In the wake of today’s potentially historic, but as-yet-inconclusive zoning hearing on the proposed Circle K at Seventh and Roosevelt streets, I have been ruminating on the character of our downtown’s neighborhoods.
At Vanishing Phoenix, I have been covering this story since April, right after the developers’ first meeting with the Garfield Organization. I have watched as the tone of the conversation has changed, and the reasons for dispute have shifted.
Over that time, Circle K’s representatives have attended numerous meetings with city officials, community members and neighborhood associations, discussing the various groups’ concerns, and moving toward a workable solution.
In response, Circle K made numerous design concessions, adding architectural flair, shade trees and wider sidewalks, and promising space for a mural in the alley to be completed by a local artist from the Garfield neighborhood.
Through the many talks, local residents, business owners, artists and students have been confronted with the question of what sort of business is best for their neighborhood, and how to foster the desired culture.
And with the continued redevelopment of downtown dating back to the 1970s, it is a question that will continue to be asked.
Riding my bicycle along Palm Lane between Seventh and Third streets on a recent night, I was slapped in the face with how commercial development can and will encroach upon the character of historic neighborhoods.
While such development is not necessarily a bad thing, one can’t help but feel unsteady when going through the lush, palm-lined streets of the Alvarado neighborhood, and suddenly coming upon a massive parking lot, or a house whose front yard has been gutted to make way for an entrance and another parking area, replete with flood lights.
From this unexpected office and commercial strip, one continues on Palm Lane to find an array of well-preserved 1940s and ‘50s-era apartment and office complexes, bringing a traveler right back to the historic norm of the rest of the surrounding area.
Though the new commercial developments along this street are architecturally integrated into the neighborhood, when surrounded by the Coronado and Alvarado historic districts, the sites feel out of place.
Just a few blocks northward though, the Ashland Place historic district sits almost entirely undisturbed.
Lined with similarly thick trees and entire streets of architecturally-unique homes, the district sits quietly just off Central Avenue, astride two major arterial roads at its East and West ends.
Every single house along Vernon Street is original, mixing a fair array of styles to create one of Central Phoenix’s most intriguing neighborhoods.
With no formal entryway, the glow of the streetlights beckon only the most curious and patient passersby to view the quaint, perfectly-preserved district.
These two contrasting examples illustrate the ways that neighborhoods can be brought through to the present: Will they deal with infill and new development, or will they stick exclusively to the familiar feel of the past?
As Evans-Churchill and Garfield scramble to determine their reactions to the potential arrival of Circle K, they too must think about how to maintain the distinct feel of their areas. And with each neighborhood containing so much vacant space, new development is at the very least a necessary evil.
How each neighborhood will react remains to be seen, but each must certainly make a plan for their path forward, so as not to lose what makes each unique.