Reconnecting People with Place in Phoenix’s Art District

Great Places — the spaces that add value to communities — are not built overnight. They are the result of deliberate and thoughtful planning by residents, community leaders, and planners.

At the National Planning Conference in Phoenix, a group of conference goers found out how Roosevelt Row — an APA Great Place in America — has not only added value to the city, but changed the trajectory of a once struggling urban core by reactivating forgotten spaces and showing people that change is possible.

I had the chance to see firsthand how changes to streets and formerly vacant lots have reconnected people with place in Roosevelt Row. See the story unfold in pictures.

The first public art installation in Roosevelt Row (top image), Shadow Play sits on a pedestrian island along Roosevelt Street. The space has created not only an interesting boundary marker of the neighborhood, but also is instrumental in making the surrounding street safer for pedestrians. In 2014, the city approved its first Complete Streets ordinance.

Once an abandoned lot with a bungalow left in disrepair, today Roosevelt Growhouse is an active urban farm that produces 250 pounds of produce per season for the people of Phoenix. Fifty percent of the garden is volunteer-driven. Growhouse is known as a thriving community center for students and people of all ages.

Reactivating forgotten places like alleyways was one of the major goals of the revitalization of Roosevelt Row Arts District. Roosevelt Row Community Development Corporation encouraged artists to make this alley behind the Growhouse one that people would feel comfortable using through art.

The addition of light rail has done much to drive people and businesses to the Arts District. Since 2008, approximately 100 businesses have popped up within walking distance of the Central Avenue light rail station. In FY 2014, this light rail stop had almost 500,000 passengers.

This pop-up park was once a vacant lot. Today, it’s an active community space complete with murals and games like this giant Connect Four.

In 2015, the American Planning Association named Roosevelt Row a Great Place in America for transforming a neighborhood once made up of 40 percent vacant lots into a thriving urban center. Adaptive reuse projects like the one shown above have been a major driver of revitalization in RoRo.

Images: Photos by Emily Pasi.

About the Author
Emily Pasi is APA's communication and outreach associate.

April 6, 2016

By Emily Pasi