Friday, November 5, 2010

Sustainability is NOT a 4-Letter Word - Wake UP Phoenix!

Yesterday I went to a "public" Board of Adjustment hearing in downtown Phoenix to help support a friend, and cause , that I believe in to my core.  I wasn't alone either - the room was full of progressive, forward-thinking people who, like me, want to see the City of Phoenix (and ASU) start "walkin' their talk." 

The hearing was for a "temporary" 5 year use permit for a parking lot.  

The "much ado" came when my pal Sean Sweat, got his community together, hired an attorney, and was fighting for at minimum, the compromise of half of the designated parking lot space to be a dog park for downtown Phoenix.  This would have also off-set the negative impacts and effects of yet another "asphalt ghost lot" that we do NOT need in downtown Phoenix.  This was spelled out at the hearing with factual information which included *GASP* scientific facts and data.  Did the appointed City officials listen?  Nope.  With the exception of Councilman Gaynor who seemed to be the only person who didn't act like a puppet, and was a solo "nay" vote, (though when asked why he voted "nay" by AZ Republic reporter, Emily Gersema, he said he couldn't tell her and directed her to the City Attorney).  Perhaps the City Attorney is telepathic which could pose to be a problem in future battles...

So, "where did this extra expanse of land which will now be filled with cars come from" you ask?

This past spring, Phoenix bulldozed yet another historic building with great "bones."  Many people fought to save that too, but it almost seemed to speed up the razing... Here are some pictures if you're interested (that also point out the site will be a future parking lot).

The City of Phoenix seems to enjoy throwing the term "SUSTAINABLE" around like a teenage prom queen who's spent too much time hanging out by the keg doing beer bongs.  And ASU's famous School of Sustainability - WHERE ARE YOU, AND WHAT IS SUSTAINABLE ABOUT TEARING DOWN HISTORIC BUILDINGS AND ADDING TO URBAN HEAT ISLAND EFFECT WITH MORE PARKING LOTS?????  Holy shitballs.  This is the wrong direction.

What do we as downtown citizens need to do to make our voices heard?  Do we need to go all GreenPeace on your ass and start chaining ourselves to old buildings and camping out in "future" parking lots that are unwanted, un-needed and unnecessary?

Because we keep trying to play "nice" and "by the rules," and it just doesn't seem like it's working very well...  It took something getting litigious to spark any attention at all.  There was nothing "Democratic" about the joke of a "public" hearing I attended, and many of us who filled out speaker cards didn't even get to speak.  Yuck.

There was no mention of pervious concrete or xeriscaping.  I know Phoenix is famous for its lush golf courses, but we live in the fucking desert you guys, in case anyone has forgotten this fact.

I filled out a speaker card because I wanted my thoughts to be heard before a decision was made.  (Though it appeared the decision had already been "made" by the powers that be when they knocked down a perfectly good building that could have been re-purposed and cleaned up.)

So this is what I was going to talk about in my 2 minutes of "public" input that never came:

The City of Phoenix needs to learn how to be the LEADER.  Other progressive cities like Portland and Minneapolis (that have much more extreme weather conditions to contend with) have done it, so why can't we?  Why would Phoenix spend all that money on a lightrail then encourage everyone to drive downtown by creating more parking spaces?  Minneapolis (where I proudly grew up) has been the leader by doing things such as closing main thoroughfares to cars and only allowing public transport, taxis and bikes.  There are 1000 Nice Ride bikes to use all over the city.  The bike lanes are painted green.  There are signs all over downtown to remind people to watch for pedestrians and bicycle riders.  There are recycling containers on the street.  The streets are pedestrian-friendly with outward facing cafe's and stores.  Skyways connect downtown buildings so people can still travel by foot when the weather is bad.  This is a place that gets bone-chilling cold.  Crazy cold.  Yet Minneapolis was just named the #1 bike-friendly city.

Here in Phoenix, we have beautiful, mild weather at least 8 months out of the year, with the other 4 just being pretty hell blazing hot.  Is it so outlandish to think that Phoenix should be taking cue from cities like Minneapolis but just doing it in reverse?  Instead of keeping people's fingers from freezing off, we just need to keep them cool and hydrated.  That's not really that difficult is it?

What if the City of Phoenix took away one of the Central Ave. lanes from say Camelback through downtown and made it a designated bike lane?

And what if the City of Phoenix started developing with pedestrians in mind by putting the life back on the streets instead of creating the feeling of a "gated community" like the new CityScape (which my lovely friend Seth refers to as "ShittyScape").  If I wanted to live in a stupid gated community I'd live in the suburbs.  Cripes.

And what if the City of Phoenix changed people's perception of what a parking lot looks like and took the lead in at least doing it right when it has to be done.  Hey!  There's that idea of pervious concrete again and heat reflecting material to not cook us at 120 degrees.

And what if the City of Phoenix would start to actually listen to the people who LIVE here?  What if they were less focused on bringing in visitors by being weirdly gung-ho about a bunch of new hotels, and instead focus on bringing in people who actually want to STAY here to live and work and play and open businesses and spend money and pay taxes.  There's a fucking concept, eh?

And hey - while we're at it...  What if the City of Phoenix had actually listened to the facts and the science and given 1700 residents who took the time to sign a petition what they asked for - a use-able space that would add charm and value to the area, a dog park in half of a "temporary" unwanted, unnecessary, unfriendly, stinky parking lot.

What if the City of Phoenix started to utilize the energy and knowledge and creativity of the people who actually DO live and work here?  People like Taz at Blooming Rock, and Yuri Artibise and Steve Weiss the steering Chair of the Downtown Voices Coalition - along with many others...

So at the end of the day, the only answer that makes any sense to me is we need to be louder.  We need to be at every important hearing to force transparency and accountability.  We need to come together.  If the City won't get off it's fat, golf-playing ass to become the leader it should - then we need to shove it out of the lazyboy recliner by being loud, tenacious, drawing media attention, and calling BULLSHIT when we see bullshit.

And if you're interested in learning how we got to this "car is king" warped reality in the first place, I would strongly encourage you to attend the upcoming Rogue Green event on Nov. 11 at 6p at The Duce, where my friend and colleague, Eric Corey Freed, will be our guest speaker in giving his amazing keynote presentation: "Spills, Sins and Starbucks: How Oil Has Negatively Altered Our Built Environment." 

Please share the Rogue Green event with all of your friends.

Arizona has been my home for 12 years and is the only home my 2 youngest kids have known.  Phoenix has so much potential, we just have to keep at it.  It's worth fighting for.

Sustainability is not a 4-letter word.

Wake UP Phoenix!

1 comment:

  1. I agree. Phx has missed the boat in so many ways on creating an inviting downtown environment. Like toothpicks for trees and a complete lack of ground level shade to encourage pedestrian access downtown. I say, your absolutely right... lets get rid of the car. I am ready to be louder... Thank you mssss. Champion.

    Jeffery Frost - Phoenix resident and irritated sustainability advocate.