Arizona Forward to build on ASU student investigation of vacant-land development opportunities

April 1, 2013

In fall 2012, students in Placemaking & Community Building, a combined senior/graduate level ASU urban planning course, took on a cooperative project with Valley Forward, a key leadership organization in the Phoenix area. The project focused on identifying development scenarios for vacant parcels in the Phoenix area’s light rail corridor. After a presentation of the study’s results this spring, the leadership group (recently renamed Arizona Forward) has decided to use the students’ work as the starting point for a white paper and toolkit aimed at supporting realization of the vision for converting vacant parcels in metropolitan Phoenix into more constructive spaces.

Arizona Forward's Land Use & Open Space Committee acknowledged the work of course instructor Dean Brennan, teaching assistant Hannah Szabo, and all students in the course, especially Julia Kerran and Will Heasley, who developed and presented the project’s results to the committee. Download Full Image

“Temporary development creates a use for locations that can otherwise become a source of blight, filling in empty space and fostering creative ideas as well as promoting community activities,” explains Brennan, an ASU faculty associate and planning professional.

Temporary development opportunities, known as TDO’s, can be anything from food truck courts to art and water features; but they share the characteristic of being easy to establish in a vacant parcel, with an expectation of being removed when a permanent use for the parcel is identified.

At the outset of the project, Valley Forward approached three cities – Mesa, Tempe and Phoenix – and each city recommended several sites that they would like students to focus on. Teams of students each focused on a single city.  Initially, each student observed and documented his or her site at different times of day.  After presentations to the Valley Forward group, and by city representatives, each student team identified a single site for its focus. To develop TDO recommendations for their sites, students studied locations elsewhere in the US with successful temporary developments, researched each city’s existing intentions for the site and its surroundings as identified by the city’s general plans and zoning, and considered environmental issues, site limitations, and best practices learned from existing TDOs.

The students’ work resulted in site concepts for each of the sites in the city. However, beyond that, the final report also includes recommendations for transforming ideas for TDOs into reality – including key steps such as identifying funding sources, and strategies for protecting private owners of the vacant parcels from liability and concerns about adverse possession.

“It's very exciting to have a group with the credibility of Valley Forward (now Arizona Forward) use the work of students to initiate a major community project that will potentially   have wide reaching  impacts throughout the Phoenix metro region,” comments Brennan.

“In fall 2013, we’ll teach this course again, following the same approach,” adds Brennan. “Next fall, students will focus on neighborhood revitalization projects that will help create a sense of place and help build community in Phoenix’s Gateway and Eastlake/Garfield districts.” The student’s efforts will contribute to Reinvent Phoenix, a collaborative partnership between the City of Phoenix, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Arizona State University, St. Luke’s Health Initiatives, and several other local organizations.

Valley Forward, now Arizona Forward, is a nonprofit that advocates for regional cooperation and connectivity.  Its members represent large corporations and small businesses, municipalities and government agencies, educators, non-profits and concerned individuals working together on environmental initiatives.

Placemaking and Community Building, currently numbered PUP 494/591, is offered each fall by the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Barbara Trapido-Lurie

research professional senior, School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning


Farmers market project wins President's Award for Social Embeddedness

April 1, 2013

Society’s push for healthier eating habits has produced global trends centered on locally grown food, and farmers markets and their influence among communities have recently skyrocketed.

It was for this reason that Matthew Buman and his team, Farmer’s Markets for Health, decided to research the topic and focus on new age technology and its effects on farmers markets in underserved communities. According to Buman, the Farmer’s Markets for Health team continuously looks at new and innovative ways to promote healthy lifestyles, especially in farmers markets. Research team: Matthew Buman, Amanda Gordon, Jonathan Kurka, Farryl Bertmann, Er Download Full Image

“Farmers markets offer a unique opportunity of healthy food options that also serve as social gathering places for communities,” Buman said. “This combination is ideal for reaching communities in ways that are effective in addition to creating environments and promoting behaviors that are health enhancing.”

As part of the Farmer’s Markets for Health research, a team of ASU faculty, staff, students and community partners throughout Arizona and across four different departments completed two projects to identify technology solutions to barriers that preclude use of farmers markets.

Members of the team included Christopher Wharton, Punam Ohri-Vahaspati, and Eric Hekler of the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion’s Nutrition program; Amy Woof of the Exercise and Wellness program; students Farryl Bertmann, Jonathan Kurka, Amanda Gordon, Kristin Fankhauser, and Gina Lacagnina; and community partners Dee Logan, Cindry Gentry, and Art and Heather Babbott.

Buman and his team were awarded the President’s Medal for Social Embeddedness for their hard work – an award which recognizes ASU faculty and staff who have worked as part of a departmental, interdepartmental or transdisciplinary team to demonstrate excellence in embedding the university in the social and cultural fabric of the surrounding community. The award is based on five actions within the community which include community capacity building, teaching and learning, economic development, social development and research. For Buman, the award was much more than recognition of achievement.

The first project addressed the financial barriers of farmers markets by implementing wireless card reader terminals in five farmers markets throughout the state, increasing overall sales and the use of food assistance program benefits. The team also addressed non-finance related barriers by assisting farmers market shoppers in identifying factors that either enhanced or diminished the experience using technology developed at ASU. Although Buman noted that technology itself is not the most interesting part of his work, he disclosed that he is interested in harnessing new technology that can overcome challenges in the field.

“In our case, purchasing goods at farmers markets, especially for low-income individuals relying on supplemental nutrition assistance programs (SNAP), was a major barrier and so it wasn’t so much the technology, but the capability of these new technologies that was intriguing. Also, it was difficult for researchers and market managers to get accurate 'real-time' perceptions from consumers on how they were experiencing the market,” Buman said. “Technology offered unique opportunities to overcome these barriers.”

Buman notes that the hardest part of this project was the difficulty in finding and developing relationships with community partners, but also admitted that this time the process was relatively easy. “We were very fortunate to have willing partners that had real problems we could work together to solve,” he said.

“This award is a true honor for our team. It represents collaboration with community partners at farmers markets around Arizona, and among three programs, two schools and two campuses at ASU.”

Buman believes the project is a testament to the mutual benefit of this type of work to community partners and researchers. “We have found that we can partner together to work on issues where everyone has a crucial role, [where] more can be accomplished and [where] everyone benefits,” Buman said.

Wireless terminals in farmers markets will be a sustained outcome in the future, and Buman and his team plan to publish their results so that other scientists and market managers can benefit from their findings.

Contributed by Shannon Murray