In a city infamous for auto-oriented development, muddled identity, and isolated suburbs, one neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona has epitomized what it means to spark community revitalization. Lower Grand Avenue is a mile-long corridor adjacent to the city’s downtown. Like most of the urban core, the neighborhood has a long history of disinvestment; however, in the past decade, things have begun to turn around. What once was a corridor of industrial buildings is now an assortment of unique art galleries, retail spaces, and cafes. Several adaptive reuse projects have revitalized unused spaces and the neighborhood’s street festival is an annual city highlight.
Lower Grand Avenue has become an illustration of green infrastructure and community-oriented public space. In 2011, the City of Phoenix was chosen as one of five U.S. capitals to receive federal design assistance through Greening America’s Capitals. This U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program helps state capitals create neighborhood visions using environmentally-friendly designs. The purpose is not solely to benefit local communities; but also to promote sustainable designs throughout the cities’ respective states and to the millions who visit U.S. capital cities every year.
The new EPA program is rather atypical for federal aid. Instead of providing direct funding based on formulas, the EPA enlists experts in landscape architecture and urban planning to help the city create a vision based on smart growth principles and green design. The final deliverables are intended to engage city staff and community leaders in the on-going planning process and move sustainability forward in the community.
The Greening Lower Grand Avenue visioning process began with a site walk to identify key opportunities and was followed by a three-day community workshop facilitated by design experts. Key stakeholders such as local residents and members of the Grand Avenue Merchants Association, participated in the workshop, which produced remarkable ideas for an environmentally, socially, and economically resilient district. Less than a year after the vision was completed, the implementation phase began. Key green infrastructure features include:
- Rain gardens and bioswales to capture stormwater;
- Green painted bike lanes to reduce ambient temperatures; and
- Shade trees to enhance the pedestrian experience.
The final vision also includes future steps to strengthen the Avenue’s presence, such as improved building façades, public art, and new business growth.
Has your community participated in any visioning activities? What are other ways design professionals and residents can interact to produce community-oriented, sustainable spaces?
Credits: Images by Lynn Coppedge. Data linked to sources.