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The beautiful storm drains of Phoenix, Arizona

Cities like Los Angeles, California and Phoenix, Arizona have the same problem. They need to get rainwater off the streets as quickly as possible. I've lived in both cities and see that there are two ways to do it - the ugly way and the beautiful way.

In Los Angeles, ugly storm drains criss-cross the city. They are scars on the landscape, filthy concrete paths with barbed wire fences around them. They perform their function beautifully but they are so ugly it's unbelievable. If you've ever seen The LA River in movies, you know what I mean. All of the channels in the city look like that. And if you are a "form follows function" person, I ask you to go live next to something like that. Maybe it won't bother you, but it bothers me.

In the Phoenix area, a different approach has been taken, and if you don't see any of it, well, that's the idea. Instead of just pouring massive concrete ditches everywhere, the process of channelization (yes, that's what they call it) has been combined with aesthetics. Here are some examples:

• The Crosscut Path. On 48th Street between Indian School Road and McDowell there is a linear park where you can walk, bike, take your dog, etc. on top of a channel that had been an ugly scar for almost 100 years. If all you see is a park, that's the point. Below it is one of the most massive storm drains in the city.

• Tempe Town Lake. If you think it's beautiful, and that's all, it was designed that way. And wow, does it look great at night with the lights shining on it.

• Thunderbird Paseo Park. Just north of me is the single largest diversion channel in Phoenix. But it is designed as a park. Great place to walk, bike, even play Frisbee Golf. No barbed wire.

• Tres Rios Wetlands. I've talked to people who have gone there and had no idea that it a giant water treatment plant. That's it up there in the photo. Some storm drain!

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