This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Bringing human-scale architecture back to Phoenix, Arizona


As much as I've loved living in Phoenix, I miss human scale architecture. And if you're not sure what I'm talking about, get out of your car.

Even in my nice suburban neighborhood here in Glendale, everything is scaled for cars. And that means roads as wide as the length of a football field, blank walls next to sidewalks that are inches from gigantic vehicles rocketing by at freeway speeds, and parking lots that seem to stretch for miles.

Compare this to the city I lived in in the mid-1980s, Santa Barbara, California. Sure, there are cars - it's California, after all, but they're separated from the humans. Sidewalks along State Street aren't just afterthoughts. There are parking garages, nicely designed into the backgrounds, that allow people to walk with a few steps down to a human scale world. There are trees, and flowers.

OK, let's see a show of hands as to how many people have commuted to work on their bicycles in Phoenix! OK, that's a few, but mostly I'd say you're all suicidal - I knew that I must have been back in the 90s. Riding a bike to work shouldn't be a suicide mission. And it takes more than painting a few lines along the edge of high-speed traffic - it means creating an infrastructure that encourages bicycling. Safe places to lock bikes, that sort of thing. And for those of you who haven't ridden a bike in Phoenix, because it's too hot, the only thing that kept me from biking to work was the cold mornings in January! And I was lucky as I had access to a locker where I worked, so I could change, and shower. Yeah, you bicyclists who don't have access to that can put your hands down now, please. If you see what I mean.

Dragging around a 2,000-pound chunk of metal back and forth to work every day (I'm talking about a car now) is just a hassle. Still, it's nice to have a car so that you can go to a restaurant, or go shopping. But human scale architecture has that. Places to eat, places to shop. And not just trendy restaurants, but a place to buy a pack of chewing gum, a little place to grab a hot dog, or a taco.

I'm starting to see human scale architecture return to Phoenix. I see bicycle racks downtown, I see trees, I see light rail. Maybe in a few years people won't even remember how unfriendly the architecture of places like Phoenix used to be to humans. I'd like to see that.


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