Ten Planning Lessons from Phoenix

Dusk view of Phoenix from South Mountain Park

Prior to 2019, the last time I had been in Phoenix was 1970. While I certainly expected the city to have changed in those nearly 50 years, I was unprepared for the largely unchecked growth and monumental differences that had taken place. Now that I have visited Phoenix multiple times in the past year, here are some thoughts on planning lessons that one can derive from this once implausible urban empire.

  • The changes that have occurred in the Phoenix area in the past half-century are simply mind-boggling. It wasn’t like I was expecting to see the Brady Bunch drive past on the Black Canyon Freeway, but the sheer extent of the changes made it feel like my previous visit some 50 years ago had just been some kind of a day dream.
  • Mountains, regional parks, a national forest, and Native American reservations that once marked the outer limits of urban development now have become isolated pockets of solitude surrounded by a sea of humanity.
  • Phoenix has the infrastructure bones to allow for higher density development, particularly in the city core, in Tempe, and in Scottsdale. More encouragement is needed throughout the metro area in other suburban downtowns such as, but not limited to Mesa, Glendale, Chandler, and Gilbert.
  • Sky Harbor International Airport is the most convenient and readily downtown-accessible major commercial airport in the country. Despite all the development that has occurred in the surrounding area, the city/region have been smart to maintain and continuously improve the airport in its current location, versus seeking a distant, undeveloped site in the desert.

Sky harbor Airport in relation to downtown Phoenix – Source: flight simulation.com

Source: t4america.org

  • Tempe Town Lake is an artificial water body constructed along the normally dry Salt River for recreation, aesthetic, and flood control purposes. Love it or hate it, the lake is certainly an eye-popping surprise to anyone who has not been to the Phoenix area since it was completed 1999.

Source: en.wikipedia.org

Source: tempe.gov

  • It’s nice to see some attempts at providing mass transit such as light rail; though greater financial, private-sector, and political support is needed to reduce the auto-centric dependency of the Phoenix metro area.
  • A recent report by streetsblog.org indicated that 36 percent of the Phoenix metro area is paved (roads, highways, parking lots), with ten percent (10%) of the total land area being just parking lots. This is an incredibly inefficient use of land in a place that needs to coexist more effectively with its often brutal, yet fragile environment.
  • Despite the boom that has occurred here over the past half-century, the untouched portions of the Sonoran Desert continue to serve as a peaceful counter-balance to the rat race unfolding amidst the human-built environment.
  • Though too often thought of as a vast, endless, wasteland to be exploited, the Sonoran Desert of one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems on Earth, worthy of more love, respect, and protection than it has received to date.

Map of the Sonoran Desert (dark yellow) – Source: desertmuseum.org

This entry was posted in air travel, airport planning, airports, Cars, cities, climate change, commerce, deserts, downtown, economic development, geography, health, history, humanity, infrastructure, land use, nature, placemaking, planning, pollution, skylines, spatial design, sprawl, tourism, transit, transportation, Travel, urban planning, zoning and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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