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

The return of human scale to downtown Phoenix - Ways


To my amazement, human scale is returning to downtown Phoenix. And by that, I mean places that people can walk to, places where people can sit outside, places with trees. And it's being done by creating what I'm calling "Ways". Well, that's the best term that I can think of, because they're streets, but not the wide multi-lane streets that Phoenix has developed in the 20th Century, but streets designed for humans.

When Phoenix was first laid out, in 1870, the streets were just as wide as they are now, which meant that they were absolutely gigantic. The thought may have been to keep the streets from getting crowded, like the narrow streets back east, or it may have been to allow a wagon to turn around, I really don't know. What I do know is that the scale of the streets started out as being way too big for humans. So the city divided itself into what were called "Ways" or "Alleys". There were a lot of them, like Melinda's Alley, which divided Monroe and Adams, or Cactus Way, which divided Central and 1st Street. Not to mention Gold's Alley, and Wall Street. These were never on maps, but it's how people adapted a city that was laid out incorrectly into a human scale. There were houses along these places, and businesses.

After cars took over the city, these little places faded away. And by the time I got to Phoenix, it was a place that had very few pedestrians, and a LOT of cars. The cars ruled, the people were marginalized.

To my surprise, the idea of a "Way" or an "Alley" that's mostly for humans, is on its way back in downtown Phoenix. And what I have my eyes on now is Adams between Central and 1st Street, in front of the Renaissance Hotel. And by front, I mean the human front, not the side that faces Central, or 1st Street, the side that faces Adams. Yes, cars will be allowed there, but cars won't be the most important thing, humans will be. Humans walking on wide sidewalks and not having to dodge buses, cars, or taxis. Humans walking under trees. It's an old-fashioned idea, but I'd like to see it return.

Image above: construction during the redesign of Adams between Central and 1st Street, as seen from the Renaissance Hotel, January 2017. Wide spaces for people, narrow spaces for cars. Cars have their own entrance, on the side of the building, not the front.


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