September 28, 2011

An Essay by Will Bruder: What Can We Aim For?

by: Will Bruder

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This week I am posting Will Bruder’s excellent essay for the 98th Arizona Town Hall meeting, “Capitalizing on Arizona’s Arts and Culture”.

I’ve posted the essay in 3 parts. In today’s post, which is the third and final part, Will gives us a 6-point plan on how to move forward in Arizona in ways that we can tap into our unique local resources and plug into the sustainability progress happening globally. Make sure to read Part I and Part II of this essay if you haven’t yet.

If you’d like to read Will’s entire essay in one sitting, you can find it on the Arizona Town Hall report starting on page 76.

Big bold regional thinking, with no opt out clause, for urban, suburban and rural communities in 10, 25, and 50-year increments.  Yes there will be overshooting and underestimating but a wave of people are coming our way and we need a map of possible absorption that is better than ‘drive until you qualify’, a map that radiates with vibrant nodes of social and economic density, lively neighborhoods and distinctive destinations linked by rail and road, bike paths and trail systems.

‘Local First’ as we decide next steps. Towns and cities across Arizona understand the value of ‘local’. Support efforts to map, develop and mentor neighborhood based public markets, unique retail, and restaurant opportunities based on local resources and benefiting local businesses. The more real it is the more we will want to be here and others will want to join us for a visit or for life.

All things interconnected. The Internet and social media connect us on invisible highways. Interconnected neighborhoods will make it possible for us to actually show up, something we humans like to do and probably always will. Integrating light rail and bus is a great start but let’s also consider less expensive, pedestrian friendly contemporary railed streetcar loops at key junctions in our most vibrant neighborhoods. Tucson is leading the way, with Tempe in close pursuit, in demonstrating what railed streetcar connectivity can mean to a community. If the patterns of mixed use development seen in Portland Oregon’s downtown are any indicator, such an investment is catalytic to a myriad of economic and social benefits. From cities as varied as Flagstaff, Prescott, Scottsdale, Glendale and Phoenix, the streetcar, not the freeway, would transform our lives with vastly improved time/space efficiency.

Infill incentives to fill the voids in our midst to create and strengthen the urban fabric of our towns and cities. Work with owners of big empty lots to ‘program’ them for temporary uses while vigorously creating community visions and plan for their reuse for live, work and play. Let’s not just stand by and wait. Let’s not just react. Let’s build value. Rather than building on a model of use based zoning that has stifled so many of our cities and neighborhoods let’s embrace ‘form based zoning’ which values a mixed use environment puts within our, reach the 24/7 vitality that characterizes great places.

Deployment of alternative energy interventions and innovative shade structures, manmade or soil bound in HIGHLY visible places: solar panels on parking lots, parasols on pedestrian ways.  Dress them in graphics that quantify their ‘coolness’ and ‘can do’ attitude.  These will reinvigorate the public realm at the heart of our cities and neighborhoods.

Small doable strategically sited, high visibility, high quality, locally grown projects that immediately speak to our place and time and demonstrate that bigger is not necessarily better. Identify the key places where making such an investment would kick start the confidence and optimism that is at the core of our heritage.

Arizona is still rich in opportunities and resources. They are close to home and demanding of our highest talents and deepest respect. Let’s learn from our past failures and successes as we build a new, more efficient, livable, and beautiful network of neighborhoods and communities where architecture, culture and the urban fabric complement the wonders of Arizona’s unique and fragile landscape. Tomorrow is now…

Photo Credit: Solar panels in the parking lot of the Burton Barr Central Phoenix Library, a project by the author of this essay. Photo from Solarwing.

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