Downtown Devil Discussion explores what public spaces in Phoenix need to offer

Photos by Madeline Pado

Phoenix’s public spaces were discussed on Wednesday evening by a panel of community activists as part of the last Downtown Devil Discussion of the semester.

The subject covered in the discussion did not stray far from the topics of public spaces, the characteristics that make them successful and what public spaces in Phoenix need.

The panel included Kirby Hoyt from Edge Industries, Jeff Moloznik from CityScape developer RED Development, Gangplank co-founder Derek Neighbors and Sean Sweat, an industrial engineer and transportation-planning expert.

“The ultimate public spaces are the streets,” Sweat said. “In Phoenix, we think the streets are for cars, but that’s wrong. The streets are for people.”

Neighbors and Sweat both criticized ASU’s decision to close its Downtown campus buildings to the public.

Sweat described the policy as “a violation of public space.”

Hoyt focused on the problem of a sprawled out population in Phoenix, attributing downtown public spaces’ lack of success to low population density.

The question of how to get more people to live in downtown neighborhoods and to inhabit these spaces was Hoyt’s concern. “Without people, you’ve got crap,” he said.

CityScape is helping downtown attract visitors who are used to staying home, Moloznik said.

“We do live in a historically backyard community that’s realizing how fun it is to be in the front yard,” he said.

The panelists also discussed the architecture of public spaces, especially the inward-facing design of CityScape. Sweat said CityScape has a suburban design that “shuns the space all around it.”

Cities are not always eager to be in the business of operating public spaces due to potential problems and costs, Neighbors said, adding that the solution to this would be attracting people who want to be involved.

“Let social capital drive your operational model,” Neighbors said. “The people that participate in the space will take care of it.”

Talented individuals and cities that retain and attract those talented individuals are successful, he said, adding that part of the problem with Phoenix is its relative newness as a city.

“We’re still finding our identity as a city. The next five or 10 years will really be formative,” Neighbors said.

Audience member Michael J. Vivien, an architect, recently moved to Phoenix from California and thought the discussion touched upon some good points, but he was most interested in the question of how to bring people downtown.

“Public interaction is a lacking feature of Phoenix,” Vivien said.

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