Category Archives: Community development

People-first development

Strong Towns’ guru speaks

Editor’s note: Charles Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns, shared thoughts about Phoenix-area development during a 2018 visit. This article was written for LISC Phoenix, one of the sponsors of Marohn’s visit.

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” — Jane Jacobs, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities”

The definition of insanity, the adage goes, is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. Charles Marohn, founder and president of Strong Towns, argues that current development patterns force people, especially those in the Southwest, to live some variation of Crazytown, USA.

The horizontal expansion development patterns we see today make life unnecessarily difficult for some residents and are not sustainable long-term, Marohn said. Cities and towns can’t afford the post-World War II, automobile-centric, sprawl development pattern seen coast to coast, he said.

“You’re in a dysfunctional system designed to do a dysfunctional thing over and over again,” Marohn said.

“Phoenix, the state of Arizona, a lot of the Southwest, is designed to grow in a very certain, specific way. … Not only is the landscape perfectly adapted to that, but the structures that we’ve created — socially, politically, culturally, economically — are perfectly aligned to do that,” he said.

Last summer Marohn led a candid “Curbside Chat” (one of more than 300 he’s held nationwide) about development of cities and towns and was the featured speaker at events sponsored by LISC Phoenix, Local First, Downtown Voices Coalition, Downtown Phoenix Inc., RAILmesa, Sustainable Cities Network AZ, Sustainable Communities Collaborative, Urban Phoenix Project and Vitalyst Health Foundation.

LISC is a national organization with a community focus. LISC Phoenix was formed in 1992 to help revive blighted neighborhoods throughout metropolitan Phoenix. Working in collaboration with grassroots organizations and community partners, LISC Phoenix creates innovative solutions to problems faced by distressed, low-income neighborhoods.

LISC Phoenix initiatives, such as the Corridors of Retail Excellence (CORE), speak to some of the people-first community development principles championed by Strong Towns. CORE is a data-driven strategy that supports development and economic growth along five commercial corridors in low and moderate-income neighborhoods. CORE strategies develop from market assessments, on-the-ground surveys and collaboration with residents and business owners.

Charles Marohn told downtown Phoenix audiences that current U.S. development patterns — “the suburban experiment” — are a deviation from thousands of years of how civilizations grew and prospered.

Strong Towns’ mission is to restore sanity to the places we call home by supporting a development model that encourages financial strength and resilience in cities, towns and neighborhoods. The organization believes “strong citizens (people who care),” collaboration, financial solvency, a meaningful transportation system, and sustainable land use are keys to stopping the madness.

Marohn told downtown Phoenix audiences that current U.S. development patterns — “the suburban experiment” — are a deviation from thousands of years of how civilizations grew and prospered.

Our ancestors knew what they were building; they followed a strong pattern of incremental development, Marohn said. They started small, taking low risks as they grew up within a core rather than building horizontally on the edges. Over time, buildings were constructed with more intensity: wood structures would be replaced with brick and granite.

Cities and towns back in the day lived within their means; they were able to pay their bills, he said. Today, not so much. Marohn calls today’s development pattern a growth Ponzi scheme that creates an illusion of wealth.

Because of decades of unproductive development, we have built more than we can take care of, Marohn said.  Older, established neighborhoods are paying for themselves and contributing to city coffers; the rapid-fire new developments are not, leaving shortfalls when it comes time for public infrastructure upkeep or replacement, he said.

Historical development patterns recognized that complex natural systems are never based on efficiency; they are based on resiliency, adaptability and redundancy, Marohn said. But with modern development patterns, we’ve said cities and towns should be built and administered on an efficiency model. Marohn believes the efficiency model is designed to fail.

Strong Towns has adapted a Silicon Valley saying that innovation that happens from the top down tends to be orderly but dumb; innovation that happens from the bottom up tends to be chaotic but smart. Taking direction from the people for how to grow and development is a smart thing to do, Marohn said.

