August 31, 2010

Mayor Gordon on his Legacy to Phoenix

by: Taz Loomans


This morning, I had the honor of sitting down with City of Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and asking him a few questions about future urban development and sustainability.  I had asked readers to send me questions to ask the Mayor and I got many really good ones.  Unfortunately, the Mayor’s morning was a particularly busy one and I was only able to speak to him for a short time.  But I tried to touch on the topics that matter to my readers  in the short time I did have with him.

Below is our conversation:

Blooming Rock: Would you tell me about the Green Phoenix plan and how it’s being implemented?

Mayor Gordon: We were fortunate to work early with the Department of Energy to structure a unique type of grant which we ended up showing was worthy.  We received one of the highest awards from the Department of Energy of any city because we didn’t follow the traditional model of neighborhoods being square or just residential.  Rather we focused it along the Light Rail line so that it could encompass non-profits, private companies, retail, commercial, public and residential.  And it would be visible too.

Sometimes people confuse clean energy and efficiency.  You think solar if you’re from the southwest or wind if you’re from the northwest.  Here we’re really focused on changing the way we think.  Similar to, several decades ago, what was all about smoking.  It took a lot of education and a couple of generations before society said “yup!” (smoking is bad for you) for the most part.  So we need to do that with energy efficiency because energy efficiency is the least expensive way to use less energy.  (The Energize Phoenix plan is about) taking less energy-efficient homes and insulating them, weather-proofing them, with different doors and different windows.  And then monitoring that to show that one’s norms have changed and that this grant is actually making a difference.  So ASU is part of the team to do the statistical and monitoring.

We’ve been meeting with the Department of Energy on a weekly basis with our partners ready to unveil this plan in the last week of October.  The Green Rail corridor is sort of the spine, (but it includes) everything on both sides of it for a couple of blocks.  So that’s what’s exciting.  It’s actually both educational and economically viable and statistically (we can show that) we are making a difference as opposed to here’s a grant and $700,000 to go manufacture this or a $3000 credit on your solar.

Blooming Rock: What do you think we can do to promote alternative transportation in Phoenix because for a “green city”, we’re very car- dependent.  What are some of the things you promote in terms of walkability, bike-ability and transit?

Mayor Gordon: One, provide better environments so that means shaded areas, safe bike paths, safe walking paths, visually appealing and lit.  Two is (make sure that) whatever incentives or rewards the city gives that they be related to mass transportation sort of like what Singapore does.

Blooming Rock: What is happening with the Tree and Shade plan?

Mayor Gordon: That’s a part of it.  We’re planting trees and mechanical structures where you can’t plant trees.  Pretty soon we’ll be talking about shade structures that are both solar and shade.

Blooming Rock: I know the City is facing some major budget cuts, what would you like to tell the people of Phoenix and the City staffers about how to get through this really difficult economic time?

Mayor Gordon: Well, we’re learning to do more for less, all of us, non-profits, profits, government.  In fact I’m going to start an award that starts next month recognizing individuals, companies or employees, public to private, for people who are stepping up to the plate and are doing more with less – volunteering time, leveraging funds, taking on more work load.

So we’re going to get through it.  We’re actually becoming, as a community, more efficient.  I think now is the time with the limited dollars everybody has to invest in the future because it’s a great city, the climate is great, and people are going to continue to move here.  We’re going to get past the economic issues and the immigration issues.  We need to be prepared if we’re going to keep this a great city, that it means sustainability.  Water, the environment, the air (quality), that is really what we’re talking about.  All these components are related so anything you can do to be involved  (would be great).  Sure, help your neighbor, help your church, help your government, great, do those things.  But also do anything you can to conserve water, help the air (quality) and use less electricity.

Blooming Rock: I know we’re nearing the end of your term, what’s the legacy you’d like to leave?

Mayor Gordon: The problem with “leaving legacies” is that you start making decisions very early on in your career for that end goal and legacies don’t usually last.  I remember in college (learning) about the Byznatine Empire that left statues to themselves that crumbled.

My legacy is that there isn’t any or it isn’t recognized.  (It may be) that solar and renewable becomes a mainline and that my kids and their kids will get to enjoy Phoenix like when I grew up.  It’s a different type of Phoenix with different types of technologies, but that’s my legacy. And nobody will remember, except maybe my kids.

Photo Credit:  The Light Rail, the genesis of the Energize Phoenix grant.  Photo from

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17 Responses

  1. Diane D'Angelo says:

    Thanks for this interview, Taz, and for asking about the tree/shade initiative. Do you know if anybody in town is working with the feds to get urban forestry grants?

  2. Seriously. His answer to car dependency is “One, provide better environments so that means shaded areas, safe bike paths, safe walking paths, visually appealing and lit.”

    Good thing they are buying historic properties to turn into parking lots. Phoenix politicians are almost as dysfunctional as the sheep that believe their lies.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Derek, I’m with you that the biggest disconnect with the Green Phoenix plan is that it does not sufficiently address our car-dependent ways that contribute to most of our greenhouse gas emissions in Phoenix. Retrofitting old homes is an excellent thing to do, but it won’t make as big an impact as getting people out of their cars.

