Creating vital urban hubs where canals meet streets:
UCD urban design studio looks at Phoenix canals
By David Sprunt
Landscape Architecture & Urban Design Graduate Student
Graduate students in an urban design studio in the College of Architecture and Planning are collaborating with colleagues at Arizona State University to explore the possibilities for creating vital urban hubs where canals meet major streets in Phoenix. A network of 131 miles of canals in the Phoenix metro area creates a potential for ‘Canalscapes’ that could cultivate live/work/play environments along the banks.
Dr. Nan Ellin, the Director of Urban & Metropolitan Studies at Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs, originally introduced the concepts of ‘Canalscapes’ and ‘Canal Villages’. Based on her work, 13 students in an urban design studio at University of Colorado Denver, led by Senior Instructor of Landscape Architecture Lori Catalano, are developing designs for these unique communities situated at the intersection of the canals, the vast grid of Phoenix streets, and the spectacular Sonoran desert.
Metro Phoenix is a prime example of the challenges associated with the intersection of the extremes of rapid growth and a hot, dry desert climate. Phoenix is the fastest growing large city in the U.S., and receives less than 8.5 inches of precipitation annually. The city formed around the presence of water flowing through the broad Valley of the Sun, creating an oasis in the desert. From about 450AD to 1450AD, the Hohokam people built and developed an extensive network of canals to irrigate crops. Later, in the 19th century, early settlers rediscovered and redeveloped the canals, giving rise to what is now metropolitan Phoenix. Many of the canals had huge cottonwood and eucalyptus trees along their banks in the early twentieth century, providing cooling shade for the city as well as irrigation. Later, to improve the flow of water, the trees were removed and the canals lined with concrete. Today, these canals angling across the rigid grid of city streets efficiently move water, but provide little amenity for residents.
Collaboration with the local community and with colleagues in a parallel course at ASU being taught by Dr. Ellin is needed to understand this complex environment and develop design strategies. On Friday, February 6, 2009, students from both schools participated in a Canalscape Symposium in Phoenix where local experts presented their work related to water policy, land use, real estate development, canal history, hydrology, and environmental engineering. In addition, artists and designers presented examples of public art along the canals, art inspired by the canals, and visions for art and urban design along the canals.
The following day, students and instructors from both schools walked seven miles along Phoenix’s Grand Canal to explore and experience the place for themselves. Throughout the semester UCD students will be sharing information, findings and ideas with ASU students via teleconference and using a blog/website being established and maintained by the ASU team.
Ultimately, the intent of the UCD studio is to explore the complexities inherent in this intersection of extremes and develop strategies for the design of “authentic desert urbanism” along the canal. At the end of the semester, the class will prepare and provide to the local community a visioning document summarizing some of the strategies and designs proposed for this new desert urbanism.