Posts Tagged ‘Phoenix’

Firefly Hot Spots: Phoenix Public Market Cafe Becomes a Downtown Phoenix Community Hub

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Phoenix Public Market Café opened in May this year. Aaron Chamberlin opened here to carry on what had started within these walls in 2009. The space served as a local grocery and wine bar. It was a community gathering spot and created a sense of place in the downtown Phoenix community. When they closed their doors in 2012 locals we’re devastated. Aaron had always loved this space. When he took it over his primary goal was to continue and expand on the awesomeness that had started here.


Who are the owners?

Photographed above is Aaron Chamberlin with Ben, a member of his pastry department. Aaron Chamberlin has been in the restaurant business for 24 years. His passion for cooking began as a boy scout. He deeply enjoyed outdoor cooking and working with an open fire. This is something he still integrates into his menus today. His first restaurant jobs were in Apache Junction when he was 14 years old. When he was 19 he moved to San Francisco to attend culinary school. After moving there and working for a French Chef, he changed his mind. He felt the best experience he could acquire would be hands on training in the industry, so he decided against school. He gained this experience by working in different restaurants in many major US cities. After moving back to Phoenix 8 years ago today he now owns two local Phoenix restaurants.

When asked what he likes about his work, he tells me it’s the people. The connections he has built with customers and with his staff are what running his businesses is all about. Between the two restaurants, Aaron employs 130 individuals. He loves to teach and watch young talent grow. Not only does he absolutely enjoy what he does but, at the end of the day, it is rewarding on an emotional level.


How did it start? 

After moving back to Phoenix, Aaron fell in love with the building that is now the Phoenix Public Market Cafe‘s home. At the time, the building was an architecture firm. Aaron tells me he remembers peeking into the space when he first moved back and envisioned a restaurant in these walls. When he was prepared to open the business, unfortunately, this particular space wasn’t right at the time. He set out for a different location within Phoenix.

Aaron searched with his business partner and brother, David Chamberlin, for three years to find the perfect place. They found their first restaurant’s home in the heart of Phoenix near Central and Camelback and named it St. Francis. The space was built by architect Harold Ekman in 1955 as his office, and went through a year-long transformation with local architect Wendell Burnette before opening in 2009. Burnette took a beautiful mid-century modern building and transformed it into a contemporary architectural masterpiece. St. Francis aims to give guests an experience consisting of quality ingredients and genuine hospitality. They work with their team and local vendors to provide only the best for their customers.

This past May the owners behind St. Francis in addition to Aaron’s wife Lee del Real and her sister Amy del Real opened the Phoenix Public Market Café, making the ownership team two brothers and two sisters. Family is a huge part of both St. Francis and the Phoenix Public Market Café. Aaron has always dreamed of owning a restaurant with an open-air farmers market in the parking lot. He tells me he works with 8 local farmers to provide the Phoenix Public Market Cafe with their produce, and that 90% of the retail items for sale in the café are directly from the open-air market.

Aaron has known since moving back from San Francisco that downtown Phoenix is a community he wants to be a part of. Aaron says he’s totally stoked to be down here and that he’s feels lucky to be part of the city’s resurgence. He makes it clear that he is honored to be part of downtown Phoenix with pioneers such as the Biancos, owners of Pizzeria Bianco and Pane Bianco and the Pools, owners of Matt’s Big Breakfast and Giant Coffee. His goal with the cafe is for it to become a special community spot, harkening back to the community gathering spot it used to be as a grocery and wine bar. He wants it to be a place where people can gather: whether it is for a business meeting, catching up with a friend, or enjoying a meal. Aaron’s vision is that the Phoenix Public Market Café can become a hub for the community again.

Why we love it!

The Market is a one-stop shop for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee and cocktails. It is open 7 days a week, and has a fantastic summer happy hour. In addition to all of this, they are dedicated to using the best local ingredients possible, the majority of which are coming directly from the farmers market located in their parking lot. Outside of the ingredients they use in their own kitchen, they are encouraging the community to shop local by offering a vast majority for their retail items from local vendors. They have created a sense of place in the downtown Phoenix community as well. Customers want to spend their time here. We know we do! The Public Market has been one of our regular stops for team meetings and other social engagements.


