Scottsdale has always been a city that prides itself on its appearance. Over the years its leaders have ensured that its streets remain free of blight and clutter, in ways ranging from having little tolerance for tall weeds to banning billboards.
And yet those same leaders also encouraged privatesector creativity in architecture and design.
When designers were given the latitude to create something that matched the local attitude seeking rarity and excellence, they responded. Today amid the natural landscape is a human-made one from that period that remains largely unmatched in this Valley.
At some point, however, a broad philosophy that sought to outlaw what looks bad began a transformation into a narrow philosophy providing stricter and stricter definitions of what looks good.
Those building in Scottsdale were once allowed considerable freedom to create something memorable, even defining, because of the surroundings in which their projects would find themselves.
Today, the City Council has remade itself into a conformity commission, demanding minor details in design or use under threat of rejection.
These forces were at work regarding a three-story building at 4020 N. Scottsdale Road that is to be renovated into condominiums, with retail on its ground floor. The council decided to hold its own appeal of the city Development Review Board’s approval of its design, and as the Tribune’s Ari Cohn reported, on Aug. 29 council members demanded earth-tone colors, more similarity to nearby red brick buildings and shaded pedestrian walkways before allowing construction.
Mayor Mary Manross’ remark at that meeting was telling. “It’s something we need to encourage,” Cohn reported her as saying. “We need shade as much as we can in the Sonoran Desert.”
Certainly any Arizona architect who has ever perspired would walk into City Hall apprised of such a fact, and the 4020 Building’s architect probably had reasons for not including covered walkways. If its owner didn’t want them, it’s that owner who has to worry about the building’s appeal to tenants and customers, not the city.
Councilman Bob Littlefield said in Tuesday’s Tribune that he embraced the term applied to the council of late, that they are micromanagers, as something they are supposed to be doing.
No, they’re not. The council’s current actions abandon Scottsdale’s historical posture of allowing innovation while seeking only to keep out generally unacceptable design or use elements.
The city leadership has gone from seeking to eliminate the negative to accentuating an increasingly limited view of the positive.
That is to say, start looking for more earth tones.