Today I gave a presentation at the Barrett Urban Experience, a 4-day intensive introduction  to the downtown Phoenix urban environment for Barrett Honors College freshmen, a brainchild of Nan Ellin.  Overall, the program is very well designed, including a public art tour, a trip to the Downtown Public Market, a discussion about community food by Maya Daily of Maya’s Farm, a lecture on Local First, plus a tour of the Roosevelt Row arts district among other things.  (Conspicuously missing was a tour of the Grand Avenue arts district because ASU officials thought it was too dangerous for students.  This is a botch-up by ASU in promoting downtown, because saying that Grand Avenue is too dangerous for students perpetuates the outdated stereotype that downtown is a scary place to visit.  Stereotypes like this are the most hurtful when they come from those who’re professing to be invested in the well being of our downtown.  This was an unfortunate part of an otherwise very well rounded introduction into Phoenix urban living.)  I almost feel as if other Valley residents, people who live in the suburbs and just don’t understand the importance of a strong urban core would benefit from this 4-day intensive introduction as well.

A young Barrett student asked why we don’t have a street like Mill Avenue in downtown Phoenix.  A great question.  Why don’t we?  Now that we have an influx of about 1000 more people in the area (the students), perhaps something like a Mill Avenue, or better, a pedestrian street filled with local stores, will emerge.

An important message that the students got during their 4-day introduction is that they are part of helping downtown Phoenix become the city they want.  They are the Urban Pioneers of downtown, whether they signed up for it or not.  Their very presence, their economic power, their demand, their bikes on the street will start molding our city into a different place.  These students just want a 24-hour place to hang out and study, they want to be able to gather in public spaces, be able to get around without a car, or to grab a sandwich for cheap, or toss a frisbee around in a green space after taking a difficult exam.  Right now these amenities aren’t abundant, but I have a feeling, they’ll become more so over time.

The Barrett students are required, for their first year, to live in downtown.  Right now, downtown Phoenix is not much of a college town, but it’s just a matter of time before local businesses seize the opportunity to cater to these young people’s needs.  And thus a vibrant downtown will be created and will become the legacy that these accidental Urban Pioneers leave behind as they head off to their post-graduate lives.  Hopefully they don’t go too far, naturally wanting to stay in the wonderful city they helped create.

Photo Credit: A photo fo Mill Avenue in Tempe, photo from localyte.com.

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8 Responses

  1. The Barrett Urban Experience sounds awesome and is a really great idea. And, kudos to you for presenting!

    For years, it’s seemed like a lot of ASU Downtown students just weren’t willing to move too far outside of the bubble of the downtown campus. So, this kind of intensive orientation to help stimulate the students’ adventureousness is really awesome.

    That is a bummer that Grand was excluded (considering Sapna and two all ages music venues, Trunk Space and Fractal), but hopefully, by jumping into Roosevelt Row and the area, folks can eventually make their way there.

  2. Taz Loomans says:

    Jose, thanks for your comment. On a positive note re: Grand Ave, the Barrett students will be making an official excursion out there during the Grand Ave Arts Festival. They will be introduced to Trunk Space and Fractal then, two places that as you mentioned, could be important to the student experience.

  3. Bob Graham says:

    Thanks for taking a stand for Grand!

  4. ASU officials thought that Grand was too dangerous for the students?! In the words of one of my favorite professors from my own college days, “What egregious ninnies!” Good to hear it will be corrected via a later follow-up tour.

  5. Taz Loomans says:

    Bob, you’re most welcome. Grand is an integral part of Phoenix history, arts and culture, we all need to take a stand for Grand!

  6. Will Novak says:

    Wow that news about them hiding Grand Ave from the students is deplorable. Grand Ave is really going to be something special one day and could very well be the street ‘like Mill Ave’ for Downtown, so why hide it?

    Also, an important thing to note as to why Downtown lacks a Mill Ave like street- shade. The trees on Mill Avenue are actually ILLEGAL for the City to plant as street trees by the State of Arizona. The sidewalks along Mill Ave aren’t actually public sidewalks, I believe they’re owned by the Tempe Chamber of Commerce or the Mill Ave Merchants Association or something so that they can get around the AZ Law.

    While I understand the need to preserve water in our desert climate, we also need to provide ample shade and planting nothing but spindly Palo Verdes in shallow containers won’t accomplish that. Hopefully the Cities 2030 Tree initiative helps this.

    • Taz Loomans says:

      interesting point Will, I agree, if we have a street with lots of shade, it could become a hangout for the students. The Gimme Shelter project slated for Pierce outside of the Public Market might be a starting point for such a pedestrian-oriented shaded strip.

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