Photographed above are some of our favorite local items for sale in the market. From left to right and top to bottom. 1. Maya’s Farm flowers. 2. Phoenix Public Market tote bag. 3. Peanut Butter Americano. 4. Arizona Rose all purpose flour. 5. McClendon’s Select pure raw bee pollen. 6. Bianco Dinapoli Tomatoes.

Hours and Location

Phoenix Public Market Café is located at 14 E. Pierce Street. They are open 7 days a week from 7am to 10pm.

What else is in the neighborhood?

Two of Aaron’s favorite spots in the neighborhood are Nobuo at the Teeter House and The Breadfruit. Nobou specializes in Japanese style snacks and home-style dishes, while The Breadfruit’s focus is Jamaican style cuisine and a large menu of rum based cocktails. We approve of these places at Firefly Living as well!

With their dedication to all things local and the development of the downtown Phoenix community it is hard not to love the Phoenix Public Market Café. In the less than three months they have been open they have created a place locals want to be and a destination others want to travel to. Because Aaron makes family and people a consistent aspect of his business you immediately feel at home in the café. We stand by the Phoenix Public Market and the genuine sense of community they’re bringing to downtown Phoenix.

Firefly Hot Spots: Modern Manor Expands Their Mid-Century Dreamland to 6,000 Square Feet

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Modern Manor opened their store in Phoenix’s Melrose District in April of 2010 in an effort to provide the greater Phoenix community with affordable, yet high quality vintage furniture. When you walk into Modern Manor’s open, warehouse style space, it’s easy to see where their aesthetic lies. They specialize in midcentury modern, contemporary and industrial furniture but don’t shy away from selling anything they feel is cool.


Who are the owners?

Photographed above is Ryan Durkin. Ryan and Kylie Durkin are a husband and wife duo who own Modern Manor and simply love design. When I asked Ryan what he liked about his job, his answer was – everything! Design is part of their daily lives: whether it was designing the space itself or hand selecting each piece of furniture in their shop. They stand by the products they sell and at the end of the day they have fun doing so. Ryan tells me how he enjoys that they have become part of the local Phoenix neighborhood and appreciates the connections they have built with their customers.

How did it start? 

Modern Manor started with Ryan and Kylie wanting to decorate their condo. After searching for one of-a-kind-pieces for their home they fell in love with collecting furniture. The collecting continued after the completion of their home and they began to sell the items they didn’t have room for on Craigslist. After craigslist came Ebay, and after Ebay, came selling at a local antique mall called The Antique Trove. They were extremely successful there and after their business partner at the time encouraged them, they decided to open their own shop in 2010.

The name Modern Manor came from wanting to develop a brand that will age well. Modern is now. Ryan understands that while he feels midcentury furniture will always be popular in one way or another, it may not be their focus forever. Having the word modern in their name allows their business to grow and change as their style evolves. The word manor came from a side business Kylie had started before the days of Modern Manor called Mistle Toe Manor. The business was an online retail shop hosted on Etsy where she sold vintage Christmas goods. The words collided and Modern Manor was born.

They search for merchandise everywhere. Ryan and Kylie visit estate sales, auctions, craigslist, and at times will even meet with a customer who wants to sell something unique. While in the past Ryan admits always having a solid inventory and a well staged shop could be a challenge, they now have reached a place where expansion is the best possible option for their business. After the space directly next to Modern Manor closed it’s doors last month they felt it was the perfect time to expand. The space next door was owned by Doug and Heidi Abrahamson who had operated their very own midcentury furniture shop called Metro Retro since 2009. As I walked through Modern Manor I peaked in and could see the almost complete renovation, which is open for business now.Their once 4,200 square foot space will now be over 6,000 square feet.


Why we love it!

Not only is their style impeccable, but Modern Manor is also eco-friendly because they keep perfectly good furniture out of the landfill and encourage reuse. So many of us take these items to the dump rather than taking the time to donate or re-purpose them. According to the EPA, after recycling and composting, Americans discarded 164 million tons of waste in 2011. Over 50 percent of this waste was glass, plastic, textile and wood; the primary materials used in furniture. [Source: Environmental Protection Agency

Vintage furniture shops like Modern Manor give us the option to support our local community, and to reuse rather than purchasing something new.

