South Phoenix light rail plan focuses on displacement, culture, health

By Christina Estes
Published: Thursday, March 3, 2022 - 10:09am

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Central Avenue in Phoenix, looking south
Heather van Blokland/KJZZ
Central Avenue in Phoenix, looking south.

Residents in south Phoenix have made their expectations clear about what they want — and don’t want — from future light rail development. 

When the South Central light rail extension opens in a couple years, it will run 5 miles from downtown to Baseline Road. While residents along the corridor want to see economic development, they also don’t want to see a repeat of downtown where gentrification has priced out many people. 

City planner Elias Valencia told the city council Wednesday that the community’s vision is loud and clear.

“It rejects displacement and supports equitable transit-oriented development, meaning the south Central residents of today are the residents that will share in the prosperity in the south Central corridor tomorrow,” he said.

The plan divides the corridor into four distinct areas. According to the plan:

The North Area reconnects communities, residents, and businesses, from the tracks (downtown) and across the Rio Salado to improve the quality of life and neighborhood environment for all.

The Rio Salado area celebrates a well-connected, enhanced, and publicly accessible natural resource abundant in gathering places and diverse recreation opportunities for local and regional guests. 

The South Area is a vibrant connected environment that strengthens and prioritizes families, youth, and protecting the most vulnerable populations while inspiring all future generations to live, work, and thrive in place.

The South Mountain area is a community hub for health and recreation investments. The green infrastructure along the canal banks and to South Mountain Park, connects people in affordable housing and mixed income residential neighborhoods to improved health and healthcare jobs.

Resident and artist Sam Gomez worked with young people to come up with ideas. 

“Like south plaza, utilized as a, somewhat like a cultural center for low-riders and just the traditions and the history and the preservation of south Central 10 and we were able to create some renderings on that, as well,” he said.

Francisca Montoya told the city council the south Central corridor has suffered from decades of under investment and is often viewed as having too many challenges.

“But the south central Phoenix is also a beautiful community that has withstood the test of time with optimism, strength and resilience and most important, a very deep sense of pride,” she said. “It is time for the rest of the city of Phoenix to take notice.”

During Wednesday’s council meeting, several residents thanked city staff for reaching out and listening to their concerns and input. 

In 2016, Phoenix received a $2 million federal grant to engage the community and support local businesses along the South Central Avenue planned light rail extension. The result is the South Central Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Community Plan, which the council approved. It will serve as a policy guide for future land use, redevelopment and infrastructure decisions. 

What the plan does:

  • Provide City-Wide policy guidance to encourage transitioning the existing conditions to a more equitable, healthier, economically resilient, and sustainable transit oriented and walkable environment through multi-disciplinary collaboration with internal and external partners.
  • Lay a foundation for future land use and development to rezone to the Walkable Urban Code.
  • Lay a foundation for future transportation and infrastructure investment to prioritize people walking, biking, and using transit.
  • Provide support for future grant/funding opportunities towards achieving the community vision.
  • Provide guidance and support for public and private investments to ensure community benefits are prioritized in alignment with the community’s vision for the future.
  • Provide a tool for all partners to be held accountable as vision advisors through advocating and participating in a diverse array of implementation actions to achieve the community vision.

What the plan does not do:

  • Rezone any property, business, or residence.
  • Purchase any property, business, or residence.
  • Impose any regulatory standards that aren’t already applicable.