As the New Year progresses and businesses get back from the holidays and into the swing of things, development will begin to take place. So what kinds of development would we like to see? Phoenix is in a very unique situation and the timing could not be more critical. The economy is slowly coming back and new projects are beginning to re-enter the game. How we focus our efforts could shape the culture and the economy for the downtown quarter.
Since we are no longer experiencing a huge building boom, each new project that we begin in the downtown urban core will count for much more and our moves have to be more strategic. The investment in density will pay off big. If we look at situations where high density is the strongest, it usually lies within small neighborhoods or districts. Remember that the Gas lamp Quarter in San Diego that is highly admired and performs very well urbanistically, is only about 18 blocks (9×2). Concentrated density in our urban core should be our focus and incentives should be given to build there. This means multiple tenant housing projects will be extremely valuable and will get more activity downtown for our local businesses. However, again, we must be strategic about our plans and pay attention to who our target audience will be.
Luxury Condominiums and high priced rentals are great for property values and reputation of a neighborhood but they are premature to our downtown urban core. So much of what makes a great city is organic growth. Affluent areas will emerge from blocks and pockets of the city that have the most vibrancy, specific amenity, or proximity to a desired location. One block of activity will spur interest, and as that block becomes a key attractor, the desire to have a home and/or business on that block will grow. This will drive up the price in that area and as it becomes more expensive to own property on that block, the surrounding streets will start to see more attention as new business owners try to associate their storefronts with a popular area. At this time in Phoenix’s development, getting a good mix of ages and income levels will prove more beneficial than creating a fancy exclusive residence that’s only value is within its doors.
It is time for Phoenix to embrace mixed use development the way so many other cities have. The model of housing and hotels on upper levels and retail on the street works to the benefit of the city and its citizens. We have to do more than just encourage mix use development, we should be enforcing it. Larger buildings that provide small storefronts for entrepreneurs to begin their careers serve just like apartments do for young professionals. They are a way for businesses to open downtown that don’t yet have the capitol to renovate one of our old structures or build a new one on a vacant lot. These small leased stores provide interest and vitality to the street which in turn attracts the bigger more affluent types of development to tackle our downtown eyesores.
Forcing new construction to utilize retail on the ground floor also has an added benefit in the advancing of the downtown urban core. Retail has the ability to make the ground floor of building public space. This is important because it give the pedestrian a sense of belonging to the sidewalk. Think about your home. How many of us would want to live on the bottom floor while strangers walk past our door? My guess is not many of us. So what do we do? We pull our apartments far back from the street or we build massive mirrored glass lobbies that create a very unwelcoming area for a pedestrian. Now think of what a small boutique or café owner would want. They would want a storefront with good signage and a welcoming door out to the sidewalk. They would decorate their widow display specifically for the enjoyment of the city dweller and in turn they would want their space right up to the sidewalk, shading the pedestrian and offering the security of having eyes on the street.
The downtown city dweller’s main concern is not interested in owning a piece of land. They are not uneasy about the paint color their neighbor chooses. They are not overly concerned about who is parking in front or their house, or what new project is coming into their neighborhood. So why are we building like we’re in the suburbs?
The people that choose a lifestyle downtown have a set of values that are specific to an urban setting. Most of those people will not stay as downtown urbanites and will eventually move to the suburbs as their families grow. The vibrancy of a downtown depends on this sub transient culture of new blood and fresh ideas. As this next generation shies away from diving into home ownership because of recent economic events, the desire for an urban lifestyle will grow exponentially. I’ve seen a lot of promising activity in our downtown and places that have a real buzz surrounding them. These are the project we should grow off of and new projects in adjacent areas will begin to show up. At this time in our city’s development, it is essential that we listen to the desires of the public, and allow the culture of our city to grow naturally.
At this time what types of development would you like to see???? And how can we get them downtown?