Opinion: Together, we’re bringing downtown Phoenix to life

DD - Phoenix skyline
Developments throughout the past year initiated by community members have contributed to the city's vibrancy, which will only continue to grow stronger the more we work together. (Stephanie Snyder/DD)

It was easy to be cynical a year ago.

It seemed like downtown Phoenix was its own version of Shrek’s swamp. There were critters that wanted a place to roam and play, but the powers that be had their own idea.

The city government, ASU leadership, community members, student government and other downtown forces were at arms with each other, and until a day of agreement came, downtown would remain a place of disgruntlement and dissatisfaction.

That era is over. Today makes last year seem long ago.

How things can change:

TaylorFest and the arrival of Shannon Conley as the new community coordinator at Taylor Place set the tone for the culture change. Conley initiated the community-involved festival for students during Welcome Week and understood the importance of connecting students with their new home.

Perhaps the most significant shift in attention to downtown took place with the introduction of Cronkite School Dean Christopher Callahan as the new Downtown vice provost. Callahan is raising the bar and remains open to suggestions on how to improve the student experience downtown. Also, if you have not checked out the SmartPHX app, do so now.

And a significant amount of respect should be given to Downtown student government Local Affairs Director Michael Homan. He is the founder of the great “Buy Local, Be Local” campaign and is part of a young group of student government representatives keen on the idea of bettering life for Downtown students.

City officials came to bat for Roosevelt Row and downtown community members in helping make the Valley of the Sunflowers project a reality. The city also spared the celebrated ficus tree from a construction demise on First and Pierce streets after the neighborhood rallied behind the tree’s future this summer.

The Downtown Phoenix Partnership is speaking out in support of all of downtown. They understand the need for more downtown residents and increased walkability and are not letting up in their efforts.

As a strong voice for community interaction, Jill Johnson, the Downtown campus program manager for Barrett, the Honors College, has focused on improving student involvement throughout the downtown community.

Finally, the Downtown Devil continues to be a significant player in bringing this exact conversation to a larger space with a variety of voices to the table. These voices all needed to have an outlet to communicate, and the Downtown Devil made that possible through the launch of Downtown Devil Discussions this semester.

Downtown Phoenix is full of strong-willed individuals and entities. Each has different ideas and different methods, but the same mission. We all want to make downtown better each day and that’s what we’re now doing – together.

Let’s not allow that mutual chain of connected arms to break. Let’s give constructive criticism or, better yet, sit down over a cup of coffee and talk it out.

We’re now in the position to make downtown amazing. Let’s all grasp it and appreciate the situation we have put ourselves in. Downtowners are on the same page. And if you aren’t, it’s time to jump on board.

Two years ago, this conversation was nearly non-existent. One year ago, the conversation was muddy and frustrating. Today, we’re together and optimistic. Tomorrow, let’s make it better — one saved tree, two acres of sunflowers and seven delightful coffee shops at a time.

And for us students, downtown is now fully open and ready for our exploration. The city is moving quickly. Downtown is alive. Now it’s our turn to proudly be part of it.

Contact the writer at vaughn.hillyard@asu.edu

Vaughn Hillyard is a journalism junior at the Walter Cronkite School and the founder and president of ASU Downtown Alive!