October 06, 2010

A Tribute to the Canals of Phoenix

by: Taz Loomans


I know it seems like I keep harping on all the things I find problematic about Phoenix and I tend to point out the things we could learn from other cities.  But this doesn’t mean there aren’t already great things about living here, right now, just the way they are.  Today I wanted to touch on one of those things, and that is our canal system.

There has been much discussion, much speculation and much thought put into our canal system thanks to Nan Ellin’s visionary Canalscape project which is now being overseen by Valley Forward Association.

But what I’d like to talk about today is basically how great our canals are already, without any change whatsoever.  I’m lucky to live right next to the canal.  On many days of the week, I ride my bike on the canals to Lux Coffeebar (“the office”) in the mornings and back home.  Sometimes I’ll ride to my gym which also happens to be on the canal.

This is one of the reasons I absolutely love the canals and that is that they are great connectors.  Separate from our roads.  They run in diagonals, so they connect destinations in a different way than our perpendicular roads do.  So for example, if I were to take our perpendicular gridded street system to Lux, it would take me much longer and also it would be much more circuitous.  But the canal connects my house to Lux in one straight wonderful unadulterated shot.

Another reason I love the canals is the very fact that they are a system completely independent of our roads.  As a biker, this is of great comfort to me as I don’t have to be dodging distracted drivers and feeling the whoosh of a huge truck speed by me as I pedal along in my vulnerable position.  Often times I’ll pass people walking on the canals, yes walking.  WALKING in Phoenix!  This is where all the walkers are, on the  canals.  And more times than not, I’ll look these walkers in the eye, smile and say hello, unless they beat me to it.  The canals, because they are away from the busy, car-worshipping road system, allow for a slower, more serene, more human topography.

And this brings me to the last reason I love the canals and that is because they are a slice of nature in our asphalted concrete urban surroundings.  Where else will you find stretches of still waters, trees, ducks and fish right in the middle of the city?  One of my greatest delights in riding my bike on the canals is watching the ducks buried in the water with their butts hanging in the air.  That invariably brings a smile to my face.

Speaking of smiling, the canals, maybe because of all of the reasons I just mentioned, serve as a great stress-reducer.  Now think about it, driving on our roads can be really aggravating, even biking and walking on them can raise your cortisol levels, maybe because of the speed and the intensity of the traffic.  But the canals seem to have the opposite effect. The serenity, the stillness, the connection to nature all seem to work to calm the nerves, even after a hectic morning at “the office”.

Do you use the canals much?  If so, what do YOU like about them?  Leave me a comment.

Photo Credit: The view of the Grand Canal, south of Osborn, right next to my house.  Photo by the author.

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10 Responses

  1. Valerie Porter says:

    Very nice article, Taz. You kind of took me for a trip down memory lane. I didn’t grow up in Phoenix, but close (Provo, UT) and I spent a lot of time on the canals as a child. I first learned to ride a bike on the canal by our house, because my dad thought it would be a safe spot. We all took family walks on Sunday evenings because it was quiet and we could have good conversations while walking. We’d often run into our neighbors, which was an added bonus.

    Now that I live in Phoenix I do find myself walking my dog at the canal inside Papago Park several times a week. It’s where I go when I want to get away from the noise. Sometimes my beagle even jumps in to cool off on 110 degree days 🙂

    Parks and canals are both great community spaces where cars aren’t part of the equation, therefore making them ideal places for interaction between friends, neighborhood children, and solo time too. Thanks for the article!

    • Taz Loomans says:

      Valerie, thanks for your comment…I agree with you about how canals are really great community assets, sometimes taken for granted. I actually see them as parks in and of themselves.

  2. Diane D'Angelo says:

    I love the canals! In the winter, I love how they shimmer. Suumertime? I can pretend I’m really not in Phoenix.

  3. The trails along our canals are a great resource just as they are, as you mention Taz. If you want to find peace and quiet in the city, a bicycle and the canals is one direct route to that goal! And what is the magic they possess which causes almost everyone to wave and smile at each other? Do that in a car and I think you would get kicked out of the car club, but it just feels natural along the canals.

  4. tfitzaz says:

    I love the idea of the canals – though I feel a bit squeamish as a woman riding alone. I really hope local organizations can really get this movement going. Great article. BTW

    • Taz Loomans says:

      During the daytime, on the whole, I don’t think there is a need to worry. I ride on the canals alone during the day and feel quite comfortable. Plus during the day you’re never quite alone, there are always people just ahead or just behind or in the backyards of the surrounding houses.

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