What if Phoenix had a Comprehensive Parks Plan? Connecting New River and Tempe Town Lake with a Green Corridor

By: Taz Loomans

A couple of weekends ago, I went on a bike tour of the Olmsted Park Plan in southeast Portland organized by the Architectural Heritage Center. The Olmsted Park Plan of 1903 provided a vision for parks connected by parkways and boulevards and served as a blueprint for creating open space and connective corridors as the city grew and developed over the next 100+ years. The tour highlighted Portland’s relative success in preserving urban open space and non-motorized connective corridors and made me wonder if Phoenix had a comprehensive open space plan like the Olmsted Park Plan of 1903.

Phoenix Sonoran Preserve Master Plan

Phoenix does indeed have a master plan to preserve open space, called the Phoenix Sonoran Preserve Master Plan, but it wasn’t adopted until 1999 when the city had already grown to be 479 square miles large and was home to 1.23 million residents. But it’s never too late to begin to preserve open space. The Phoenix Sonoran Preserve Master Plan calls for, “preserving an additional 20,000 acres of undisturbed desert within the city limits, and identified a variety of landforms including washes, bajada (slopes), and mountains for preservation. It also identified the need for additional public open space in Phoenix, established service levels, management guidelines and policies, and evaluated implementation strategies.” This master plan is a welcome and much-needed protection for precious desert open space in Phoenix including mountain preserves and connective wildlife corridors such as washes. But it doesn’t address the protection of urban open space, such as city parks, and furthermore, the nonmotorized connection between existing urban open spaces.

The Open Space Element of the Phoenix General Plan of 2002

Phoenix also has an Open Space Element to its General Plan of 2002. It puts forth some pretty fantastic ideas, such as the creation of Linear Open Space, which recommends taking advantage of canals, washes, drainage corridors and rivers to “contribute to a continuous nonmotorized trail system that serves as an alternative transportation system, provides a positive recreational experience and forms a neighborhood amenity.”

But recommendations and guidelines of the General Plan of 2002 haven’t necessarily yielded results on the ground today. Unfortunately, much of the intended Linear Open Space of Phoenix’s General Plan of 2002 has remained unimplemented and is still in the idea phase. Nan Ellin’s Canalscape, despite being completely in line with the General Update vision, has not gotten off the ground in a meaningful way. Slow progress is happening in making the canals a “continuous non motorized trail system”, with the “continuous” part in question. Parts of the canal system are being upgraded to become recreation corridors instead of just waterways, such as the creation of multi-use path on the Arizona Canal between Northern and Dunlap in Sunnyslope. But full recreational connectivity of canals is still a dream and many bicyclists, joggers and pedestrians encounter gritty, barren, and graffiti-riddled canal banks on their way to their destination.

What if?

A “what if” idea occurred to me regarding the true potential of the Linear Open Space plan, if there were community support and political will behind it. What if there was a nonmotorized connection between New River on the western edge of Greater Phoenix all the way to Tempe Town Lake? The 25 miles between these two destinations are actually connected by the Grand Canal. What if the Grand Canal became the greenway of Greater Phoenix, which connected cities, neighborhoods, and existing parks along the way? There are at least 10 existing parks that are within biking distance to the Grand Canal along this stretch including Steele Indian School Park, Madison Park, Pueblo Grande Museum, Tempe Town Lake Park, Tawa Park, Onme Park, Marivue Park, Holiday Park, Western Area Regional Park, Desert Mirage Park, and Grand Central Linear Park. What if all these parks were easily accessible via biking and walking from the Grand Canal? Besides connecting existing open spaces and neighborhoods, imagine the economic impact of a nonmotorized connection between businesses within biking distance of the Grand Canal.

What can YOU do to help realize an effective open space plan for Phoenix?

The Phoenix General Plan of 2002 is due for an update, RIGHT NOW. This is your chance to participate in the planning process and call for an open space plan that goes beyond toothless recommendations and guidelines and is more like the Portland Olmsted Parks Plan of 1903 with long-range, specific, and feasible open space planning. Tell the City of Phoenix that an open space plan that includes canals as nonmotorized recreation corridors that connect existing open spaces, neighborhoods and businesses is important to you. Here is how to participate in the General Plan update.

Photo Credit: Photo by Cygnusloop99 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

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