“We all have a preference for smart over dumb,” Marohn said. “But we have an enormously overwhelming preference, especially as an affluent society, for order over chaos. We will tolerate an incredible amount of dumb in order to have order.”

“How do you not get chaotic but dumb? I think you trust that people living in the community over time will not be dumb,” he said. “They’ll not migrate towards dumb. And if they do, that neighborhood will probably fail and go away.”

In the Phoenix metropolitan area, the impact of the 10-year CORE initiative, which has a transit-oriented development focus, has come into focus. LISC Phoenix and its partners have invested in five commercial corridors in Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix and have provided technical assistance to support ongoing grass-roots corridor management.

In four of the five corridors, population increased, largely as a result of investment in affordable housing. The percentage of low-income households also decreased from 2008 to 2018.

Marohn believes the best way North American cities and towns can get off the path of catastrophic failure is to turn planning and development on its head. Instead of trying to take a dysfunctional, professional top-down process and try to bend it to better ends, put people first in planning, he said.

Let neighborhoods be part of the solution, part of rescuing themselves, Marohn said. Observe where people struggle and make small investments to deal with those struggles, he said.

“Instead of saying, ‘Our goal is to do this to help them,’ what if we said, ‘Our goal is to help them?’ “

Marohn is convinced the outcomes of such a process would be very different than something that came from top-down efforts. It could help stitch neighborhoods back together, making them stronger, more resilient, and adaptable. It could improve lives, he said.

“Tactical urbanism” is part of a “Neighborhoods First” initiative championed by Strong Towns. It’s a citizen-led, low-cost approach to neighborhood building and incremental growth. It happens in the Phoenix metropolitan area with efforts such as tree plantings, Park(ing) Day, the Radiate PHX Pop-up Festival, Mesa temporary murals, and Mesa Movies on Main St. (Downtown Voices Coalition started an open source map that shows examples of tactical urbanism.)

“We need to step back and acknowledge that we may have the right motives in our heart, but we’re using a process designed to do something different than what we’re trying to accomplish,” Marohn said. “If we can pump ourselves to have a different approach, an approach that is messier, an approach that’s not as efficient, an approach that’s not necessarily tied into federal and state grant programs, an approach that’s not tied into redevelopers and large amounts of capital, but an approach that actually starts with the needs of the people in our community, I think we can, in a very low-risk, high-reward kind of way, build places that are productive, successful and great places to live.”

That doesn’t sound crazy at all.

Valor on Eighth marshals resources, inspires hope

A public-private partnership with layers of leveraged resources produced huge community impact in the form and function of Valor on Eighth, an affordable housing complex with a special focus on veterans.

This is part of the “Communities on the Line” series that I write for LISC Phoenix.

Honor, dignity and opportunity took up residence at Valor on Eighth when the Tempe apartment community designed and built for under-served veterans opened in January. Hope and determination have made themselves comfortable there, too.

With Valor, housing and veterans’ advocates scored a victory in the ongoing battle to create decent, affordable living environments for those who have served our country. Valor is the only affordable housing apartment community in Arizona that puts the needs of veterans with families front and center.

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LISC, Kiva help local shop owners gain critical access to capital

(Editor’s note: This article first appeared on the LISC Phoenix website.)

Perodin Bideri, a west Phoenix shop owner who was raised in refugee camps in Tanzania, and Christy Moore, a veteran Valley nonprofit executive who is on a mission to disrupt the landromat industry, are in the same boat.

Both are seeing things — opportunities, specifically. Both have a brand of ambition that’s engaging and inspiring; it invites participation.

And both are navigating waves of success that often come with access to capital made possible through a partnership with nonprofits LISC and Kiva, an online crowdfunding platform. For as little as $25, a lender can join a fund that allows borrowers to receive loans of up to $10,000.

Access to capital is a major hurdle for emerging small-business owners. They don’t qualify for credit from traditional lenders. If they do secure loans, they come with high interest rates and fees.

