For decades, Phoenix was the poster child for sprawl. Now, it's turning itself around.

When the housing market fell apart and some of those new neighborhoods turned into instant ghost towns, the city committed to walkable neighborhoods connected by public transit.

The transformation started with a new light rail line that connects far-flung communities, and now the areas around each stop will developed into denser, urban places where people actually want to spend time outside.

"By building a new mode of transportation, the city stated its desire to live differently,” says Galina Tachieva, a sustainable planning partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, a consultancy that is helping the city figure out how to reverse sprawl.

After working through a series of community workshops, the design team mocked up a series of before-and-after shots showing how city streets will change--with narrower roads, bike lanes, sidewalk cafes, and new parks replacing vast swaths of concrete.

The new neighborhoods will be built over the next couple of decades, backed by a new walkable zoning code that will fight any chance of future sprawl.

"Maybe some of these solutions look radical and quite ambitious, but they’re possible because the most expensive element is already in--the light rail," says Tachieva.

With narrower streets, buildings will naturally start to shade the sidewalk.

The plan also calls for trees and other plants along streets; despite the fact that Phoenix is in the middle of the desert, it's located on top of aquifers and also has a hidden system of canals underground that were originally built by the prehistoric Hohokam tribe.

The architects believe that it's possible to manage water sustainably by carefully choosing locations and low-water plants.

"Instead of watering and supporting suburban lawns and golf courses in sprawl outside the city, it’s so much better to create this urban oasis for people to come to," Tachieva says.

All of the features are intended to get more people on the street and outside of cars.

Though some have argued that no one will want to walk in a city that regularly reaches temperatures above 100 degrees, Tachieva says she has already seen it happen.

"We saw with our own eyes that people actually walk when there are interesting things to see and there is action," she explains.

2014-05-29

Co.Exist

Phoenix Is Pulling Off An Urban Miracle: Transforming Into A Walkable City

The city that had long been the poster child of sprawl is putting its gears in reverse. With a new light rail line and a plan to make the city's core denser and more desirable, it's on the path to success.

For decades, Phoenix was the poster child for sprawl: Before the housing crash, developers were building 60,000 new homes a year in the desert at the edges of the city. But when the market fell apart and some of those new neighborhoods turned into instant ghost towns, the city learned its lesson and committed to moving in the other direction--walkable neighborhoods connected by public transit.

The transformation started with a new light rail line that connects far-flung communities, and now the areas around each stop will be developed into denser, urban places where people actually want to spend time outside.

"By building a new mode of transportation, the city stated its desire to live differently,” says Galina Tachieva, a sustainable planning partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, a consultancy that is helping the city figure out how to reverse sprawl.

After working through a series of community workshops, the design team mocked up a series of before-and-after shots showing how city streets will change--with narrower roads, bike lanes, sidewalk cafes, and new parks replacing vast swaths of concrete.

The new neighborhoods will be built over the next couple of decades, backed by a new walkable zoning code that will fight any chance of future sprawl. "Maybe some of these solutions look radical and quite ambitious, but they’re possible because the most expensive element is already in--the light rail," says Tachieva.

With narrower streets, buildings will naturally start to shade the sidewalk. The plan also calls for trees and other plants along streets; despite the fact that Phoenix is in the middle of the desert, it's located on top of aquifers and also has a hidden system of canals underground that were originally built by the prehistoric Hohokam tribe. The architects believe that it's possible to manage water sustainably by carefully choosing locations and low-water plants.

"Instead of watering and supporting suburban lawns and golf courses in sprawl outside the city, it’s so much better to create this urban oasis for people to come to," Tachieva says.

All of the features are intended to get more people on the street and outside of cars. Though some have argued that no one will want to walk in a city that regularly reaches temperatures above 100 degrees, Tachieva says she has already seen it happen.

"We saw with our own eyes that people actually walk when there are interesting things to see and there is action," she explains. "When there are landmarks landmarks and destinations, people walk. We’ve seen this all around the world, from the coldest places in the north to the warmest places."

"The city process led to a vision of a different place--much more urban, well connected, walkable, and human scale," Tachieva adds. "We believe this is the city of the future, whether it’s in a cold climate or the desert. The city that will survive in the 21st century is a city which relies on simpler methods of mobility and transportation than just cars."

[Image: Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company]

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10 Comments

  • donovan.walker+junkmail@gmail.com

    You should fact check this one - "a hidden system of canals underground that were originally built by the prehistoric Hohokam tribe"

  • Hi Adele - Nice piece, much appreciated. We are enthusiastic about the potential as friends below have noted. (btw… I did notice a few typos, and I'm not yet done reading. You might proof this one a bit more.)

    Thanks!

  • Lisa Parks

    We're really looking forward to some great changes here in Phoenix! I do have to clarify though, that it only regularly reaches temperatures above 100 degrees for about 3 months out of the year. The rest of the time, we have absolutely heavenly, jealousy-inducing weather.

  • Chris Nelson

    Lisa Parks, you might want to rethink your statement. Phoenix typically reaches its first 100-degree day in May, and it isn't far-fetched for these hellish temperatures to appear as early as late April. From then on, it's five months -- or more -- of daytime highs topping 100 degrees. In recent years, it seems as if October has become the month when blessedly cool temperatures (also known as 90-degree highs) return.

  • rome.qs@gmail.com

    Even if it's only 3 months out of the year, those months are literally MURDEROUS! Check the CDC website and you'll see that the mortality rate due to weather is more than twice that of the nation average across every single age range. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/figures/m425a2f2.gif .

    Though the optimism in creating more foot traffic in Phoenix is well intentioned, the simple fact is Phoenix is a city where people's day to day behavior is not governed by design of the city, but by the need to make sure the sun doesn't kill you today.

  • Kevin M Pawlak

    Lisa, Phoenix on average gets 4 months of 100 or higher and around10 days to two weeks of over 110. The century mark breaks about half the days in both May and September (not consecutive but still half on average over the last 20 years) . That would make it 4 months on average. Then count another month to 6 weeks of high 90's, so let's try to make it sound Heavenly! I lived there for 24 years of my adult life. I love Phoenix and loath it as well, but in no way is it a pleasant place to live during the Summer. The Smog of the Winter Months are beginning to take its toll as well.

  • Lisa Parks

    Hi Kevin! I belong to a community of mostly car-free and car-lite friends in Phoenix that get around the city by bike. We've just enjoyed 8 months straight of beautiful bicycling weather. I couldn't bike comfortably for 8 months straight in the Midwest or East Coast where I lived for many years before arriving in Phoenix. There are plenty of freezing cold, snowy, dreary, humid or rainy days throughout the year there and I'll take this weather any day! I also don't consider temperatures in the 90's to be unpleasant at all in Phoenix and I commute just under 4 miles each way to work by bike in it. Sure, the weather is hot June - August and the end of May and beginning of September is a mixed bag (although this May was pretty nice!) - but I don't have to carry an umbrella, shovel snow, shake slush off my boots or deal with humidity. I've traded dreary East Coast winters for sunny desert summers with air conditioning and breezy bike rides and that's pretty heavenly to me!

  • Quinn Whissen

    There is a very passionate community in Phoenix - especially Downtown - to create a walkable, vibrant city. A lot is already happening around the light rail, and we're hopeful for what's to come!