Recently dubbed “the least sustainable city in the world,” by “Bird on Fire” author Andrew Ross, Phoenix and its lack of resourcefulness was the topic of a Wednesday morning panel discussion held in an empty lot.
Community members gathered on one of the vacant lots in the Roosevelt Arts District to listen to Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton and renowned sustainability expert William McDonough discuss sustainability issues facing the city.
The event was part of ASU’s Sustainability Series and was hosted by The Ro2 Lot: “What Should Go Here?” The Ro2 Lot is an advocacy project to encourage the temporary use of vacant lots until the land is developed. About 200 people attended the discussion, filling an empty lot that is typically unused on Roosevelt and Second streets.
“We have had this conversation over and over; everyone knows that we need to do something. So let’s take the conversation out of the board room and into the open environment, into these vacant lots and really be in the middle of it and really talk about it objectively,” said Dorina Bustamante, an organizer of the event.
Much of the dialogue centered on the abundance of privately and publicly owned empty parcels of land for which Phoenix has become known.
“That issue is generally unique to us –– to have the vast amounts of empty space in the heart of the city,” Stanton said. He credited Phoenix’s empty space issue partially to a culture of “leap frog development” that has permeated land owners’ mindsets.
Stanton commended the efforts of locals using the land in creative ways, such as gatherings, food trucks, art displays and community gardens.
While Stanton generally focused on the issues pertaining to Phoenix, McDonough offered knowledge on how the City of Phoenix can learn from its counterparts across the globe.
“Never look at your land as vacant. I would always look at it as full of opportunity,” McDonough said. “If you say vacant, you think vacant. Everything is an asset.”
McDonough, co-author of the acclaimed book “Cradle to Cradle,” said that his central focus of sustainability is to “love your children, but not to death. Love them into life.” He said his theory stems from the idea that we should care for our environment as if it is a gift of endless resourcefulness we are passing on to our children.
As the conversation evolved between the two public leaders, dialogue shifted to issues of transportation.
Stanton said that an overlooked concern regarding transportation is the aging population of Phoenix and their ability to commute.
While the walkability of the city and the light rail serve as vessels for students to live an urban lifestyle, it is often a lifeline for the aging community in terms of connecting with society, Stanton said. Advocating for more walkable streets and the expansion of the light rail will ultimately bring more traffic to downtown, he said.
Urging the community to participate in the development of Phoenix, Stanton said the best way citizens can make an impact is by voting, challenging leaders to follow through, sharing ideas and communicating with the Mayor’s office.
“I really am listening,” Stanton said. “I read those tweets. I read those Facebook messages. I read those emails.”
Stanton said he is still in the works of creating an advisory committee with the mission of carrying out initiatives in sustainability.
Quipping in with shouts and cheers of support, the event attracted a lively crowd of community activists, Phoenix residents and high-school and university students.
ASU sustainability junior Jordan Branch said the discussion was somewhat broad, but it was an excellent way to get community members talking about some of the unique sustainability issues Phoenix faces.
“They were kind of preaching to the choir,” Branch said. “I wish more people could have heard their message.”
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