  3. Will Novak says:

    I think Mayor Gordon gets a bit unfairly bashed by a lot of Central Phoenix/urban advocates. Because of Phoenix’s weak mayor system there’s often times not a lot he can do.

    More than any Mayor in my lifetime (granted, I’m young) Gordon has focused on Downtown and the Central City. He’s missed the mark a lot, tearing down the Sahara, not ensuring quality design with CityScape, etc. but he’s also done a lot for Downtown. The Civic Space park, partnering with Doctor Crow to bring ASU downtown, being a champion for LRT and the Convention Center, etc.

    He’s helped do a lot of stuff thats infrastructure type stuff that’ll hopefully be a jumping off point for Phoenix’s maturation into a great city.

    What I’m really terribly worried about is his replacement. If we get stuck with someone who’s not a major advocate for Central Phoenix we may end up taking steps backward. I’m terrified that a Council person from a Suburban district, like Peggy Nealy, would become Mayor and really screw things up.

  4. Will Novak says:

    Taz, is this a general interview for her as a Council woman or more of a, she’s planning to run for Mayor and we’re asking her about Mayoral platforms sort of thing?

    • Taz Loomans says:

      She’s only said she’s thinking of running for Mayor, maybe she’ll announce her bid to me :-)? So I’d like to ask her questions about around the topics of urban development and sustainability assuming she’s running for Mayor…What would you like to ask?

  5. Will Novak says:

    Hm, Id be interested to hear what cities she thinks are Phoenix’s biggest competitors (and Id hope she’d say LA, Denver, etc and not Glendale and Goodyear).

    Id be interested to know what her thoughts are on the lack of traditional higher educational options in the City of Phx itself (its ASU West or nothing). If she thinks thats a problem (it is), does she have any plans ,or even just vague dreams of how to correct it?

    Phoenix is home to far fewer Fortune 500 and 1000 companies than most cities our size (thus in part leading to our under developed downtown), how can does she think we change that?

    As far as sustainability Id like to her come out strong for making Phoenix a solar leader, expanding LRT, getting on board big time with the shade initiative, etc. Making all of those things priorities, Im not sure how you’d word it in a question.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Will, thank you! I’ll try to put those in a question format. Just a clarification, aren’t ASU Downtown, plus U of A Medical School higher education options in City of Phx?

  6. Will Novak says:

    ASU West, ASU Downtown, UA Medical, they’re all branch campuses. I think ASU West is the only one you could actually go to and have all your classes on that campus (I wish West was spun off into its own school like was once the plan). I guess what I mean is, why doesn’t Phoenix have an independent college of its own (I don’t care if its public or private).

    If you want a traditional, non religious, 4 year college education in the City of Phoenix your options are very limited. I wanted to go to a Liberal Arts school, thats not an option in this city, much less state, so I left the state for college. I came back, but a lot of people in position don’t, thus the brain drain Phoenix is experiencing.

    It just seems pathetic to me that the nations 5th largest city doesn’t have a University of its own.

  7. Will Novak says:

    I think how I would word that would be something like:

    Do you think Phoenix (Phx, not the Valley at large) has enough traditional higher education options? If not, what can we do to change that?

  8. You were quite diplomatic in your interview considering your positions regarding the Sahara tear-down, CityScape, etc. I like how you balance advocacy and reporting on this blog; you seem to have a good feel for which hat to wear for which post.

    As for Mayor Gordon, I disagree with some of his positions, most notably the support of CityNorth and the attempts to court Dubai. Nevertheless, I agree with Will that Mayor Gordon has been far better than most alternatives I can envision.

    As for higher education, the age of founding liberal arts colleges without religious affiliations has passed, and Phoenix grew and matured after its occurence. I think Phoenicians would be better off celebrating the city’s role as an incubator of non-traditional education options than being wistful for liberal arts colleges that are unlikely to be created. Disclosure: I work for a non-traditional provider of higher education, although I am not speaking for my employer in these comments.

  9. beatrice moore says:

    After having visited the interior of Cityscape for the first time a couple of days ago, and having being shocked by the awful, sterile design and heaps and heaps of concrete (including dozens of concrete slabs that are supposed to serve as benches) – I have to say that this project is going to be seen as one of Mayor Gordon’s legacies, like it or not. Not only was a public, central park given away in the process, but so was close to $ 100 million in tax subsidies – for a project that seemingly goes against every design standard we have heard the city tout at meetings the last 10 years. And I am very troubled by the fact that Cityscape’s Red Development has contributed to the coffers of the Mayor’s State of the City address both last year and this year. That to me, implies a very troubling conflict of interest. Is this some kind of payback for having pushed the project through? That is how it appears.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Beatrice, thanks for your comment. I too am disappointed with Cityscape’s architecture and will be doing an architectural review of it soon here on Blooming Rock. As far as the conflict of interest with the City and the developer, I’ve noticed Phoenix is rife with these types of conflicts and it’s nothing new unfortunately.

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