Category Archives: art

Phoenix’s Grand Ave. Under Reincarnation

Take a photo tour along Lower Grand

Take a photo tour along Lower Grand


Saturday’s Second Annual Reincarnation Tour was just one recent Phoenix neighborhood-oriented event to demonstrate grass roots and partially goverment-funded revitalization efforts. The walking/biking tour focused on the Lower Grand Avenue corridor and featured several historic buildings adapted to a variety of new uses up to Fillmore Street.

Planner Leslie Dornfeld of PLAN-et and landscape architect Jim Coffman of Coffman Studio spoke about harnessing the Greening America’s Capitals program, a collaboration between the EPA, HUD, and DOT, through which Phoenix acquired some funds for the Lower Grand Ave. area in 2011. Boston, Indianapolis, and Washington, D.C., have also benefited from this program.

“First and Third Fridays are big and they’re sort of what make this place go,” Dornfeld said to a crowd of AEC industry people at Bragg’s Pie Factory. That’s thanks to the Grand Avenue Merchants Association (GAMA).



Cibo Urban Pizzeria, a 1913 bungalow restored by Robert Graham of Motley Design Group, contains an ocean of well preserved– and UNPAINTED– wood and many public and semi-private seating areas in- and outdoors

It Started with the People

“In 1998, a federally funded Weed and Seed project, which aimed to reduce violent crime by ‘weeding’ out offenders and ‘seeding’ community services, kick-started a partnership between city, federal, and state agencies, as well as the local faith community, residents, businesses, and nonprofits,” the Greening America’s capitals site reports. “This partnership has led to a 40 percent reduction in violent crime over the last 10 years.”

The city brought Dornfeld on to help plan for a more sustainable streetscape, making the corridor more ped- and bike-friendly and eco-kind. She incorporated charrettes, much like the City of Phoenix Planning and Development department is doing in its MyPlanPhx activities, right there are Bragg’s, the starting point for the Reincarnation Tour as well. In these charrettes Dornfeld asked the public’s opinions that led to or will lead to the following revitalization methods:

  • improved street lighting
  • benches and rubbish bins
  • better parking (which Dornfield suggests accomplishing by painting diagonal parking stripes rather than adding new lanes, such as this BloomingRock blog post mentions)
  • improved infrastructure for better capture stormwater runoff
  • better wayfinding methods.

Dornfield said her research indicated bike paths optimize at six to eight feet. Bike aficionados like those at The Rusty Spoke, who fixed my cruiser for free, prefer 10. After all, two riders ought to be able to go tandem, no?

It’s a Biking Thing

Biking was a big part of the charrettes. That’s why Dornfeld and partner Jim Coffman, a landscape architect and principal of Coffman studio, have suggested something simple as a bucket of paint. Painting bike lanes, it appears, not only clearly delineates the spaces but also reduces the urban heat island effect.

So What?

Revitalizing this corridor increases economic development and makes the place safer, but it also keeps Phoenix’s history alive. Three other historical districts are nearby, and, like this, contain architecture dating back to a century ago. Two buildings along Grand are part of the National Register of Historic Places and the Phoenix Historic Property Register; five more are eligible for such listings. Helping the neighborhood preservation and improvements would demonstrate exactly what the City of Phoenix says about wanting to build character around the city. Supporting GAMA and the corridor’s development helps manifest the very Phoeinvention the city claims it wants.

(Reincarnation Tour volunteers have kept the tour alive for your viewing. The Greening America’s Capitals report is also available.)

Other Plans Invigorate Historical Charm

Tour participants enjoyed lunch at the new urban pizzeria Cibo, a nearly century-old bungalow adapted to a restaurant with several semi-private and outdoor spaces. Meanwhile Motley Design Group‘s Robert Graham gave an informal presentation of his adaptation of the house. He discussed the veritable ocean of unpainted wood his firm was able to salvage. He also discussed by the Grand Avenue Rail project, a proposal to bring a trolley along Grand and into downtown.

Personally, I hope there’s an economically feasible way to run it. I hope Dornfeld and Coffman can materialize their plans more fully. Both seem in line with the city’s claims to want to reinvent itself efforts. They would bring GAMA’s efforts to fruition. If done well– and without governmental pretzel logic– it seems a doozy of an economic boon to the city and the neighborhood.

What are your thoughts on the Lower Grand Avenue corridor? Have you visited the Crescent Ballroom to see the Cold War Kids, participated in PedalCraft, or visited friends at The Lofts at Fillmore?


Phoenix Seeks a Make-Over, or a ‘Phoeinvention’


Talk about how to reinvent PHX has filled my first five weeks back in the US and new to the Valley. I’ve taken to calling it Phoeinvention.

See, Phoenix is the country’s sixth largest city by population. Despite celebrating its centennial last year, it seems to lack a definable image. Under discussion at most of the architecture-related meetings I’ve attended over the last month is the city’s desire to reinvent itself. But how does a city– especially a major one– go about doing that?

The Runner-Up

I asked my roommate how he sees the Valley. He’s lived here for 15 years and his interest in space design/AEC industry is low as a desert’s humidity reading.


