Could Central City South be Phoenix’s version of Chicago’s Humboldt Park?
Central City South’s Phoenix Revitalization Corporation is one of a handful of Valley neighborhoods helping to reinvent PHX. It’s in the process of cleaning up some of its blight and polishing some respect for the culturally diverse and historical community. At least this is what I gleaned from going on two tours there. The neighborhood, between 16th Street and 19th Avenue, lies immediately below downtown Phoenix and extends south to the Maricopa Freeway (The 10). The PRC, earnest in its seeking economic development desires– and hoping not to get swallowed by high-rise developers when the economy regains energy– seems at a loss for a simple, cost-effective, overarching strategy.
By the Numbers
AEC industry participants such as city planner Joshua Bednarek and Leslie Lindo and Ben Montclair of Ikoloji Sustainability Collaborative were in attendance as the PRC gave them the numbers. Central City South has
- 12,000 residents, most of whom have lived there for generations
- Unemployment of 12%
- Car ownership of 20%
- 66% of Phoenix’s public housing
- average education levels no higher than the ninth-grade and income levels of $21,000.
Despite the lack of common amenities such as cafes, pharmacies, and even ice cream shops, many of CCS’s residents have lived there for generations. PRC is giving them good reason: it’s provided several manicured public parks– nine of which exemplify urban agriculture practices; a public swimming pool; and the Maricopa Skill Center, a successful vocational school. Here’s an abbreviated list of places discussed on the PRC’s biannual tour for the public:
- American Legion Post #41 (for Hispanic WWII veterans not allowed to participate in traditional Legion posts)
- Silvestre Herrera Elementary School (named after the Mexican-American military hero)
- Chicanos por La Causa
- Carver Museum within a lovely new Phoenix Public Library branch
- the Darrell Duppa House.
Englishman Phillip “Lord” Darrell Duppa, built the house in 1870 and supposedly gave Phoenix and Tempe their names. The first house in the area, it has been partially restored, though driving past it, even with darkly tinted windows, raises the question of what was restored. This was not one of the aesthetic highlights of the trip. It did, however, bring to light some of the historical value of this community of 13 barrios.
Revitalization can’t be a city mandate. That’s called eminent domain (which comes up in discussions about Mesa). It must include input from the citizens. In the case of CCS, that was clearly shown as we toured the community by van. We saw neighbors outside working on their lawns. Very little litter. New solar panels blanketing sunshades over an elementary school’s playground. Then came the wrap on the bus before Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church offering free pregnancy tests. (I’ll skip further comment on that.)
There were vacant lots, sure, but several new two-story single-family residences also grew on streets with some rather neglected houses. In fact, there are currently 298 low-income housing units (of which 187 are occupied). Residences strictly kept “affordable” number in the thousands. Combined with newly constructed senior housing and community centers visible through the neighborhood, we can see HUD’s Hope VI, a national program to “eradicate severely distressed public housing”, at work.
Meanwhile, the PRC will continue to work on the golden threads for the community’s revitalization: beauty, fostering neighborly connections, safety, pride, recreation, health, community services, individual development, economic development, and better housing.
The light rail may wind its way down to CCS by 2018. Now that makes me think:
Will that somehow entice downtown workers who currently visit the community for lunch at Lolo’s or Pete’s Fish & Chips to return after work? Would it help to place banners or other signage at the community’s entrances, fostering awareness of its cultural diversity and history? That simple measure might beckon people there if there’s something to do, something like enjoy cultural holiday celebrations and festivals, vendors or actual stores selling crafts, foods, clothing, etc.
On the other hand, perhaps the citizens feel their efforts are wasted. Take those vibrant, artful highway overpasses on the 10. Neighborhoods wanted to sparkle them up after decades of traffic and pedestrian dirt. The state government declined to do so. The denizens then offered to do it themselves. Again the government refused. Catch 22 anyone?
I’m hoping the vacant lots don’t become an impetus for gentrification and that CCS residents and the PRC can help prevent a likely tide of forthcoming downtown developer encroachment. Perhaps the city will include CCS’s cultural diversity into its Reinvent PHX, or #Phoeinvention, as I call it. As Jeff Speck said in his presentation to the AIA in April: “You can’t fake a Little Italy or Chinatown. If you have these legitimate cultural areas, embrace them.”