The New Phoenix: Desert and Downtown

Sunset, November 1990 | Go to article overview

The New Phoenix: Desert and Downtown


For the six million visitors who will descend on Phoenix this winter and spring, we have a couple of suggestions. Take a look downtown. And explore the desert right in the city's back yard.

Most vacationers to Phoenix are there for the sunshine, golf, tennis, and other pleasures of the mild-winter desert. You won't find downtown on their list of local attractions. With all-too-typical urban sprawl and traffic congestion, staggered by cycles of boom and bust, downtown has been terra incognita for visitors and anyone else who doesn't have to go there to work.

But now, just as the Census Bureau is reporting that Phoenix-with nearly a million people-is the eighth largest city in the U.S., the pace downtown is quickening. There are signals that the city is ready to deal more creatively with its climate, to parlay its desertness into a unique asset and a source of pride. Our six-page report first takes you downtown, to look at some recent and new-right-now attractions, as well as future ones. Then, beginning on page 82, we show you where Phoenicians go to enjoy their back-yard wilderness areas.

November, with daytime temperatures in the 70s, is an excellent time to visit.

Downtown, building and planting with the desert in mind

Midway through an unprecedented 20-square-block, six-year building program, Phoenix's downtown is getting interesting enough for a visit. The map on page 81 highlights the improvements-finished, the program has created a new entertainment complex and places for dining.

As you explore this area, you may already note evidence of the city's recently adopted design review guidelines. Out of favor are fortress-like buildings that accommodate cars but not pedestrians. In favor are passive-solar, energy-efficient structures with shady overhangs and cool plazas that encourage workers and visitors to step outside and enjoy the weather.

"We have a fantastic climate nine months of the year," says Andy Conlin, project director of Arizona Center. "Let's celebrate that rather than scurry indoors because of a couple of hot months."

To cleanse the smoggy air and to cool a city whose miles of pavement cause temperatures to soar, native vegetation is returning in force. Planting of palms, palo verdes, and mesquites along the 3 1/2 miles of Central Avenue between Camelback Road and the future site for Deck Park should be completed by November. By next summer, trees and awnings will shade the several blocks of Monroe Street between the Mercado and the convention center at Phoenix Civic Plaza. "We're developing a new appreciation for native trees," says Mayor Paul Johnson, "especially in the spring when they're in full bloom."

Phoenix is about to join Los Angeles and Tucson in pursuing a massive citywide tree-planting goal: a million more desert native trees within the next five years.

Take a stroll through downtown. Arizona Center opens this month

The year-old Phoenix Mercado and Herberger Theater Center are already bringing people downtown, and a major new project opens midmonth. Here, we focus on that opening, then suggest other spots in the area worth visiting.

Arizona Center. The first half of downtown's biggest project opens November 15 with fireworks and a splashy four-day festival. Developed by Rouse, the company that created Boston's Faneuil Hall and Baltimore's Harborplace, the center already has two office buildings open. The latest stage includes a 3-acre urban garden with a lagoon and palm trees, some 20 shops, 13 restaurants, and 4 nightclubs. Opening day, hours are noon to midnight; after that, shops will be open 10 to 9:30 Mondays through Saturdays, noon to 6 Sundays.

Patriots Square. Scheduled to open by December 8, a laser show will cast a light onto canvas circles and into the night sky; call (602) 262-6412 for details.

Weekdays, try one of this park's free noontime concerts, which present everything from folk to rock, reggae to jazz. …

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