What sets Modern Manor aside from the other shops on the Melrose Curve is the quality of their vintage goods. While these items may come at a higher cost, we stand by their hand-selected pieces for the home. When you shop with Modern Manor you are paying for time taken to find these unique pieces, their eye for style, minor repairs in addition to the fundamental quality of their merchandise.


Our Favorite Items

From left to right and top to bottom. 1. Newly Upholstered Vintage Sofa, $1650. 2. Vintage Italian Canister Set, $125. 3. Grizzly Bear Skull, $450. 4. Vintage Game, $65. 5. Industrial Blue Cabinet, $695 (sold). 6. Wrought Iron Lounge Chairs, $1650.

Hours and Location

Modern Manor is located right off of 7th Avenue at 716 W. Hazelwood St. right in the heart of The Melrose District. While on their website it says they are only open Thursday through Sunday from 11am to 6pm, they are open on Wednesdays in addition to these hours.

What else is in the neighborhood?

The Melrose District stretches from Campbell & Indian School along 7th Avenue and specializes in all things antique and vintage. I have purchased some of my favorite vintage garments, eclectic furniture pieces and collectables for my home in The Melrose District.

While you’re in the Melrose swing by Lux Central for an excellent handcrafted cup of coffee, visit Postino for delicious bruschetta and a quality glass of wine, or Pane Bianco for their well known and loved sandwiches and pizza.

With their location, merchandise, and community of loyal customers Modern Manor has created a place we want to be apart of. Knowing that each of the pieces in their shop have been hand selected by the owners themselves creates such personal and unique exchange. On top of all of this it’s an eco-friendly choice. Which, we are all about at Firefly Living. Stop on by and visit this wonderful shop. And stay tuned, with the new expansion underway they are planning a re-grand opening party sometime within the next couple months!

Sneak Peak:

Did you know artist Brandon Gore is opening up a pop-up location of his store, Hard Goods at Modern Manor? We’ll be featuring an interview with Brandon Gore on our blog soon, so stay tuned!

What Margaret Hance Park in Central Phoenix Could Become

Margaret Hance Park in Central Phoenix is about to get a major makeover. Built on top of the I-10 freeway, it was an innovative solution to beautifying the way the I-10 cut right through the heart of the city. The park opened in 1992, but only as the initial shell of what it was envisioned to be over time. The original master plan for the park from 1989 created by Howard Needles Tammen & Bergendoff included a carousel, amphitheater, grandstand, parking garage and shaded arcade, but these were never funded. This left the park as what we see it today, a largely desolate green space that few people know about or mention, and has become a haven for the homeless, which further drives the residents of the area not to use the amenity.

This was all set to change when the Margaret Hance Park Steering Committee was formed in 2011 to help recommend a redesign of the park to the city. What they recommended was that the City put out a call for a visionary design team that could turn the park around. Just last month, the City of Phoenix did just that. It hired a design team with both international and local talent to redesign the park, which is very exciting.

To be successful, the design team will need to make the park attractive to nearby locals as an every day destination to go and relax, enjoy time with friends and family, and unwind after a busy day at work. It will also need to be a place that people take visitors to. Right now, Margaret Hance Park is not on the list of places to which locals take their out-of-town friends and relatives. On the contrary, it’s more of an eye-sore to be avoided by visitors. But the redevelopment promises to turn that around and make Hance Park a place that Phoenicians are proud to show off and in turn will put the city on the world map as a great urban place to visit.

