After two years in Phoenix, Arizona I am moving to the very antithesis of the valley’s urbanity, climate, and culture: The Netherlands. Phoenix, a place known for heat and sprawl, also houses a fairly transient population. As a student, I played my part; as an urban planner I explored the many homogeneous, place-less corners and cores of the metroplex; however, while people and students will come and go, a city does not have to completely lack identity. The current mayor aims to brand Phoenix under the large umbrella of sustainability, but what could a more historically-centered approach to branding do for the city?
9 time zones away, Amsterdam exists as a water-centric city. There, canals are second streets where people live, goods are transported, even parades occasionally process; they are a life-force. While the very name “Amsterdam” alludes to a deep history with water, the Valley of the Sun actually saw canals centuries before the dam was laid on the Amstel. The Hohokam civilization living in The Valley, before colonization, utilized a vast canal system for agricultural purposes. Such historical significance should be highlighted rather than fenced-off. Currently, many canals do sport walking and biking trails but few are accessed on a daily basis.
Phoenix will never see houseboats on canals, but it can utilize the vivacity that comes from the water flowing through the metroplex. Highlighting historical growth patterns can help to develop landscape design that supports life and gives a story to place.
A few years ago, the idea of Canal-oriented development as part of urban design was explored through a program called Canalscape. Although many of those proposals were lost with the economic downturn, a new energy stirring in Phoenix, of people wanting to create sense of place should revisit these ideas. In a city that needs a stronger identity, historical landforms are a good place to start for sustainable development.
Hear NextGen New Urbanists talk about their goal of reviving place-based identities here.
What historical urban and landscape patterns might help to develop your city's sense of place?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.