Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. Urban Advantage, Inc.

Like the mythical bird for which is it named, the city of Phoenix, Ariz., is ripe for a radical transformation à la Fawkes. No, don’t actually set it on fire! There’s no need; the new, improved city can rise from the asphalt of the old. In fact, it’s already started.

“Phoenix is the poster child of sprawl,” says Galina Tachieva, author of the Sprawl Repair Manual and a sustainable planning partner at Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, the lead consultant working with the city to help revamp its zoning codes. “It doesn’t receive enough credit for doing really great things, and [for] having this young generation of people who want to do great things about their city.”

The zoning overhaul is part of an initiative called Reinvent PHX, which aims to foster new, concentrated areas of economic development, making the city denser, more efficient, and more resilient to the shocks of climate change. Funded in part by a federal Sustainable Communities Grant, the plans center around the development of a public light rail system, connected urban centers, green infrastructure, and a healthy dose of community spaces.

With 20 miles of light rail in place and 36 more to come, the vision of Phoenix as urban wonderland is still more dream big than Big Dig, but let’s skip the middle steps and see what one of America’s most sprawling communities can do to nip, tuck, and otherwise streamline its urban cores into a sleek, open, efficient community.

3rdstreet-tweenDuany Plater-Zyberk & Company. Urban Advantage, Inc.

This desolate stretch of downtown Phoenix is secretly yearning to be a beautiful, mixed-use neighborhood, with some separated bike lanes, public transit, trees for shade, and street-facing stores.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

This patch of Solano, one of Phoenix’s districts targeted to be a new urban core, would make a lovely urban garden — while amping up surrounding density with new housing and community spaces, plus a liberal scattering of solar panels.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

With the new light rail running diagonally from left to right, this former island of a shopping mall in a sea of parking lots stands to become a busy community center, complete with (shaded) outdoor galleries, a pedestrian thoroughfare, lots o’ desert-hardy shade trees, all leading to a public park in the upper right corner.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

Another mall, another opportunity to add development to otherwise desolate bordering areas. Here, a proposed streetcar transects the light rail line, creating another access corridor for the car-free and encouraging streetfront development along the three-mile route.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

This existing park is already used by some, but marooned between a busy highway and surface lots, it’s not much of a destination. By developing along its edges, and making use once again of the increased access along the light rail line, the green space can be integrated into the fabric of the city.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. Urban Advantage, Inc.

Phoenix has an existing network of open canals; they are a utility but also, in DPZ’s plan for the city, a public amenity, complete with bike paths and quiet strolls.

Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company.

It turns out there’s a lot you can do to keep your desert city relatively cool, starting with not paving the whole thing over in black asphalt parking lots. Phoenix is in the process of replacing its asphalt with lighter surfaces or buildings, plus planting lots of trees and shrubs and making sure walkways stay shady during the heat of the day.

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Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company. Urban Advantage, Inc.

There! Doesn’t that look better?