By Roland Murphy for Arizona Builder’s Exchange
City leaders and project organizers are serious about their desire to engage the public in planning and building the Grand Canalscape project. Turnout at an Aug. 29 project kickoff event signaled the public is equally eager to be heard.
135 attended the event at Steele Indian School Park, roughly doubling the number who had registered in advance. The crowd ranged from bearded hipsters to grandmothers and disabled vets, many of whom engaged project leaders before and after the event’s official comment and presentation period.
The $4.9M first phase of the project, funded by Salt River Project and the City of Phoenix, will construct two sections of multi-use trail. The 2.8-mile Uptown Project Area will run from 15th Avenue to 16th Street and feature six crossings. The Gateway North segment will be 0.7 miles long and run from Garfield to Van Buren.
Uptown Phoenix will feature a commuter trail on the north bank for pedestrians and bicyclists and a neighborhood trail on the south bank offering access points into the surrounding area. The plan includes pedestrian bridges between the two sides.
Gateway North will have a neighborhood trail on the south bank. Both sections will feature trail lighting and local street connections.
Public to Determine Look and Feel
Where public input is being most heavily sought is in the project’s aesthetic components. Kerry Wilcoxon of the city’s Street Transportation Department repeatedly stressed the goal of the project is to reintegrate the canal system into the areas it touches and to make it a point of pride and community for residents.
The project as envisioned would integrate public art and minimal landscaping to keep access and aesthetics as open as possible. Wilcoxon noted, however, that plans could change depending on public input.
A design questionnaire is available on the Grand Canalscape project website; design isn’t intended to be complete until March.
Jason Bregman of Michael Singer Studio, the project’s art designer, said the final product will likely feature primarily concrete and metal structures for shade and artistic appeal. The materials are the current leading contenders because of their durability and ease of maintenance in the harsh Phoenix environment.
Bregman said maintenance is also the reason why, ironically, initial plans will likely not feature any water elements. He noted even the most basic water elements in a design would likely include pumps, which would add to the project costs and can prove difficult to maintain.
Phoenix City Councilwoman Laura Pastor addressed the crowd and thanked them for their attendance and interest. She and Wilcoxon both commented on how common it was to see only a few people turn out for public project events and expressed their appreciation for the community’s interest.
She also noted maintenance as an ongoing problem with public art installations in the city. She said that despite support for creating the projects there is no line on the city budget to maintain them after creation. She pledged to examine and champion art maintenance funding moving forward.
Reintegration a Challenge and Opportunity
A commonly referenced factoid at the meeting was that Phoenix has more miles of canals than Venice and Amsterdam combined. According to Jim Duncan of SRP, that presents both a challenge and an opportunity when it comes to making the canals a more central component of city life. Canals passing through neighborhoods were once areas where residents would meet up and interact, but in modern times residents and communities have turned their backs on the canals as social spaces.
In other parts of Valley, canal access and multi-use opportunities were built into the design as the cities developed. In Phoenix, that was not the case, as the canals and neighborhoods were already established as the city has grown and changed over the years.
“The challenge and the benefit,” Duncan said, “is the reintegration of the canal into established urban areas. Within five years these could be some of the most important interconnections between the community and systems.”
He added the Canalscape project will benefit the community in terms of economic development, safer routes for pedestrians and bicyclists, and reduction in illegal activities, such as dumping, transient-related crime and unauthorized vehicle use.
Project leaders will continue to meet with the public and other stakeholders and solicit input. Design work for phase I is expected to be finalized in March, at which point a general contractor will be selected. Construction is planned to commence next summer and be completed by fall.
Wilcoxon acknowledged the timeline is tight and that getting contracts in place took longer than expected. One condition of the grant funding the project is that monies must spent within two years of the award, requiring work to be completed by Sept. 2016. He expressed confidence, however, in the teams’ ability to bring the project in on time.
The next phase of the project, which is expected to run from Indian School to McDowell, could be completed within three years. Phoenix has applied for a federal grant that could bring in $15M in total federal and supporting local funds, which would provide enough funding to run the project from I-17 all the way to Tempe, Wilcoxon said.
Results of the federal grant application should be announced in October, and the city will submit its supporting grant application to SRP in April.