Laurelhurst Park in southeast Portland is a great example of the everyday local amenity that Hance Park could become. I frequent Laurelhurst maybe 3 to 5 times a week to unwind after work. As a nearby resident, it is only a 10 minute walk from my place, it’s a perfect escape to nature for me. The park, designed in the tradition of the Olmsteads in 1910, provides an idyllic setting complete with grassy meadows, a duck pond, winding tree-line paths, a dog park, picnic benches and a horse-shoe corral. It provides intimate spaces to commune with nature and open spaces to see and be seen. It makes you feel at home whether you are alone or with your partner, with friends or with your extended family, with your children or just out walking your dog. It has a little something for everyone. It’s very well maintained and because every part of the park is well used, it feels safe and encourages even more use, late into the evening. Plus the park is the perfect scale and size so that it’s not overwhelming for every day use. Parking isn’t too difficult, and it’s neighborhood location makes it easily accessible by nearby residents who are walking or biking. Hance Park is also a perfect medium size, which isn’t too overwhelming and is close to several downtown neighborhoods and can be accessed easily by Central Phoenicians on foot, bike or car.

Though Laurelhurst Park offers what is, in my opinion, a world-class park experience, it’s not really a magnet and destination park. It is more of a fantastic amenity for locals. Washington Park in northwest Portland, on the other hand, is a destination park, one that people take their out-of-town visitors to. Just recently, my friend Denny took me to the Rose Garden at Washington Park and I got to experience it first hand in all its glory. Washington Park includes the Children’s Museum, the Portland Japanese Garden, the International Rose Garden, the Oregon Zoo, the World Forestry Center Discovery Museum and Hoyt Arboretum. It is a huge and beautiful place that requires a full day commitment to enjoy any one of the various things it offers. Having spent a good 4 hours or so at the Rose Garden, I still only looked at and smelled only half of the amazing roses in the garden.

Washington Park is a world-class urban park that includes a variety of the city’s major arts, science and civic venues. Hance Park has the opportunity to be this kind of major city park as well, but on a smaller scale. It already includes the Japanese Friendship Garden and the Irish Cultural Center. And it’s key location between the Midtown Museum District and the Roosevelt Arts District makes it an ideal location for it to become Phoenix’s destination park. It’s proximity to the fantastic public amenity and architectural masterpiece – the Burton Barr Library designed by Will Bruder – makes the park extra special and conjures up images of library patrons lounging in the park, browsing through their latest finds on a shaded piece of grass.

Locals could take their out-of-town visitors to Hance Park, enjoy everything it has to offer, walk over to check out the latest exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum, and in the evening take in the galleries and eateries at the Roosevelt Arts District. By activating Hance Park, it is easy to visualize how the surrounding spaces of midtown and downtown would be activated as well. A good redevelopment of the park will not just end at the edge of the park but will reverberate throughout the entire city and help generate for Phoenix that heart and soul it is so in need of in its urban core.

Photo Credit: Laurelhurst Park in southeast Portland. Photo by the author. 

Changing Street Design in Phoenix to Accommodate Pedestrians

Did you know that Phoenix pedestrians account for just 2% of all collisions, but 42% of fatalities? That’s a lot of pedestrians being killed every year. In fact, it’s the fourth-highest number of overall pedestrians traffic deaths in the country. Ahead of Phoenix in pedestrian fatalities are New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, where there are a lot more pedestrians on the ground. [Source: Federal Highway Administration] Considering how few pedestrians are actually out and about in Phoenix, and that it has the fourth largest number of pedestrian deaths, it stands to reason that it’s extremely dangerous to walk in Phoenix!

But this is not news to the people who live there. Everyone knows it’s pretty darn near inconceivable to want to walk in Phoenix. The city is simply not designed to be pedestrian-friendly. “Our wide streets, heavy traffic, and good traffic flow often result in motorists driving too fast for conditions. The wide streets and typically higher speeds make it difficult for pedestrians to cross, often resulting in barriers to the community or pedestrians taking chances while crossing,” admits Traffic Engineering Supervisor Mike Cynecki.

