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a botch-up by ASU in promoting downtown, because saying that Grand Avenue is too dangerous for students perpetuates the outdated stereotype that downtown is a scary place to visit.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.Tags: asu, Barret Honors College, Barrett Urban Experience, Downtown Public Market, Grand Avenue, Local First, Maya's Farm, Mill Avenue, nan ellin, Roosevelt Row, urban pioneers