With a population more than one million, the city of Phoenix needed creative ways to gather input from citizens. That is why in the early '80s the Phoenix Urban Village concept was formed to give each unique community within the city a chance to speak its mind.
Originally, the city had nine villages. The idea was that because the city was so large, each of the nine villages would act as its own city. They were assigned a Village Planning Committee with a maximum of 21 members appointed by the mayor and City Council representative of the area.
The committee was asked to conduct monthly meetings to discuss development in the area and provide suggestions back to their assigned village planner and the City Council.
The basic principles of the village concept are balancing housing and employment opportunities, concentrating intensity in village cores and promoting the unique character and identity of each village.
"The urban village concept was a way to organize the city because it's such a large city, where you could work and play within that area," said Michelle Dodds, principal planner for the Phoenix Planning and Development Services Department. "For some villages that concept works better than others."
Ahwatukee Foothills Village was not part of the original nine but came a few years later as the population grew and the land was annexed by the city. Today the city has 15 villages, though there are still only nine village planners.
Jacob Zonn, village planner for the Ahwatukee Foothills Village, says the community benefits in two ways from the village concept.
"From a planning perspective you're benefitting because you are creating that town," Zonn said. "You're hoping that people can live, work and play there and reduce automobile usage to downtown Phoenix. From a public participation standpoint, we have a committee at such a micro scale and that's a good thing.
"A committee can make a recommendation to the planning commission and to City Council. Since this is such a big city we can look at a smaller area. We use the Village Planning Committee as sort of a portal to the community as a whole."
Dodds says even though the planning committee is limited in issues it actually can address, the monthly meetings have become a stage for residents to voice their concerns.
City Councilman Sal DiCiccio says the issues the Ahwatukee Foothills Village Planning Committee has addressed have been critical to Ahwatukee.
"I've lived here since 1987 when we had one police officer, no ambulance service and no senior center or parks," DiCiccio said. "The village was critical to getting all the amenities that we have here today. They set up the foundation that created Ahwatukee the way it is now."
DiCiccio says he has often asked the planning committee to help with things like the Easter Parade and Red, White and Boom and the committee has stepped up and helped, even though it's not their area.
DiCiccio says he chooses what he considers to be local community leaders when he makes appointments.
He tries to keep a good mix of opinions and experience levels. He was the first city councilman to appoint high school students to the planning committee.
"These guys are sooner or later going to be running the show," DiCiccio said. "I want them to start learning the ropes. We're all getting older. You've got to start training your youth as soon as possible."
Marjorie Minor, whose husband Gordon has been on the committee for 15 years, said the benefit for them of being a part of the committee is just being aware of what's going on.
"You keep in touch with what's going on it your community and you have a certain amount of influence over how it develops," Minor said.
The Ahwatukee Foothills Village has developed extensively since the '80s. Recently, some village planning meetings have been cancelled because there are not as many development issues the committee needs to address. Still, state Sen. John McComish, who served on the Village Planning Committee as a member and as a chair, says the community can always benefit from having a Village Planning Committee and from attending the meetings.
"There's always changes," McComish said. "We were a little more active when I was on the committee so that was a little more exciting but, in addition to the specific land use issues, there are other presentations and people that will come to the meetings that are not directly involved with land-use planning. There are different presentations for the benefit of the committee as well as the entire community."
The Ahwatukee Village Planning Committee usually meets every fourth Monday at the Pecos Community Center, 17010 S. 48th St. Residents can check the public meeting notices on the city's website for whether or not a meeting will be conducted. The July 25 meeting has been cancelled.
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