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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Let Everyone Know the Southside is a Great Place

Chilis  produce farmers market
Most people in Phoenix that know of the Farm at South Mountain see as a unique place. When quizzed why that is, I get answers that for the most part can be reduced to trees, grass and gardens. This is also true of folks who are visiting us from other places in Arizona, from other states and even from other countries. My guess is that most people think that we live in a desert and that the most likely thing you might see is cacti and sand. Sometimes I point out that in this village, a visitor also has the opportunity of touring the riparian desert habitat at the Rio Salado Restoration area and the Sonoran Desert habitat at South Mountain Park–all on the same day. Then they ask the question, what is The Farm?  And I say, it’s what this whole area looked like not that many years ago.

I might mention that this area has had irrigation canals for centuries. I might talk about how the person that planted the pecan grove was taking advantage of that new irrigation project, the Salt River Project, prior to WWII.  I might say that we still benefit from those early water rights and that is why we can keep this place so green. We survive because we are part of a desert oasis fed by the melting of a distant snow pack feeding little lakes that then feed canals and that finally feed my trees and turf.

A few weeks ago I attended a meeting of the South Mountain Village Planning Committee. At this meeting there was a presentation made by staff about the new Phoenix General Plan. The title of the new General Plan is “A Blueprint for a Connected Oasis.” At this particular meeting the five core values (or as the Leadership Committee for the plan likes to call them: the five Big Ideas) were being discussed in reference to how they might apply to the South Mountain Village. The one that caught my interest was the one titled “Celebrate our Diverse Communities and Neighborhoods”.  Generally this Core Value has to do with setting guiding principles for every neighborhood to ensure that all neighborhoods are safe, clean, healthy, diverse and connected; “preserve and protect our historic neighborhoods, structures and places;” “expand the presence of arts and culture;” and, finally, “strengthen the unique character and identity of each village.”

The committee did not immediately have a response. So, the village planner prompted the committee with some questions: what are some of your unique places? What are some of your unique neighborhoods? What are some places that demonstrate art and culture in the village? It was a struggle, but the places–unique and wonderful–began to be mentioned one by one: South Mountain Park, the Rio Salado Restoration Area, the Library at South Mountain Community College and more. The puzzling thing for me was that most of these committee members, if they were introducing this area to a brother-in-law visiting from Cleveland, could have gone on for an hour describing what they love about the Southside that you cannot find anywhere else, especially Cleveland.

This General Plan is not going to be the exclusive playground of attorneys, investors, developers and planners. This is a plan for the people that live and work and learn and play in our unique neighborhoods and villages. What we have found on the PlanPhx Leadership committee is that the folks that know most about their neighborhoods are the people that live there:  all ages, all levels of education, all income levels, all cultures and skin tones. This may come as a surprise, but the individuals with the PhDs in Southside are Southsiders.  When you can, take the time to school the rest of the city and the world on just what a great place it is we call home. In planning this city, that’s your job.





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