Detail of ASU's Gammage Center in Tempe, a Frank Lloyd Wright design

Detail of ASU’s Gammage Center in Tempe, a Frank Lloyd Wright design


“I’d say it’s got a complex. It seems to want to be LA or Seattle. Why play second fiddle to something that’s already been done?” he responded. His Seattle comment partially stemmed from recent hubbub about a proposed architectural landmark known as The Pin. The neo-futuristic landmark, which is also known as the Honey Dipper, would ostensibly foster economic development, but architects and lay people are more concerned about not trying to mimic Seattle Space Needle.

“North American cities have not bothered to put this sort of architectural typology up for decades,” Guy Horton wrote in this The Atlantic Cities piece. Indeed. To that I say let China continue to chase all architectural superlatives we cared about a century or so ago. What kind of economic development will come from the few tourists who travel anywhere to see the world’s biggest horizonal skyscraper. (That’s what I thought when writing about Steve Holl’s Vanke Center in Shenzhen, China, anyway.)

Phoenix doesn’t seem to have any desire to steal renown from other cities. And it knows it must do more than persuade more MLB teams to come here for Spring training. Therefore, something bigger must needs doin’. That’s why people are talking about reinvention, revitalization, reincarnation…



One of the buildings along the Reincarnation Tour


Thrown in the Mix

Personally I can’t decide what the image of Phoenix is either. It never concerned me when living in Chicago or Florida or when living in China, India, or Peru. Now that I live here and am trying to land a job within AEC, it’s fun to join the mix and watch the reinvention– or reincarnation or whatever– from the inside.

I’ll try to keep up Friday posts therefore, to share the second rise of Phoenix. They’ll cover how impoverished areas like Central City South are doing it themselves, the success of the Reincarnation Tour through the Lower Grand Avenue corridor, a long-awaited plan to preserve Frank Lloyd Wright’s local legacy, and some AIA meetings that bring together empassioned city planners and young AECers. From art to urban agriculture, and from century-old architecture to sustainable infrastructure, my part in the conversation about how best to reinvent PHX has just started.      

When sharing this via Twitter or even Facebook please use hashtag #phoeinvention. 

Homesick? Battle It with These Tips


Four years of life abroad are drawing to a close at this post’s writing. The weight is heady. These past nine months have been tougher than all the rest of the time in one particular way: the almost daily presence of homesickness. It had never affected me before. Not for a moment. It started two weeks after I arrived here in Piura, Peru.


You might remember the post I wrote for long-term travelers about salving the woes of their lot. The bandages mentioned there, though, can’t cure homesickness, which A ShelterOffshore calls “expat flu”. Homesickness, the post says, often leads to physical ailments, “a result of the body collapsing after the stresses, strains, excitements and highs of” moving abroad. Well, it literally did just so in June when a flu wracked my body for a month. A colleague, a five-month veteran of life abroad, now goes through the same thing.

To help others stave the depths to which my “flu” has plummeted my spirit, I have compiled some tips a little more holistic than bandages.


New friends helps curb the pain of homesickness


1) Establish a routine. It’s up to you to determine if this is an all-day thing, a once-daily practice, or even a weekly schedule of activities. The routine of having a long-term, stable, full-time job gave such happiness when I arrived here, since I’d craved that stability for years, helped to disguise my growing need for that same stability– in my own country. To combat that pain growing in my heart, I devised weekend plans. During good times they fly out the windows. During needy times, when the pain of homesickness brings me near to tears, they comfort.


2) Decorate your residence like home. For me that entails decorating with saris, art collected from my journeys, a wall calendar, a map of Mumbai, too many books to be sensible, and lamps and candles to create variable lighting schemes.


3) Get out. No, not in a horrifying Amityville way…With friends. Agreeing to attend a colleague’s birthday gathering a month after I arrived led to numerous more nights out, cherished memories, and friendships that saved me in times of non-homesickness related times. Read what Rachel Wilkerson suggests on her blog.


Walking beside strutting peacocks has been a high moment of my time in Piura


4) Get Away. My post on bandages on the trials of the long-term traveler suggests taking a day trip or more. That deserves reiteration. I look back and wish I’d done it in China. During my time in Piura I’ve taken a few trips. Next week brings the start of more, a trip to the beach resort town of Punta Sal, then a trip to visit friends and the arts scene of Lima. These approaching trips have caused me to forget about counting the number of days until my return to the US. Instead I linger in thoughts of seeing friends, hanging out in my favorite cafes, and showing my beached whale of a bikinied self on a beach that Hemingway once fished near.


5) Watch Some Home. Previously, my computer provided requisite visual entertainment via Netflix, downloaded movies, and DVDs. When I began watching local cable on the TV in my room, relaxation washed over me like a warm blanket.


Take a trip for a day or longer

6) Don’t Lose Site of the Present. What are you doing so far from home? Why did you leave? This isn’t a request to bash your country but an opportunity to look at the big picture. When able to quell my homesickness the littlest things fills me with delight. The way a restaurant’s sign reveals meaningful cultural iconography. The Christmas lights the flash and blink on windows throughout the neighborhood. The ability to speak the Spanish learned so many years ago in a hope to one day be able to do it abroad.


I wish you well with overcoming your homesickness. If you have tips that I haven’t included here, please let me know by replying to this post. Most of all I hope you do not let being homesick force you to abandon your dream of life abroad. Can you imagine how you’ll feel if you give in to it and leave before it’s your time?