The arterial roads in Phoenix are as wide as highways in other cities. It’s all about automobile traffic flow and safety in Phoenix. As a long time Central Phoenix resident and an avid cyclist, I found the following roads to be some of the worst offenders when it came to being dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians, but ever so accommodating towards automobiles:

1. Indian School Road

2. 7th Street

3. 7th Avenue

4. Thomas Rd.

5. Camelback Rd.

6. McDowell Rd.

Granted, these are all arterials and lots of cities have dangerous arterials for pedestrians and cyclists such as the ones I listed above. But considering Phoenix’s terrible track record in pedestrian safety, you would think there would be more of an effort to make the city, especially the central core, where the Light Rail travels, safer for pedestrians and cyclists. And it’s almost as if Phoenix has had to address this issue, because it got the dubious distinction of having the fourth highest pedestrian fatalities in the country and therefore has been encouraged by the Federal Highway Administration to come up with a plan to improve pedestrian safety.

But is Phoenix planning to change the design of its streets to be more pedestrian friendly in response to the FHA’s challenge? Thanks to an automobile-centric Streets and Transportation Department, no. The flow of automobile traffic seems to be too sacred for traffic engineers to sacrifice in the service of pedestrian safety. And so Phoenix is focusing on educating motorists and pedestrians, particularly school-age children, on pedestrian safety as a way to improve its standing. This is great, but it doesn’t change the fact that people still have to cross highway-like conditions, which is dangerous no matter how educated the pedestrians are.

But thankfully, not all hope is lost for pedestrians in Phoenix. Planners are getting involved in the design of streets, balancing Phoenix transportation engineers’ insistence on putting the highest priority on automobile traffic flow when it comes to street design. The federally-funded Reinvent Phoenix planning effort promises to incorporate multi-modal street design to encourage transit-oriented development around the Light Rail corridor, which means putting pedestrians, cyclists and transit users on the same level of importance as automobile traffic.

Another hopeful sign is that Phoenix adopted Complete Streets policy into its Infrastructure Strategic Plan, which is a sign that city officials are finally willing to change actual street design to be safer for all users. The city intends to, “provide safe, clean, efficient, sustainable, multi-modal surface transportation systems consistent with Complete Streets policies to support mobility needs of present and future residents, businesses, and visitors within the city of Phoenix.”

Let’s hope these two separate efforts reduce the number of pedestrian fatalities in Phoenix, despite the refusal of the Streets and Transportation Department to sacrifice good automobile traffic flow to make road conditions safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Photo Credit: Photo by matsubatsu from Tucson, AZ, via Wikimedia Commons

The Yard Converts an Old Automobile Dealership into a Third Place Hot Spot

Seventh Street in north midtown Phoenix is home to some very cool, and underappreciated midcentury modern buildings. There is one, between Camelback and Bethany Home Rd., that always struck me as iconic, because of an enormous a-frame structure out front. The structure used to sparked my imagination and made me wonder – what happened underneath that structure when it was first built, and how it could come back to life today?

It turns out the fate of that a-frame open structure was to become a fantastic gathering space for some adjoining local restaurants.

Culinary Dropout at The Yard-RSP Architects 2

Photo © RSP Architects

The recent redevelopment of this very cool midcentury modern building, which is a monument to the burgeoning car culture of the 50s, was spearheaded by developers WDP Partners in partnership with Fox Restaurant Concepts. The architect of the project was Michael Rumpletin, a Senior Associate and Design Studio director at Tempe-based RSP Architects. I spoke to Michael about how they were able to make an 60+ year old abandoned building into a popular restaurant hangout, which adds to the growing number of adaptive reuse projects of old buildings into third place hot spots in Phoenix.

The building was built in 1952 as a car dealership and underwent several additions over the next decade or so. It most recently was a Kawasaki motorcycle dealership and has remained empty for several years. WDP purchased the site, along with the lot next door, in order to redevelop it into restaurant and retail space. The developer partnered with Fox Restaurant Concepts, and converted 4,000 square feet into a new restaurant called Culinary Dropout. And 1800 square feet is dedicated to another restaurant, called Little Cleo’s. The remainder of the space remains unfinished, but is already committed. Michael couldn’t yet divulge who these other tenants will be.

