Focus on Sustainability:”PHX Renews”

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Tom Waldeck, Executive Director of Keep Phoenix Beautiful, talks about PHX Renews, a project to transform a 15-acre vacant lot in central Phoenix into a sustainable public space.

Ted Simons: Tonight's focus on sustainability looks at a way to revitalize vacant lots. Studies show that vacant lots makes up 43% of land in Phoenix, last week, the city launched "Phoenix Renews," a program to transform those lots into useful public spaces. Here with more is Tom Waldeck, executive director of keep Phoenix beautiful, a nonprofit that is managing the "Phoenix Renews" project. Good to have you here. Thanks for joining
Tom Waldeck: Thanks for having me.
Ted Simons: "Phoenix Renews," a general definition. Give us more.
Tom Waldeck: The Phoenix renews, 43% of property in folks is vacant, and we want to find ways to renew that property, try to come up with different uses for it. And we have developed an incubator of types at Central and Indian School Road on 15 acres of property.
Ted Simons: I want to get to the Central Indian school property but as far as filling these vacant lots with what? Art, buildings, structure, what do we got?
Tom Waldeck: Either community gardens, just some kind use. There's been studies done on vacant property. There was big study done by the graduate school of business that states that cleaned up vacant property will, will decrease crime rates in a neighborhood, and it will increase property values. And so many properties are used as, as flight dumping and, and collecting trash, and so, if you get buy-in from the neighborhood, to keep these properties up, at least in your own neighborhood, that you are, you will benefit from that.
Ted Simons: But for this program, you need buy-in from the property owners, as well, and talk to us how that works, and that particular dynamic.
Tom Waldeck: Some of the property that, that is out there, is city owned, which makes it a little bit more convenient to do. But, our property at Central and Indian school is a privately held piece property. And it's a very big piece of property. And some of the things that we had to do was work through a lease, or we have a license for the property. With the ownership, Barron Collier, which is the company that developed the Bank of America building downtown. We have a three-year arrangement with Barron Collier for a dollar a year, but as well, we need to ensure it, make sure that the people that come onto the property, are ensured, and so there is a lot of dynamics that are involved in it.
Ted Simons: And we're seeing the ground-breaking right now. As far as what will result in, it sounds like the pop-up galleries we've been saying, where vacant space could be used as an art gallery until another business comes in and says we want to use that space. Same thing with as this property?
Tom Waldeck: That's a really good segue because some day, this property is going to be used for something else. The value of that property is somewhere in the neighborhood of $25 million. And so, something will be built eventually on that piece of property, so, we want to make sure that everything that we put on there, especially with the three-year, arrangement, with the ownership, that whatever is put on there, we can remove quickly. So everything is portable, so we put 230 trees on there last week, and those trees are all still in boxes. And, and the City of Phoenix purchases the trees in bulk. So, these usually sit behind a warehouse somewhere, so we said why don't we put them on this lot and, and because, I think, on 15 acres there was six trees.
Ted Simons: Sure.
Tom Waldeck: So, all of a sudden we have 230 trees on there, and it really has a big impact. And so, the -- all these trees are in boxes, and the parks will take these trees as needed, so, we're just kind of like a storing ground for them.
Ted Simons: And as far as, now, we're looking at a concept, here. What else are we going to see? Art spaces, public spaces, what's happening here?
Tom Waldeck: We are using some of the City of Phoenix has got a lot of public art that is available to us, and there is garden space, we will be working with the University of Arizona cooperative extension. Their master gardener program, we'll be working with St. Joe's Hospital and SARRC for autistic children, for therapy gardens. We have the international rescue committee, which is cool organization. They take refugees, who have been placed in Phoenix, and around the world, and they do community gardens so they are taking the top 2.5 acres of this, and right now, they have already farmed a half of an acre, half of an acre, but they will do all 2.5 acres, supporting 70 families. And these are, these are families that come from all over the world, Asia, the Middle East, South America. South Africa. And, you know, for, for a state that hasn't been too kind to immigrants lately, we're going to have 70 families from all over the world growing their native crops.
Ted Simons: Will they be the only ones growing crops? Open to the public? How does that work?
Tom Waldeck: We are also incorporating an educational component to this property, so, one of our projects is the public works department is doing a composting demonstration area, and also, a recycling education area so what we want to do is to, especially with light rail, right on, at our front door, we want to bring kids in, and let them work with these, these international rescue committees or the U of A, and come in and learn about composting and come and find out that, that food comes out of the ground and not out of a bag.
Ted Simons: So semi-public right now?
Tom Waldeck: Semi-public, until, we have got heavy machinery in there so once we get that out of there, and get some things in motion, we've only been doing this for a week so far, so, we're very excited to, to open this to the public.
Ted Simons: And you've only been doing this particular project for a week. I know it's a prototype. Are there any ideas or suggestions for the next big project?
Tom Waldeck: Not at this point. We have not -- we have had call from, from a group in south Phoenix off of baseline that wants to do something with the flower beds, out on baseline, there used to be a lot of --
Ted Simons: The Japanese flower gardens.
Tom Waldeck: Absolutely. So, we want this project to be a city-wide project, not just centered on Central and Indian School.
Ted Simons: It sounds very encouraging, Tom, congratulations. Good to have you here and thanks for joining us.
Tom Waldeck: Thank you.

Tom Waldeck:Executive Director, Keep Phoenix Beautiful;

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