Don’t Let Developers Steal Our Identity
Last month it was suggested to me by several friends that I might have been exaggerating when suggesting that the South Mountain Village was being abused by developers. Actually, what I was trying to express was that our village was already under attack. Our property values are low, and because it is not in any developer’s interest to support our hard-won positive reputation, we are facing the same growth issues we faced in the early 1990s. Back then we had a great community, great transportation, easy access to the state’s largest job markets; minutes from Downtown Phoenix, Downtown Tempe and Sky Harbor Airport; the world’s largest municipal park and more flatland parks (one of them boasting the largest urban lake in the Valley) than any other village in Phoenix. And yet developers only wanted to build substandard housing developments and commercial or industrial projects in this area.
The few higher-standard builders that were already here were convinced to stay and other developers were enticed to take a risk because the City of Phoenix was willing give them an incentive to cross the river. Once developers started having success in this area, they no longer needed to be bribed to build. But, as a community we were incentivizing developers to build in some of our most valuable areas. Perhaps this was in reality the best we could do to get the desired results. And we got them. The village and the city did their best to plan for growth– at least along Baseline Road. They created the Baseline Corridor Master Plan. In hindsight, we gave up the flower farms, the citrus orchards, some the best views of South Mountain, horse trails and any semblance of rural ambience for a grocery store and other retail plazas. At the time this might have been seen as “give and take” as opposed to ineffectual planning.
But, the real mistake was that we ignored the rest of the village in the same way developers had ignored the entire village in the past. We never created a comprehensive plan for Central, Broadway or Southern. At the time I don’t think we thought we really had an effective mechanism or the resources to do that. In fact it was easy to say “let’s put commercial along Broadway, apartments along West Southern and Roeser, and use East Southern as border between the vaulted Baseline Corridor and the much maligned Broadway Road area.” Central was ignored in favor of the retail at 24th Street and 19th Avenue. This kind of planning seems absurd in light of modern urban design, but then it was just what considered normal.
So it should come as no shock that we are reliving history here in the Southside after this terrible recession and housing bust. The vultures are circling once again. For example, one of our most valued areas, the Farm District between 24th Street and 40th Street, is now under attack by big box commercial developers. They have come into our village with letters from builders telling us all the reason why they can’t build homes north of Southern. Now there’s a surprise, as if we haven’t heard all that before. The message is that our community is only fit for big box commercial. They swear they would never try to build even the tiniest big box south of Southern. This pledge misses the whole point that in moder urban design, a street should never be used as a border. The north side Southern should be seen as a transition area and should be–as it is already zoned–residential, perhaps not farm-sized lots, but residential.
The other message sent by at least one developer is sadder still. With the packet of letters from the housing naysayers was a letter from the Roosevelt School District touting this developer’s generosity from the last time they built big boxes in this area. I suppose the message here is that our kids in that neighborhood are just so cute that they deserve a great playground. But when they grow up, unlike kids in other districts who might aspire to be doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists and astronauts, our kids can grow up and work in that nice warehouse just down the block.
For some retail shopping and a traffic jam, we lost our flowers, our orchards and our rural identity and our once-treasured Baseline Road. Let’s not lose our Farm District and the children who live in it and around it for some low paying jobs, playground equipment and another traffic jam.