Culinary Dropout at The Yard-RSP Architects 7

Photo © RSP Architects

Michael admitted that one of the first thoughts by the developers regarding the remarkable canopy to the side of the building was to make it into covered parking for the restaurants, as it was right next to the entrance and was visible from the street. But, he reminded them what makes places charming in older cities is that “sometimes parking isn’t right out front and the front door isn’t easy to find and the building is a little more eccentric.” And so the team made the canopy space into a people space instead of a parking lot. It serves as a shared amenity for patrons of the restaurants in The Yard. The space is fully equipped with bocce ball, bowling, shuttle pucks and corn hole to entertain waiting guests. This new courtyard, with lights hanging from its structure, also provides a soft and luminous frontage on Indian School for this third space.

Culinary Dropout at The Yard-RSP Architects 5

Photo © RSP Architects

Was it difficult to convert this midcentury building with various additions and remodels over the years into functioning, up to code, commercial spaces for today? Michael says that overall, the project went smoothly, as far as adaptive reuse projects go, which are typically more challenging than ground-up projects due to potential complications from existing conditions. The team benefitted from the City of Phoenix Adaptive Reuse Program and Michael reports that the city approval process was relatively easy to work with.

One of the architectural challenges the design team faced was opening the building up to the covered courtyard under the existing canopy. They had to blow out about 40% of the south bearing wall, creating a structural gap. They were able to avoid adding columns, which would have disrupted the view and the space, and instead worked with engineers to add more structural steel around the openings,  creating a moment frame to compensate for the lost shear strength of the wall. What they ended up with was a beautiful window wall that connects with the adjacent courtyard and lets lots of daylight into the Culinary Dropout restaurant space.

Culinary Dropout at The Yard-RSP Architects 4

Photo © RSP Architects

An exciting new project in Phoenix that Michael and his firm are working on is another adaptive reuse project the old Methodist church on Osborn and 7th Street. The project is called Old School O7 and will be partly a new restaurant called Taco Guild. Can’t wait to see the progress on this!

Photo Credit: All photos © RSP Architects. 

Why Phoenix Should Look to Jerome and Bisbee for Some Pointers in Great Desert Urbanism

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Jerome and Bisbee are hot tourist destinations for a lot of Phoenicians. Not only are they a little bit cooler in the summer, but they provide a beautiful combination of rustic desert charm with small town urban vibrancy.

Why are Jerome and Bisbee so attractive to Phoenicians? Here are six things that Jerome and Bisbee have that Phoenix doesn’t have but wants:

1.     Walkability

If you’ve ever been to Jerome and Bisbee, you know it’s better to find a parking spot and just walk around, instead of driving around. If you drive, you’re liable to miss all the little shops and restaurants along the way. Besides, the roads are narrow, traffic is slow, there is parallel parking, and it’s hilly, so it’s not a whole lot of fun to drive. It’s much more fun to walk. The urban form of these two places – a Main Street urban form of the 19th century, is much more conducive to walking than it is to driving. This is a refreshing change from living in Phoenix and is what makes Jerome and Bisbee such nice places to visit.

2.     A Commitment to Quality

You would figure that small towns like Jerome and Bisbee would not have very high quality lodging, food, and arts, at least compared to a big city like Phoenix. But this is not true. These places hit it out of the ballpark with the lodging, food and arts they offer. They compete with some of Phoenix’s finest spots, and in some cases supersede it. This, I believe, is because of the next item on the list.

3.     Pride

Jerome and Bisbee are such wonderful places because people who live there have tremendous pride in their town. Whether they have lived there for most their life, which is rare, or whether they are artists or entrepreneurs seeking a new life in a small town, people have automatic pride in the place where they just moved. The history of the place shines through and their distinctive small town personalities are very easy to love and take part in. Phoenix, on the other hand, is so transient and anonymous with chain stores and restaurants that it’s hard for newcomers to have much pride in it. This is evidenced by the fact that most people who move to Phoenix stay loyal to their hometown sports teams instead of becoming fans of Phoenix sports teams.

4.     High Value on Historic Preservation

Neither Jerome or Bisbee are a conglomeration of strip malls that were built in the last 10 to 50 years. Instead, they are a collection of historic buildings and streets that reflect the storied past of the place. The historic buildings in these towns are what define their intrinsic value and the people who live there are smart enough to recognize that. So it is rare to find a developer who is allowed or even wants to tear down a historic building to replace it with a parking lot. There is just way too much value in the historic buildings of these places, no matter what condition they are in, for them to be torn down.  In Phoenix, there is a lot of value placed on the new, which leads to historic buildings being torn down to the point where the city’s history is blotted out, and with it, any pride or charm or personality.

