We hear it all the time: Phoenix has no density; Phoenix has no true Downtown core; Phoenix is the king of sprawl and not much more. I’m not writing to argue these points. But, looking back on the 2009, Downtown Phoenix got quite a bit more urbanized — probably more than one can reasonably expect in a year’s time.

You can’t help but be amazed that how successful the METRO light rail transition has been. The ridership numbers in year one completely blew away expectations. A rail culture, fueled by endless promotions, great blogs like RailLife.com and LightRailBlogger.com and a seemingly immediate impact at several intersections (most notably Central and Camelback) has me excited to see that Phoenix has indeed embraced mass transit. Sure, there are still kinks to be worked out, but all those who said it couldn’t work have been proven wrong. I’ve even run into several Downtown Phoenix residents over the past year who have sold their cars since the light rail launch. That’s progress.

Civic Space Park opened in 2009, along with the restoration of the historic A.E. England Building on its grounds. The heart of Downtown Phoenix has needed park space desperately, and this is a true urban park — solar power, gray water redistribution, funky artwork, retail spaces and scheduled entertainment. It helps that the focus on actually getting to the park has leaned toward transit or by foot or bike. The close proximity to ASU’s Downtown Phoenix campus has been a boon, and integration into the First and Third Friday scene was swift and successful. Now if we could only utilize that amphitheater space to its full potential…

We had heard about it for months, and when the Urban Grocery and Wine Bar finally opened its doors, it was a pivotal point in Downtown Phoenix’s history. We’ve yearned, begged and flat-out shouted our need for a grocer south of I-10, and it was beginning to feel as if it would never happen. Now, after a few months of experimentation, the Urban Grocery has a great balance of amazing local produce, food products and wine and beer;  just the right amount of household necessities (all eco-friendly!); and a highly underrated kitchen that churns out some of Downtown’s best lunches. The regularly scheduled wine tastings don’t hurt, either.

And, who can debate that our taste buds had a nice 2009? Tons of great places opened: Nine05, Postino Central, Lola Coffee Uptown and Roosevelt, Hula’s Modern Tiki, Gallo Blanco Café, Local Breeze, PastaBAR, St. Francis and the Turf, as well as others, all opened in ’09 and became instant favorites.

With so much progress in a year (let alone during the big bad recession), it’s encouraging to see what’s happening in our city. Nothing happens overnight. Perhaps there won’t be much difference at this point in 2011. But, great people are doing great things close to us. Let’s encourage it. 2010 has great things in store.

Banner photo by Jason Garcia