Five years ago, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon courageously announced his intention to rehabilitate a dilapidated 12-mile stretch between the Arizona Capitol and Arizona State University in Tempe.
He appropriately branded the area along Washington Street the Opportunity Corridor and pledged to replace the shuttered businesses, vacant lots and dilapidated trailer parks with new office, biomedical, industrial and developments.
Unfortunately, the recession stepped in before the idea could fully take root and today the Opportunity Corridor is still packed with opportunity, but short on actual redevelopment projects.
That is, unless you take into consideration one major development that occurred in the interim: light rail.
Construction of a light rail line through parts of Tempe, Mesa and Phoenix – including in the Opportunity Corridor — raises critical questions about its potential effect on land use and urban development. But more importantly, light rail presents an enormous (and to date un-tapped) opportunity in Arizona for resident and community leaders to take their eyes off the sprawl ball and focus, instead, on how to build viable development along the track in order to sustain ridership.
Though it’s been considered a dirty word here for decades, density has a place in the Valley. That place is along the light rail.
Like the spine is to the human body, light rail is the backbone of a thriving urban scene. Density is the fuel that feeds the core. To flourish, density needs zoning code changes and public policies that encourage a vertical mix of commercial and residential projects.
In short: light rail begs for compact, sustainable, transit-oriented development (TOD) that promotes walkability and increases dependence on public transportation.
Cultivating density along transportation routes is nothing new. The growth patterns are a throwback to the turn of the century, when neighborhoods, homes and businesses cropped up along streetcar lines. Post-World War II growth in Phoenix has seen this same pattern spring up along corridors where miles of freeway, parkways and loops were rolled out. What’s new, at least for metro Phoenix this time around, is a concerted effort by the public and private sector to make it happen along the light rail corridor.
Said Phoenix Community Alliance President Don Keuth, speaking last year at a meeting of Arizona State University’s Stardust Center for Affordable Homes and the Family and HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims: “Different rules are going to come out of Washington that will make doing the ‘same old’ impossible, and if we don’t have a plan to meet these new objectives, then we will be left behind.”
Summing up, he added, “We need to instill ‘spinal courage’ to do something different because we have to. If we don’t, this community is not going to reach its potential.”
The Arizona chapter of the Urban Land Institute, LISC Phoenix, ASU Stardust Center, and the City of Phoenix have been collaborating to aggressively pursue funding to promote transit oriented development along the Opportunity Corridor. The recent launch of the amazingly interactive website www.connectingphoenix.com demonstrates the true opportunities that light rail presents for the metro Phoenix region.
These efforts and the efforts of other community leaders have the potential to lay the groundwork for truly sustainable transit oriented development in Phoenix. It’s only a matter of time before we start benefiting from these efforts and enjoy our Phoenix urban lifestyle experience!