07/292011

Canals: The Hidden Neighborhood Amenity in Phoenix

By: Taz Loomans

Here’s the latest greenhab project Firefly is involved with in partnership with developer Rob Anderson close to Indian School and 19th Avenue. (Look for updates about it on future blog posts.)

This house is close to a canal. This is the canal access point in the neighborhood.

To Chris Wass, one the founding partners here at Firefly, canals are a great amenity to neighborhoods, not a liability as they are still often seen. He sees these places as “neighborhoods that have the great fortune of having the canal roll through them.”

But why on earth should we consider the canals a great amenity? They are afterall, just a SRP utility to move water, aren’t they?

Nan Ellin, a former professor at ASU didn’t think so. She started the movement called Canalscape that envisions the canals of the Valley as great social, environmental and economic connectors and vibrancy generators.

More often then not, though, right now, they’re what urban philosopher Jane Jacobs called border vacuums. Originally, Jacobs used this term to apply to areas around highways cutting through neighborhoods that, according to Gene Callahan and Sanford Ikeda in their article Jane Jacobs, The Anti-Planner, are “rendered lifeless and ultimately unsafe by the lack of people venturing across it. Dead areas that suck the life right out of their surroundings.” This same term can easily be applied to most canal areas in Phoenix today.

The effects of these border vacuums, Chris noted yesterday, is that the homes that butt up against the canals are often the worse homes in the neighborhood, where in fact, they should be the best. This is because right now, as things stand, being up against a canal actually reduces the value of a property. It is perceived not as an amenity, but as a safety hazard.

But because of visionaries like Nan, Chris and countless others, like Valley Forward, who’re working to make Canalscape a reality, perceptions are slowly shifting. And because currently the canals are very much an SRP utility and it is important to keep them functioning as such, the idea is to improve what is around the canal.

This means that there is an opportunity to rethink this entrance, for example, which acts as  a DO NOT ENTER sign.

Perhaps it could be replaced by a small footbridge for pedestrians and bikers to get on the canal to use it. Because, let’s face it, even in it’s current state, the canal is a great place for pedestrians and bicyclists to use.

Just starting with small moves like that, making the canal more inviting, getting people to walk, bike and enjoy the canals, would be a giant step in the right direction towards making Canalscape a reality.

Here’s a short video to show you the quiet serenity that is available on our urban canals, just as they are now. Why not get out there and enjoy them?

One Response

  1. […] They have set the standard for the rest of the cities in the Valley for how to enhance and use our canals. Granted, the Crosscut Canal runs through various parks and open desert spaces, making it an […]

Leave a Reply