5.     Nearby Housing

Last time I visited Bisbee, I stayed with my friend Ana, who lives and works in Bisbee. After many times of getting a wonderful tourist experience of the place, I finally got a taste of what it’s like to live there. It turns out that what makes Bisbee so attractive as a tourist destination is the same thing that makes it attractive as a place to live. The housing is adjacent to vibrant commercial corridors, where many times it’s possible to walk over to the local coffee shop or grab lunch at a local restaurant from your house. Also, the tight urban form of both Jerome and Bisbee lends to the easy creation of community. Neighbors actually speak to each other because they are likely to run into each other at the store or walking on the street on their way somewhere. In Phoenix, because it is such a sprawling and car-oriented city, it is hard to run into anyone, unless you have a car accident.

6.     Nearby Amenities

Yes, there are a lot of boutique art galleries, thrift stores, and other funky retail stores in Jerome and Bisbee, making them fun destinations for tourists. But what about everyday amenities like groceries and daily sundries? Let’s face it, if you live in a place, you need more than just vinyl records and a local crafts store. You need a place to buy toilet paper. During my stay with her, Ana showed me a market within walking distance where she gets most of her groceries and sundries. And she showed me the weekend farmer’s market where she gets her vegetables for the week. Along with the fun places, there are real life amenities that make it possible for people to live in Jerome and Bisbee, making the towns more than just movie sets of the Old West and into places where people actually want to live today. In Phoenix, even where walkability and a tighter urban form are emerging, such as in Roosevelt Row, people still have to drive a few miles to get to a grocery store. There maybe some great restaurants and bars and vintage clothing shops within walking distance to the housing in Downtown Phoenix, but there are still no useful amenities like grocery stores and clinics woven into the fabric.

I hope that someday, people from Phoenix won’t have to visit Jerome and Bisbee to find good examples of desert urbanism. Perhaps Phoenix will be able to create the same kind of vibe that you get in those small towns in specific nodes within the city. For a change, the big sprawling giant of Arizona might want to look to the state’s small towns for some pointers on how to move forward.

Photo credit: Old Bisbee. Photo by the author. 

Can Phoenix Ever be Walkable? I don’t think so. Bike-able? Maybe.

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Walkability is when you can walk from your home to the clinic for a check up. Walkability is when you can walk from your home to the grocery store when you realize you’re out of cat food at 9 o’clock at night. Walkability is when you can walk to the theater from your home to catch a flick. Walkability is when you have tons of restaurants within walking distance to your home when you have a hankering to eat out.

Walkability is not when you drive to a location from your home, park, and then walk to various destinations. That is the closest that Greater Phoenix gets to being walkable, examples being the Scottsdale Waterfront, Old Scottsdale, Kierland Commons, Desert Ridge Mall or Downtown Gilbert.

I never experienced real walkability on an everyday basis until I moved to the Hawthorne neighborhood of Portland, Oregon – the kind of walkability that starts from your home and ends at your final destination, with no cars or parking lots as middlemen.

Why Phoenix will Never be a Walkable City:

When I lived in Phoenix, it never even occurred to me that I could conduct my life easily just on foot. I always thought that a car-free lifestyle had to include bicycling. And for good reason, because in Phoenix, it must include bicycling because you can’t realistically walk anywhere. Why is that?

  1. Amenities, entertainment, restaurants tend to be just too far to walk to from your home. The only place where this is in question is the Coronado neighborhood in Central Phoenix, where you can walk to the neighborhood corner store, the neighborhood park and various neighborhood restaurants. But in almost every other part of Phoenix, things are just too far away to reasonably walk to them on a daily basis.
  2. Even if something is within walking distance, say within a quarter mile, the experience of walking that quarter mile, anywhere in Phoenix, is normally so banal and desolate that you simply wouldn’t want to do it because it just feels far. There is nothing of interest for a pedestrian to see, smell, touch, or hear because the city is built to the scale of a car. Billboards instead of storefronts populate the streets in Phoenix for a reason, and that’s because the city is built for motorists not for pedestrians.