With a Kiva loan, borrowers pay zero interest and no fees. That got the attention of Bideri, owner of B&R African Styles.

“When I was introduced to Kiva, it was a great opportunity to open doors that grow my business,” Bideri said. “To get a loan with zero interest? I was in.”

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Camelback Pointe combines Housing First model with transit-oriented development

(This article is part of a LISC Phoenix series, “Communities on the LIne.” Photo by Mark Lipczynski Photography.) 

For city, state, and federal housing leaders, Camelback Pointe is part of a regional effort to end chronic homelessness. The 54-unit apartment complex has a single-person focus and on-site case managers and resident service specialists to address an array of needs.

For developer Native American Connections (NAC), the $13 million complex in the West Camelback Road commercial corridor represents an evolution of its groundbreaking permanent supportive housing work, combining the Housing First service model with transit-oriented development principles.

For urban renewal advocates, Camelback Pointe, a LEED Platinum certified development, is an example of converting a nuisance property into an architecturally clean community asset. It replaces an abandoned fast food restaurant site that had become a problem property, and now has an engaging, neighborhood-focused owner (NAC) who will have a 24/7 presence at the secure-community site.

But for its new residents, Camelback Pointe is simply and powerfully one thing: Home.

Andrea Hipps, NAC affordable housing specialist, said Camelback Pointe is not temporary or transitional housing. It is designed and programmed to meet chronically homeless individuals’ needs, both basic and complicated, as a first step to wellness, she said.

On Jan. 18, residents, local and state housing leaders, and community development partners, including LISC Phoenix, will celebrate the grand opening of Camelback Pointe, 1537 W. Camelback Road.

NAC has a 46-year history of providing supportive services in central Phoenix for urban Native Americans with substance abuse issue. Its focus on housing emerged from that work. NAC opened it’s first Housing First service model to end homelessness when it celebrated the grand opening of Encanto Pointe apartment complex in 2013. Input from Encanto Pointe residents emphasized the importance of transit to wellness.

Camelback Pointe’s location adjacent to Valley Metro light rail is intentional and so are its design features. For example, bicycles are the major source of transportation for residents, and so Camelback Pointe has ample bike storage and a bike repair shop.

In addition to internal 24/7 NAC services, residents live in what Hipps called a “naturally service enriched location.” Via light rail or bike, residents have easy access to a federally qualified health center in Mountain Park Health Center at the Chris Town YMCA, a branch of the public library, Solano Park, and a Fry’s grocery story.

Camelback Pointe is NAC’s fifth permanent supportive housing site with a single-individual focus. A sixth site is in the pipeline.

“In Arizona and in Phoenix in particular, there is a significant need for  permanent supportive housing in general and for singles in particular, and so I think we’re just filling a much-needed gap for the type of community member that needs more structure, that needs more investment to achieve housing stability,” Hipps said.

LISC Phoenix, which helped NAC purchase land for Camelback Pointe, is among those contributing to the investment in permanent supportive housing. Such investment requires a shift in thinking about the expenses associated with improving the housing and health conditions of chronically homeless people who are regular users of the emergency medical services and can revolve through criminal justice systems. The Housing First service model shifts investment into something that has long-term, positive effect on their lives and reduces costs in other systems of care.

“In a financing climate where it’s really hard to find someone to be ‘first in,’ LISC is willing to be first in,” said Diana Yazzie Devine, CEO of NAC. “That means the world to us as developers to have a partner that believes in our model, believes in our ability to perform long-term. It’s a real gift.”

Communities on the Line

A new series for LISC Phoenix

In 2015, LISC Phoenix added an economic development component to its strategic plan to revitalize neighborhoods. In 2016, the nonprofit identified four corridors along the Valley Metro light rail line that could benefit from LISC-style comprehensive economic development efforts. In 2017, LISC Phoenix, with the help of JDD Specialties, will highlight the challenges, opportunities and successes of those corridors through a series called, Communities on the Line. 

Valor on Eighth marshals resources, inspires hope for veterans

LISC and Kiva help local shop owners gain critical access to capital

Affordable loan opportunities growing from LISC partners

LISC push on economic development strikes a chord

Long-awaited redevelopment heating up in Apache Blvd. corridor

Creative economic development efforts grow success in downtown Mesa

Bazaar days make a world of difference at 19th Ave. and Camelback

Mesa Artspace Lofts will have good bones

‘Happy City’ author urges push for safe, healthy transportation corridors

With new clinic, MPHC no longer hidden treasure in Tempe

There’s more than meets the eye on West Camelback Road

Visitor center enriches public understanding of indigenous people

NAC combines power of housing first and TOD at Camelback Pointe

A second chance for McDowell Road’s Miracle Mile

 

LISC CEO Jones gets to heart of matters

LISC and its partners are experts in the business of comprehensive economic development. Maurice Jones, president and CEO of LISC, said the success stories in the Phoenix area and throughout the nation leave no doubt about that.

They’ve done the heavy lifting of revitalizing neighborhoods and forging healthy, sustainable communities. They’ve flashed genius in leveraging tools and resources for initiatives that create place, spur small-business activity and strengthen the local workforce.

But on Nov. 1, Jones used the occasion of the LISC Phoenix annual celebration of exemplary work in community development to talk about failure — specifically the effort needed to push toward a higher-degree of success with deeper meaning. Don’t lose sight of humanity in community development work, Jones said in urging leaders to look for the faces of loved ones in serving people in need.

“Sometimes in our work we get caught up in what’s the capital stack that we need, where does philanthropy play, where do banks play, where does local government play, where do we play,” Jones said. “The real issue is do I see the face of my daughter in that homeless guy. …The most important muscle in the work that we’re talking about now is the heart. It’s not the other stuff. We know how to do it. It’s whether we have the heart to do it.”

Jones was the featured guest at the 2017 LISC Phoenix annual breakfast at the Mesa Arts Center. More than 200 attended the celebration that honored Mountain Park Health Center – Tempe Clinic as an exemplary project; Nordstrom Bank as an exemplary partner and Phoenix Indian School Visitor Center as an exemplary collaborative.

Mesa Mayor John Giles expressed gratitude for LISC Phoenix’s work, particularly in improving the affordable housing condition in downtown Mesa and growing a strong arts community.

“Thank you for your support,” Giles said to LISC. “Thank you for helping us create places in our communities that are the hub of people and business and in the way we interject new economy, sometimes in old buildings. It’s exactly what my community needs and each of the communities that you serve so well.”

Jones said LISC has a particular interest in the Phoenix area for building more commercial corridors, helping individuals get prepared for the work that exists in the region, facilitating entrepreneur and small-business endeavors and “really investing in this robust arts community here, leveraging it for both creating place but also creating jobs.”

In addition to urging a recommitment to moving people’s hearts to maintain momentum on effective community development work, Jones said it’s important to have a solid partnerships across many sectors that can confidently navigate the ups and downs of pursuing strategic goals.

“For the work we do, the most important thing is heart and high-functioning team,” Jones said. “That combination gets us across the finish line every time.”

LISC CEO’s message

Maurice Jones gets to the heart of matters

The president and CEO of LISC, a champion of inclusive economic development, was the featured guest at the LISC Phoenix annual breakfast and awards ceremony on Nov. 1.

“Sometimes in our work we get caught up in what’s the capital stack that we need, where does philanthropy play, where do banks play, where does local government play, where do we play,” Maurice Jones said. “The real issue is do I see the face of my daughter in that homeless guy. …The most important muscle in the work that we’re talking about now is the heart. It’s not the other stuff. We know how to do it. It’s whether we have the heart to do it.”

 

 

Community development

A focus on urban living

JDD Specialties has expertise writing about community development, urban design and sustainable communities. An article for LISC Phoenix that recaps “Happy City” author Charles Montgomery’s May 2017 visit to the Valley of the Sun is an example of that work.

‘Happy City’ author urges push for safe, healthy transportation corridors

(Editor’s note: This blog is part of a LISC Phoenix monthly series, Communities on the Line.)

The Phoenix metropolitan area has a world-class freeway system and wide arterial streets laid out in a marvelous grid pattern to move people around and within a vast, car-dependent region. Residents can’t be happy.

Seriously. Neuropsychology, sociology and public health lessons about happiness tell us what we’ve done over 30 years to build communities and move cars in the region generally is at odds with creating environments for widespread personal satisfaction.

Urban design patterns throughout greater Phoenix discourage social connections vital to the desired human condition we call happiness or well-being, urbanist Charles Montgomery said during a recent visit. A growing body of scientific research tells us unhappiness invites social, health and economic miseries that stifle individual and community prosperity, he said.

“Cities really do make or break our well-being in their systems, through architecture, through public space,” Montgomery said. “They change how we feel, they change how we move and they change how we treat other people in ways most of us don’t even realize.”

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Artspace

Mesa Artspace Lofts will have good bones

(Editor’s note: This blog is part of a LISC Phoenix monthly series, Communities on the Line. The illustration is an artist rendering of Mesa Artspace Lofts.) 

In July 2015, business leaders, community development experts, arts advocates and city officials took a bus tour of a downtown Mesa area transformed by creative placemaking and transit-oriented development. John C. Williams, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and Mesa Mayor John Giles was among them.

Tour stops highlighted strengths and challenges. Just south of Main Street, Giles pointed to a large, vacant lot where he hoped to see an affordable housing project built by Artspace, a nationally known developer of projects that support artists. “It has potential,” Williams quipped, as if assessing a fixer-upper. “Yes, it has good bones,” Giles replied, not missing a beat.

Mesa Artspace Lofts, a 50-unit, live-work apartment complex built especially for artists, had a ceremonial groundbreaking today (May 24). The permanent affordable housing complex at 155 S. Hibbert St. will have good bones. It’s also a transit-oriented development that will strengthen the beating heart of a disconnected neighborhood near the Valley Metro light-rail corridor.

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Creative economic development efforts grow success in downtown Mesa

(Note: This blog is an installment of the LISC Phoenix monthly series, “Communities on the Line.”)

On a sunny March afternoon in downtown Mesa, a rooster’s call is louder than a light-rail train’s toots, a retiree tends a plot of an urban garden wrapped in local artists’ murals, and a party of four repeat customers talks shop during a meal at a restaurant with Mesa roots running deeper than the business planted there four years ago.

Welcome to LISC-style economic development. The nonprofit’s focus on small business, transit-oriented development and creative placemaking to help build community are on full display at the Southside Heights commercial corner that is home to the popular República Empanada restaurant and the Mesa Urban Garden.

The northeast corner of First Avenue and Hibbert Street, just south of Main Street, is also an example of an effective “survive and thrive” community development strategy to help neighborhoods through the disruption of Valley Metro light-rail construction.

“Community development is community building,” said Terry Benelli, executive director of LISC Phoenix. “You accomplish that by building trust with residents and businesses of the neighborhood. I’m really proud of how things happened.”

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Arts and culture inspire new thinking about community development

(Written for LISC Phoenix. Photo is art adorning the Mesa Arts Center. )

The arts and culture component in comprehensive community development is more than a pop of color in a housing project or a hint of traditional neighborhood vibe. Individual and group stability, civic leadership, creative problem-solving, and hope all spring from intentional efforts to instill arts and culture in community revitalization.

The considered opinion of a panel of experts discussing creative placemaking at an April 6 event in Mesa made clear there is more to arts and culture in community development than meets the eye.

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