively highlights the kind of response that such articles deserve. So please, let your pen be mightier than a sword and remain vigilant of opportunities in which we need to better inform the misinformed masses about our great village, city, and state.

  • Interesting point about Phoenix, since he fails to note some important facts related to the future growth of this metropolis and its surrounding cities:

    1: Warm weather places have a green head start, since the carbon produced to cool buildings is far less than the energy needed to heat them, due to less energy required to lower temps by one degree than to raise them the same amount (not to mention that the total annual swing in temperatures is relatively small here compared to many places).

    2: Most of the population growth in Phoenix can and will be accommodated by utilizing plans that embrace a new-urban model rather than the outdated suburban growth of the 1950s-1990s. This means that the largest cities in the area are divided into smaller districts/villages to allow multiple high-density centers of development and commerce (see Phoenix Villages, for instance). The remaining areas that are already dense (Tempe, central Phoenix, south Scottsdale) are encouraging more vertical development.

    3: The overall Phoenix area has grown much more transit-friendly in recent years, with the opening of a highly successful light rail line, frequent and extended bus service in core areas (every 15 minutes in Tempe), with ongoing discussions about expanding local rail service and even introducing a regional system. Plus, we are far more bike-friendly by design than almost any other large urban area (required bike lanes and urban trail systems in newer areas).

    4: AZ is going solar, and in a big way. Tempe is home to one of the foremost solar producers in the country (FSLR), and several cities and utility districts in the area have already announced huge investment plans to promote more centralized and distributed solar generation (not to mention wind energy and major solar thermal projects).

    5: We manage our water. Unlike many arid growth regions in the western U.S., Arizona has known for its entire inhabited life that we need to remain creative about sustaining our water supply. Coupled with the exceptional growth spurts in recent decades, our research into continued water preservation has been quite effective and forward thinking (unlike the dry-lake scenarios encountered in California's deserts in the last century).

    So put all of this together and consider the incredible potential that Phoenix possesses, rather than its comparatively minor limitations as a green city of the future. And one more important thought on this subject: conservation advances in Arizona almost always happen affordably and in accord with other market dynamics, rather than requiring the same level of high subsidization and stratification amongst community members who benefit disproportionately from "green" advances. That should really be what it's all about.

    UPDATE (11/19/2009): I just came across this rather timely article about ADOT's growth plans for the Valley, from ABC 15's website.  Toward the end, you will find yet another great link to provide your input:  So please do check this out.  (And by the way, I initially tried to post this as a comment, but didn't like how it appeared; hence the deleted comment on this post.)