Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Living in the Land of "Temporary" Parking Lots

So in true City of Phoenix form, the Public Hearing I attended this morning was not a place for the City to make an actual "decision" based on hearing both sides of the coin, but to go through the motions to stay in the good graces of "Mr. Developer."

The hearing was for an extension of what will now continue to be a parking lot for another 2 years (then most likely another 2 after that, and so forth...)

This is what I said at the hearing, which apparently fell on "deaf" ears - but (I) we will continue to be vocal.  As long as I am living here and raising my family, I will continue to fight for the kind of City I want my children to grow up in.

I am here today to implore you, the City of Phoenix, to step up and become a leader.  We are here about an extension of a temporary parking lot permit.  What exactly is temporary in this City while in the midst of the worst recession of my lifetime?  Is it 5 years?  10 years?  20 years?

We are your residents.  We don’t just work downtown then drive home to Chandler or Gilbert.  We live here, raise our families, operate businesses, shop, eat and play.  What will it take for you to listen to us?  To be the change we wish to see?

Outside of the scientific facts surrounding all of the detrimental effects of a City filled with asphalt parking lots, THIS is a perfect opportunity for you, the City, and you, the Developer, to start envisioning innovative short-term uses for all of these empty and excessive lots that are being land-banked.  Progressive cities around the country are doing it so why can’t we?

It could add revenue and positive press for everyone involved, and make us, the residents, happy in return.  Creative visionaries are the pulse of every great city.  They help draw people in and make them want to stay.

If you continue to think inside of a box, not only do you run the risk of your head becoming weirdly shaped like one, but you also run the risk of driving out the very people who make the city’s heartbeat tick.

I want to know what happened to the 2004 and 2007 City Visions for a sustainable, pedestrian-friendly, progressive city.  If we wanted to live in a gated community themed place, we’d move to the suburbs.

I strongly urge you to NOT grant this extension and instead do something different, like the city of Seattle did when they put out a call for ideas seeking submissions for "creative ways in which stalled projects sites could be converted to interim uses that benefit, rather than detract from city life."

Until the funding is available to turn this lot into the sorely needed residential use it was intended for, wouldn’t it make sense to utilize all of the un and under-employed talent we have available in this City (including hundreds of architects, designers and urban planners) and find an innovative short-term use for this site, and hopefully others as well?

I thank you for your time, and leave you with the following quote by Carol Coletta, president and CEO of CEOs for Cities.

“Increasingly, we live in a world where cities compete for people, and businesses follow. This trend has largely been ignored by many cities, which are still focused on business climate and tax incentives. But I think the big question businesses will ask in the years to come is going to be 'Can I hire talented people in this city?' Cities need to be able to answer 'yes' to succeed.” 

* I also supplied the following list of alternative temporary lot uses to the City and Developer.  I hope they actually get explored (or at least make it into a recycling bin ;))
Innovative Ideas for Alternatives to the “Temporary” Parking Lot


Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Tales of Makutu's Island and a "Homeless" Girl...

Living in Phoenix with bored kids in the summer can be very interesting.  Here's a story from the archives...

We went to pick up Zane's best friend Shanon today who is down from up north for a few days with his familia. I met the gang at "Makutu's Island" which is this big crazy indoor playground in bumf*ck Chandler (and of course located in a strip mall). Arizona is a lot like Minnesota - only opposite. In MN they keep you in to keep your fingers from freezing and falling off - and in AZ they keep you in to keep you from spontaneously combusting because of the frickin' oven heat.

Anyway... I was pleasantly surprised to see that the kids’ tickets were $8.25 and mine was only $3.25. I had to buy socks for Zoe and I ($3.50/pair) but that's okay too because they're purple and yellow and have the weird Makutu rat/marmoset mascot thing. (Which we by the way got to do the cha cha slide with!) So we go in and I notice the majority of parents are just sitting around reading books and talking on their cell phones. I wondered why they weren't climbing and playing. (I would find out...)

So there are giant tree house'ish contraptions with tubes and netting and caves and ladders. 
The boys were gone in a flash so I let Zoe take the lead. I suddenly found myself contorted like a pretzel in very small, dark, cramped places with other small and smelly children that did not belong to me. I then also realized that all of the other parents were not "playing" because A. they were smart, and B. there is no way in hell that they would have ever crammed their fat asses into those tubes and crevices with all those other kids! Zoe and I found a bespeckled 7 yr. old to be our tour guide to lead us to the curly cue slide. We eventually had to ditch him because he quickly became a Makutu's Island know-it-all and was really starting to annoy me. "Beat it kid. We're striking off on our own adventure!"

Somewhere in between the net wall and the 50 ft. high plexiglas tube that nearly gave me an anxiety attack as I hadn't seen a worker over the age of 16 the entire time (who is checking this shit for safety?!) I smelled a horrible smell. Horrible. Like death.

I asked Zoe "Did you poop?" She said no. I grabbed the back of her shorts and pulled my hand away in disgust. She was right, she didn't poop. She EXPLODED. "Oh shit" I said. We worked our way out of the molded plastic maze listening to all the kids say "Ewww what's that smell?" as we passed. Pull-up change, scrub of the waistband of her shorts and bottom of her t-shirt - we were good to rock and roll again.

We found the big boys who led us to the Banana Slide. "It's really fast mom" Zane warned me. "Oh jeez Zane it's a slide. Zoe can just sit on my lap." "No really mom. It drops straight down. It's fast." My concerned boy... Outta my way kid! I stuck Zoe in my lap and screamed as we suddenly felt as if we were falling through Alice's rabbit hole. We came SHOOTING out of the slide, Zoe's eyes as big as plates, where we landed about 4 feet away on a wrestling mat. Okay, so Zane was right on that one.

We were just in the deepest trenches of an awkward spot again, when I smelled the smell again. "Oh Zoe..." We went for the 2nd change, where after, Zoe became obsessed with the electric hand dryer and stood underneath of it for 6 pushes until I was finally able to lure her away.

We found the boys. "Time to go guys - I only had 2 pull-ups with me and can't handle a car ride home smelling that smell again in case she explodes." I coerced with slushies. Gentle persuasion...

We came home. Legos, Little Bear, 10 minutes of work.

I thought it would be a good idea to take them to the park downtown since it was dusk and "cooling off" to a balmy 105 degrees. "Let's get Subway and go to the park!" This park also has a cool water pad that lights up and is on until 9 p.m. so it's one of our favorite spots to picnic. I grabbed some towels and a blanket and we were on our way.

The kids played and splashed in between bites of sandwich. I was chillin' on the grass.

This park is notorious for security and police as it is in the heart of Downtown Phoenix and they are hell bent on keeping out homeless people, skateboarders, bike riders, and basically anyone else they want to (which is another long rant as I have actually seen the police yell at 1 kid on a skateboard then DRIVE their SUV through the park- and we know how much I hate injustice...)

So we're having a swell time, the kids dry off, and a woman goes up on the stage and begins to practice opera. Very cool! All 3 kids are intrigued and go sit at a table to watch her. Her name was Loretta and she was an older South American woman dressed all in black. I loved her, the kids loved her, and she loved them! She is writing a children's book called "Dinosaur" which is about a cat she grew up with. She asked if the boys would be her critic so they hung on her every lovely accented word as she read them her story.

Meanwhile I was chasing Zoe around and taking photos. One security guard had been lurking around more than the others and by this time it was around 9 o'clock. He approached me and said “So where do you go after here?" I said "Home." He looked at me like I was lying. "It's okay" he said. Suddenly it clicked with me. "No no no! We live in a house" I said. He looked at me like I was lying.

I didn't even smell bad. I even showered today. Perhaps because we were at the park "past dark" it didn't make sense to him.
A little later, I kid you not, he came up to me and gave me some hostess cupcakes and tried to give me $2!!! Seriously. Did I mention that I had even shaved my legs today and was wearing mascara? "Oh my gosh - I AM NOT HOMELESS" I told him. "My car is parked right over there and I promise I don't live in that either!" He just looked at me. I probably make more money in a day than this guy makes all week... WTF?!

I took the cupcakes, the boys took $1 each, and we left.

I tried to find a real homeless person to give the cupcakes to but couldn't find one anywhere.

I think all the security guards and cops ran them off...

Monday, November 8, 2010

"L" is for Letters

I’m wearing old Levis, a vintage Rolling Stones t-shirt and some flip flops. My hair is in a loose, messy ponytail and the sun warms my face. It’s springtime in Phoenix – a gorgeous day. Vast Arizona blue skies and temperatures in the mid 70’s, just for us. The kind of day Phoenicians fall in love with again and again, especially as we hear tales of freak blizzards and tornados from our friends and family in other states. I’m out running my errands, which on most days, takes me downtown to one of my favorite blocks in the city – “Block L”. I need to check my mail and buy some stamps.

As I step into “my” downtown post office I feel happy. The smell of old buildings has always been soothing to me. As a child, my grandparents owned an antique store called Bedknobs & Broomsticks which I pretty much lived in from the time I was a baby until I was almost 5 years old. The “stories” of the treasures that surrounded me fascinated and intrigued me, and was probably the jumping point for my inquisitive nature. I would delicately cradle an antique doll and automatically wonder about the little girl who played with her when the dolly was new. Who was she? Where did she live? What did she look like?

Being in places that connect me to the past makes me feel grounded. It bonds me to humanity. My post office was formerly known as the Phoenix Federal building, and was designed in 1932 by two very important architects in Phoenix’s history - Royal Lescher and Leslie Mahoney. The doors opened in 1936. 74 years later, it’s me opening them. A lot can happen in 74 years.

In 1936, the year this building opened its doors, one of the biggest Phoenix to-dos was an event called the Masque of the Yellow Moon. Centered on an ancient Native American tradition and the full, springtime, yellow moon – it was a time to pause and give thanks, and to reflect on prosperity. Every spring for 30 years, thousands of people in Phoenix would dress up in costume and come together to do just that. I like this idea very much. Masque of the Yellow Moon died out in 1955 when the population of the city began to explode and Cordelia Perkins, the event director for 21 years, decided to retire. Times change... Communities grow...

“Community” is a strong word for me. It evokes a sense of belonging, a tie to my past – and my future. This is my community. This block. These people. The workers here know me by name, and joke with me as I meander over to my old-fashioned post office box. I take my time leaving, absorbing the old, black and white photographs on the wall of the time and the people that were here before me. A time when people celebrated under a full, yellow moon on a spring night to give thanks.

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!