South Central Light Rail Changing The Narrative of South Phoenix
Have you ever heard of LadderStep, a transportation oriented community, family first TOD, complete streets, place based strategies, equitable development, corridors of choice and opportunity, and resilient infrastructure? Those of us who live and work in South Phoenix (SoPho) will need to learn an entire new vocabulary in order to understand more about how Light Rail will impact our neighborhoods and quality of life now and into the future.
As many of you already know the proposed five mile project will connect with the current light rail in Downtown Phoenix and will run south to Baseline Rd. In January of this year the Phoenix City Council voted to approve an acceleration of the $731 million transportation infrastructure investment in light rail coming down south Central Avenue. With the acceleration, the South Central Extension will be in operation by 2023. This advancement will be paid by the Transportation 2050 transportation plan that was approved by voters in August of 2015 (Prop 104).
This means that construction could begin in our neighborhoods as early as 2019. I own a small business on Central Avenue and Saint Catherine’s Avenue and I know its going to be difficult once construction begins. I also think about our families who are totally transit dependent and need bus services to get to and from work, school, the grocery store or visiting family. We will have big challenges ahead of us and the biggest challenge will be to survive the four to five year window of construction.
So how do we ensure SoPho’s South Central businesses and neighborhoods don’t disappear and can’t benefit from the completed project? I’m not sure what all the answer are but that’s why conversations about small-business programs/assistance, strengthening our businesses and neighborhood leadership and assembling in way that is organized and communicates clearly and effectively with our elected officials, Valley Metro, City of Phoenix, Department of Transportation and future contractors.
$731 million dollars for light rail is a big number but we need to make sure that investments in our community services, sidewalks, public spaces, shade, connectivity, and workforce development programs begin now. Just imagine the power of teaching our high school & south mountain community college students or those who are under-employed the skills that are needed to be employable by the contractors who receive the contracts to build the light rail?
Public and private investment funds are beginning to form as we speak. The light rail investment and these funds are an opportunity to build on the dreams of generations of families and businesses who have already provided a strong vision for our community and who will be here for generations to come. Many of us have are born and raised here and our businesses are deeply rooted and have invested in SoPho for decades. We have survived the ups and downs of the economy and policy’s like SB1070, we have sacrificed and dedicated ourselves to make our community a better place where we are raising our families and are supporting the community. We need resources to implement existing plans and not just more studies. The South Central Corridor has been studied to death and we are now ready for implementation.
The City of Phoenix, in partnership with federal transportation officials and Valley Metro, hosted a group of about 70 plus stakeholders; including planners, residents, business and nonprofit leaders, developers, and elected officials who discussed ideas about gentrification, displacement and revitalization in a meeting held in July. This daylong workshop was focused on Equitable Transit Oriented Development, or eTOD, for the South Central light rail extension. eTOD an idea of a comprehensive development that will benefit all residents regardless of income levels. It’s also an opportunity to address racial and environmental justice issues and to enhance opportunities for small business owners through authentic community engagement.
This workshop was great but there was not enough of our business owners, institutional leaders or residents in attendance. We need more of these type of workshops right here in our own neighborhoods that will provide our community members the opportunity to voice their solutions, hopes and concerns about the South Central Extension. I’ll say it over and over again… We all need to be part of this process to ensure this major public investment creates improvements beyond transportation and prevents us from experiencing the hardships and pains that can be avoided. The workshops can come but we need to show up.
We have to remember that we are not the first lower income community to receive this type of investment. There is case study after case study of transportation infrastructure projects hurting neighborhoods nationwide and some that were completely demolished. We can just look down the street to see what happen to businesses both big and small on Camelback Rd and North Central Avenue, it sometimes takes decades to recover from these projects. The difference between the uptown area and SoPho are night and day. Residents who live at or below the poverty level in SoPho, Between the 7’s is more than twice that of the Maricopa County average, the minority population is more than two times higher, and the percentage of households without a car are three times higher, according to Valley Metro.
SoPho’s development is significant to our city and many of us have waited a long time to receive an equitable investment of this scale in our community. No longer will this area be neglected! This is our time to work with South Central Avenue planners and funders to ensure existing residents and business, not just future ones who come to benefit from light rail, enjoy economic opportunities that will come from this transportation investment. I truly believe this can and will be done in a way that will preserve the social and cultural fiber of our community but it will take a village…all of us working together to make SoPho one of the most vibrant communities in Phoenix.
If you would like to be involved in the early community convening’s please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.