Wellington (Duke) Reiter, FAIA, Senior Advisor to the President, ASU; Executive Director, University City Exchange, ASU //
Phoenix is hosting the 2017 National Meeting. What can attendees look forward to?
First of all, thanks for inviting me to offer a few thoughts. We are delighted to be hosting the CEOs for Cities National Meeting and we believe you are coming at a pivotal moment.
Phoenix is a place still very much in a state of becoming, and a living laboratory for experimentation, reinvention, and continuous change. While we will certainly showcase many site-specific projects, we hope also to present a program dedicated to the macro forces that are shaping not only our home but the country as a whole. There is probably no better location for such a dialogue and this is why we intend to frame the event around the idea that “Everything Will Be Different.”
As the newest of the lower 48 states, Arizona—and the Phoenix metro—will be the most youthful site for a CEOs national meeting. And unlike other cities which have an obvious geographic point of origin (almost always related to an ocean, gulf, lake, or river), our history is one based on engineering and technology. From the remarkable channeling of water to form an agrarian society by the earliest inhabitants to the 20th-century technologies that allowed for the inhabitation of the desert at an unprecedented scale, this is a city that has been invented.
What we will share with the attendees are multiple demonstrations of problem solving in a place of extremes (it is 121° at the moment, but will be absolutely perfect at the time of the conference). Sustainability is, of course, a topic we will explore in all its dimensions along with the implications of rapid urbanization, demographic change, education leading to innovation and arts + culture. We believe the issues and opportunities displayed in high relief in the Phoenix context are applicable to other cities around the nation.
How do you foresee higher education further developing and driving city success?
The first of ASU’s New American University design imperatives is: “Leverage Our Place.” This is a declaration that we will embrace our cultural, socioeconomic and physical setting and become fully invested in the community we serve.
Nothing could be a better demonstration of this commitment than the decision to expand the ASU footprint into Downtown Phoenix in 2006. The partnership we enjoy with the city and the citizens who made this possible is unprecedented, resulting in an urban campus featuring some 13,000+ students. Accordingly, we will host a significant portion of the National Meeting program in our downtown facilities and discuss this partnership in greater depth, as we believe it is transferable to other locations. (For those interested in the inception of this project, this link should be quite informative: ASU’s Downtown Phoenix Campus – The First Five Years)
Higher ed institutions drive urban success in an immediate manner, placing students and faculty in settings where they are naturally engaging the city, businesses, and institutions on a regular basis. Less visible may be what a research university such as ASU can bring as a next-level engine for innovation, fueling entrepreneurial behaviors, new governance strategies, essential public services, and expanded cultural opportunities.
In short, I think we all know—and especially at this time—that the fortunes of cities and universities are inextricably linked. The ASU charter commits us to “a fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities we serve.” We each need and benefit from the other, something we look forward to demonstrating in multiple formats when hosting everyone in Phoenix this fall.
In your opinion, what are the Top 3 opportunities facing your city today?
The first opportunity is clearly demographic diversity and expansion. Phoenix used to be characterized as a Midwestern retirement enclave. That is no longer accurate on so many levels. We are, in fact, a very youthful city thanks to the arrival of people ready to contribute to the advancement of this city from around the country and internationally. Phoenix is blessed with an influx of newcomers (we are in the fastest growing county in the nation). Properly embraced, supported, and encouraged to assume leadership positions, they will be an enormous advantage to this region.
It follows logically that the second opportunity must be rethinking education, from pre-K to 20 and beyond. We have a long way to go in this regard, but there are encouraging developments. Education generally is increasingly unconstrained by conventional notions of time, place, age, application, and readiness to advance. ASU is on the leading edge in of innovation at our prep academy, full-immersion campus programs, and through distance learning digital options (our Starbucks partnership is worth noting.) These platforms, physical and electronic, are not mutually exclusive and are, in fact, intertwined.
The third item for Phoenix, as it is for all cities at this time, is housing. I would contend that Phoenix has a special obligation to lead the way, as our economy has been built, to a significant degree, on the housing industry. The standard wood frame, detached model featuring near-total dependence on the automobile led to our being something of a posterchild for suburban sprawl. While that format has rebounded from the losses inflicted by the recession, new urban options are also taking hold even in this market. Rethinking the nature of housing—not only how it is designed and built, but whom it accommodates—has to be seen as an opportunity to do better.
We plan to engage all of the topics above when CEOs comes to Phoenix.
What are two or three projects you are currently working on that you are most excited about?
We tend to operate on multiple scales, so allow me to offer a local, regional, and national example:
On the local scale, I continue to advance a project entitled The Central Idea, a concept I presented to CEOs at the National Meeting in Indianapolis. It builds on the success of the Downtown Phoenix Campus and unites it with the arts district to the north. While it includes the reinvention of Central Avenue, the essential purpose is to inspire new institutional collaborations, new funding models for arts & culture, and new forms of audience engagement. For those interested in these topics, the fall gathering will be a great opportunity to address them.
Thinking regionally, about 40 of us in ASU’s leadership just returned yesterday from a trip to Los Angeles, one of two “mega-cities” in the U.S. In Arizona, it is hard to overstate the impact of being situated in the middle seat between California and Texas. We have decided to address this challenge by aggressively seeking partnering arrangements and joint ventures wherever possible. We have some 12,000 students at ASU from Southern California and we only see that market growing, as the need is there.
Finally, on a national scale, we are very excited about 10 Across, or 10X, a 2400-mile research and media project organized along the US Interstate 10. 10X frames the “emergent” and most rapidly expanding portion of the nation, a uniquely American landscape shaped by 20th century technologies (particularly the automobile), demographic change, and delicate ecosystems profoundly transformed by human intervention. We believe this corridor may provide the most compelling window on the future of the country, one that presents the challenges of the 21st century in the highest relief. As such, it offers a laboratory for understanding the present condition and for the creation of new narratives for the future. We hope to present our findings in the form of a PBS series, among other formats.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by the mutual benefit that can be derived from relationships between cities and their anchor institutions. We have enjoyed an extraordinary set of collaborations which demonstrate this type of potential, and I know we are not alone in this regard. The identification of common interests between municipalities and universities and the tapping of that potential is a constant throughout my work.
What is your advice for the next generation of city change makers?
Assume that higher ed institutions in your city are far more available to engagement with other organizations than you might have previously imagined. There’s been a tendency to believe that educational institutions are aloof, or a world unto themselves. The current generation of students, however, is not satisfied with such a dichotomy. They have the capacity to lead us in new directions through their natural refusal to see the world according to traditional, conventional boundaries. Leverage that enthusiasm.
Could you tell us something about yourself that most of your colleagues don’t know about you?
I spent a decade of my life in New Orleans and worked there on the last World’s Fair to be held in the US, in this case on the banks of the Mississippi River. My graduate thesis at Harvard examined the concept of monuments to the future, and was particularly focused on the well-documented fragility of the city of New Orleans and its levy system. This work is, in fact, the origin of the eventual development of our 10X project.
When Katrina arrived in 2005, I was by then dean of the College of Design at ASU. Within days of the disaster in New Orleans, we were honored to be able to bring the senior class of Tulane School of Architecture to Tempe to continue their studies while their own facilities were closed.
We continue to build on the uncanny relationship between these two regions so deeply impacted by climate change and intensely focused on water—one with too much, the other with a very limited supply.