The city best known for sprawl is also combating another problem: downtown vacant lots. In Phoenix, Arizona conventional methods of attracting developers just aren’t cutting it with little financing to support any major projects. In response, a grassroots, tactical urbanism approach has emerged among citizen groups redefining urban planning. The Roosevelt Row CDC is exploring sustainable, temporary uses for empty lots that span the blocks north of downtown.
These temporary adaptive reuse initiatives such as mobile pocket parks, lots for food trucks, and fields of flowers, have become nexuses for community, providing important places for social interaction while enhancing the pedestrian environment. When traditional urban design, planning, and landscape approaches are not appropriate, these experiments in adaptive reuse can help to create activated urban spaces.
On a Saturday in late June 2012, volunteers gathered to harvest sunflowers from a former vacant lot next to Bioscience High School downtown. Known as the Valley of the Sunflowers, the field provides visual relief among other dust-filled lots and supplies materials for a biofuel project at the high school. Finishing its second and final growing season, the project has successfully connected community members and students, servicing the neighborhood in more ways than just supplanting one of downtown’s dust bowls.
Up the street, a group just finished the installation of an ASU student sculpture. The structure is just one of many removable components (many of which were donated) for a temporary park, the result of a collaborative effort called The Lot: What Should Go Here?. This initiative in temporary landscape design also encourages Phoenicians to imagine a downtown with opportunities filling every parcel. Once the landowner decides to build, most of the park can be transferred to a different vacant space.
While tactical urbanism techniques are sometimes unsanctioned by municipalities, the City of Phoenix is especially supportive of these initiatives to activate the vacant spaces between permanent businesses. Mayor Stanton and the city’s sustainability adviser have used such initiatives for further branding of the city as an incubator for sustainable strategies.
Will this sanctioned support detract from the bottom-up approach of vacant lot relief, especially for the many city-owned vacant properties?
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