EPA awards Phoenix grant for neighborhood makeover

Posted: Updated:

PHOENIX -- Once lined with storefronts, small businesses and quaint shops, Lower Grand Avenue used to be the heart of a bustling neighborhood.

"It's a diagonal street; it has a rich history that is very unusual for Phoenix. It has one of the last fragments of our pre World War II city," explained Lyssa Hall with the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department.

Unfortunately the decades that followed the war were not kind, turning the diagonal corridor into a magnet for crime.

"It was deemed one of the least safe areas in Phoenix [just a few years ago]," Hall said.

Beatrice Moore has lived in the neighborhood for years. "We got to the point where if we heard a gunshot and we were outside, 'Oh, a gunshot,' [and I'd] keep reading my book," Moore said.

Still, she sees the potential in the area.

"We're close to downtown, but not so close that we're in the path of development," she said. "We're also very close to the State Capitol, so this is a neighborhood that the city and the state should really want to enhance."

The city's Parks and Recreation Department agrees. It recently won a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to upgrade the streetscape and make it more eco-friendly. The grant is part of the EPA's Greening America's Capitals program.

"[The money can be used for] trees, landscaping, as well as using storm water to essentially water those trees and that landscaping," Hall said. "We really need a design firm that understands our plant material, our trees and how to make them healthy and thrive in this urban environment."

The goal is to maintain the area's character, which is a creative one, while making it friendly for bicyclists and pedestrians. The area is undergoing something of a renaissance, emerging once again as a destination for the arts. That's something designers will need to consider.

The Parks and Recreation Department is now soliciting design firms for ideas. Once a firm is chosen, the city plans to work with the neighborhood to develop a vision.

The entire transformation, however, will be a work in progress.

"We'll be working with private property owners as they redevelop sites to incorporate some of those ideas into it so it really going to probably take several years, if not decades, to fully see it," Hall said.

"You don't fix up a neighborhood like this overnight," Moore agreed. "They don't go downhill overnight and they don't go back up again overnight."

Montgomery, Ala., Lincoln, Neb., Washington and Jackson, Miss. were the four other cities that also received the EPA grant.

"Greening America's Capitals is a project of the Partnership for Sustainable Communities between EPA, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to help state capitals develop an implementable vision of distinctive, environmentally friendly neighborhoods that incorporate innovative green building and green infrastructure strategies," reads the EPA website.