Why Phoenix CAN be a Bikeable City:

When I lived in Phoenix, I lived in midtown, near Indian School and 7th Avenue. I biked to the Light Rail, which connected me to Downtown Phoenix, Mesa and Tempe. I biked to my favorite coffee shop, Lux Coffebar, almost every day. I biked to the grocery store down the street from me. I biked to Downtown Phoenix for various community events. I biked to my doctor for check ups at St. Joseph’s. I biked to Steele Indian School Park and Encanto Park for recreation. I biked to lots of restaurants. I biked to yoga. I biked to the gym.

In other words, I was able to conduct my life on my bike, without having to use my car. Biking addresses the two things that make Phoenix completely unwalkable.

  1. While amenities, entertainment and restaurants are just a bit too far to walk from neighborhoods, they are just the right distance to bike to.
  2. Because biking is a faster mode of transportation than walking, the automobile-scale of Phoenix is less onerous on a bike. Plus, just the heightened difficulty of urban biking brings a certain thrill and interest to the experience, keeping it from getting boring.

Another thing I’ve come to appreciate about Phoenix now that I live in hilly Portland, is the flatness of the Valley. Phoenix is on such flat terrain, it’s perfect for biking. No huffing and puffing as you climb up hills and no bracing for your life as you hurdle down them.

What Phoenix can do to become a Bikeable City:

Phoenix is not a bike-able city. Yet.

Just because you can physically bike to places doesn’t mean most people want to. Cyclists still feel unwelcome and unsafe on the roads of Phoenix, where motorists are still king and aren’t used to sharing the road. Here are the things that are missing:

  1. Bike lanes that connect neighborhoods to popular destinations. –  According to the City of Phoenix website, “You’ll find more than 500 miles of dedicated on- and off-street bike lanes, routes and paths.” The problem is that these bike lanes, routes and paths don’t often connect in ways that are meaningful to people trying to get around town. What good does it do when there is a bike lane on Osborn east of 16th street, but then it disappears west of 16th Street? This kind of discontinuity stops people from wanting to ride their bikes and should be the first thing to be rectified if Phoenix is to become a bikeable city.
  2. Bike parking at those popular destinations. – Here in Portland, there are bicycle corrals, in some cases, covered bicycle corrals, on every major intersection on commercial corridors. This not only helps with where to put your bike, but it makes cyclists feel acknowledged, cared for and that they are an important part of the city.
  3. Bicyclists – More bicyclists on the roads would go a long way in raising awareness of bikes and revealing the contingent of people in Phoenix who want to bike. But it’s a chicken or the egg dilemma. Will better bicycle infrastructure attract more bicyclists? Or will more bicyclists attract better bicycle infrastructure?

A unique and hitherto untapped opportunity to make Phoenix realize its full bikeability potential involves the canals. The canals are great connectors, away from the hazards of automobile traffic and perfect for bikes. They are virtually linear parkways that connect the city and could very easily become bicycle corridors. They could serve both recreational biking as well as bike commuting. Canals not only connect different locations within cities, but they connect different cities to each other. The Grand Canal, for example, connects Phoenix with Tempe. And the Consolidated Canal connects Mesa with Chandler and Gilbert. So why not utilize these existing amenities as more than waterways and turn them into bikeways as well?

With some of these things in place – bike lanes, bike parking, and enhanced canal biking – Phoenix could become one of the most bike-able cities in the country and begin to shed it’s reputation for being a smoggy, automobile-addicted city.

Image Credit: Original artwork by Derek Welte of HalfmanHalfmachine.

An Interview with Kirby Hoyt of Edge Industries

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When Chris Wass, founding partner here at Firefly Living, asked me to interview Kirby Hoyt of Edge Industries, I was delighted. Kirby is someone I’m lucky enough to office with, he is a brilliant landscape designer and landscape urbanist and a huge asset to Phoenix.

Find out more in my video interview with Kirby below: