Three Places that have People who Get It — Phoenix

This week I was fortunate to be hosted by three great preservation groups in three western cities — Phoenix, Seattle and Portland. The Phoenix group that organized a luncheon was theCapitol Mall Association. This is an aggressive community development corporation that not only has historic preservation as part of their mission, but also affordable housing and economic development and has programs in English as a second language, financial literacy, crime prevention, and others. Over the last decade CMA has rehabilitated 10 historic homes in their neighborhood and built over two dozen infill houses.

Their credibility is now such that not only did they turn out 150 people to the luncheon at the historic Biltmorebut the executive director, Shannon Dubasik, also got the mayor, Phil Gordon, to give introductory remarks. Well, lots of mayors show up and say, “thanks for being here today, I know what you’re doing is important, so keep it up and thanks.” But this guy really gets it. Gordon, a former real estate lawyer, has been an investor in historic rehabilitation projects himself and was part of drafting the first preservation ordinance in Phoenix long before he began his political career.His presentation mentioned both historic preservation projects that have been completed and those on the drawing boards. But more important than those individual projects, Mayor Gordon succinctly identified historic preservation in a policy framework. He noted that Phoenix uses heritage buildings in four ways — historic preservation, economic development, arts and culture, and sustainable development. And all four, says Gordon, are important for the future of his city.

But in Phoenix it isn’t just CMA and the mayor who get it. One of the major sponsors of the lunch was the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, LISC. LISC is one of the most valuable non-profit resources in the country. Historically their primary focus has been affordable housing in inner cities. But in recent years LISC has become much more comprehensive in their understanding of what is needed beyond just housing to have great urban neighborhoods. Teresa Brice, the executive director of the Phoenix LISC office, is an example of that. Teresa was a Loeb fellow at Harvard a couple of years ago, an experience that I’m sure further expanded her view of the necessary variables for great neighborhoods — historic preservation and sustainable development among them. And she was right to point out at the Phoenix luncheon that preservationists need to be more aggressive in presenting the historic preservation/sustainable development link beyond just talking to each other.

And one more who gets it — Emily Talen, professor at Arizona State University in Tempe. Emily is the co-editor of a great new academic publication — the Journal of Urbanism. Emily is the smartest of the New Urbanists, but is intellectually independent enough that she doesn’t buy whole hog every piece of idiocy that some of the CNU leadership occasionally spout. Emily is a scholarly academic urbanist, but one who also understands the role of historic preservation in making great cities and the critical role of sustainable development in cities today.

Later this week, Seattle and Portland.