The streetscape improvements for Central Avenue in Phoenix were prepared when Craig Kronenberg was Director of Design of Gruen and Associates, a 120-person architecture, engineering, and planning firm in Los Angeles. The design team was engaged by an elite task force comprised of city officials and property owners to create a harmonious streetscape that would improve the appearance of the existing properties through landscaping, new street lighting, and encourage pedestrian traffic on this important thoroughfare.
Central Avenue is the main business street for Phoenix, and the existing conditions presented us with a formidable challenge. The land uses along Central Avenue were predominantly single story retail establishments, many with continuous curb cuts for automobiles and intermittent sidewalks. But it was also the address of the prestigious Heard Museum, and several corporate office buildings. Our initial reconnaissance revealed a bleak landscape devoid of trees, and a hazardous place to walk. But it also revealed an oasis at the Heard Museum district, where a row of stately king palms stood, planted early in this century.
We responded to this design challenge by establishing the following objectives:
- Select a landscape palette that would visually unify the entire stretch of the avenue.
- Create a continuous, shaded pedestrian way that would encourage people to walk along and across the street
To achieve these objectives, we first selected the king palms we found at the Heard Museum as our principal street tree. This created a continuous colonnade of trees for the avenue. Next, we selected the Palo Brea as our shade tree. These elegant trees are native to the desert and very hardy. We planted these trees heavily along stretches of parking lots and vacant properties to create a visual screen, and more sparsely at retail establishments to avoid blocking visibility to the stores. Petite salmon oleander bushes that grow about two feet tall were planted along the curb to provide color and create a separation of the walkways from the brisk traffic along the road. For the paving we incorporated local Arizona red sandstone as an edging and accent material and complimented this with integrally colored buff concrete with saw cut joints that give the walkways the crisp and craftsmanlike look of stone.
The design of the street and pedestrian lights presented us with a special opportunity. The program for the main street lights required that they incorporate seasonal decorations. For the pedestrian lights we expanded upon this and proposed that an art program be incorporated into the lights. We achieved this by designing the fixtures in a contemporary version of the traditional “bishop’s crook” light standard that incorporates circular sculptural medallions into the pole. These medallions have been designed by local and Native American artists and reflect the rich regional culture and environment.
We designed and selected the bus shelters, waste receptacles, and benches to harmonize with the curvilinear forms of the light standards and art medallions.
In addition to these design features, we worked with the governmental agencies having jurisdiction over the project in establishing guidelines for signage, storm water control, as well as egress and ingress for the properties along the avenue.
The streetscape improvements to Central Avenue have been a great success and now form the foreground to the newly completed Phoenix Museum of Art, the new Central Library, and several new businesses.