There is a remarkable freshman class available each fall through Barrett The Honors College at ASU called “Downtown Phoenix Community Encounters.”

Thanks to the efforts of Jill Johnson (Program Manager) and Doctor Diane Facinelli, students who participate in the course are steeped like tea bags in everything “downtown Phoenix” through a combination of tours and presentations by local historians, business people, city officials, arts community representatives, local community development wizards and urban sustainability advocates.

The goal is to break down any myths and misapprehensions young people who are new to downtown may have about their surroundings, and to give them access to the people on the ground who are transforming our urban core.

Downtown Phoenix Community Encounters class photo by Gabriel King Radley.

The course is divided into six areas, including Downtown Phoenix History; Entrepreneurship & Local Business; Governance, Politics and Activism; Places, Spaces and Adaptive Re-Use; Promoting Arts & Culture; and Sustainable and Vital Living.

Local experts in each area are brought in to meet with students and share their insights about how and why they do what they do and to show the impact they’re having. Students are not only encouraged to get involved, they are introduced to the very people and organizations that can get them started bringing their own passions and skills to bear on making the urban core vibrant.

“Incoming freshmen are sometimes disappointed to find themselves in downtown Phoenix versus the ASU campus in Tempe,” says Jill Johnson, the “connector” who makes the class viable and relevant. “We use ‘Community Encounters’ to dispel their fears, to show them what is happening right outside their student bubble, and to educate them about the wealth of opportunities they have available to them in downtown.”

The value of growing this connection between young ASU students and the downtown community is in reaching a potential new generation of residents who will want to live, work and play in downtown and create sustained vibrancy on our streets.

Jim McPherson, co-author with J. Seth Anderson and Suad Mahmuljin of Downtown Phoenix History, opens the course by sharing the historic context of the city’s evolution. “Students read our book before class,” said McPherson, “and then we take them on a combination bus and walking tour that enables them to see some of the areas featured in the book. We show them how historic places are contributing to the contemporary landscape of the city.”

Click to enlarge flyer

“The purpose of the class is to provide students with variety of entry points for them to become active, engaged urban citizens,” said Johnson. “The students benefit from being exposed to the rich variety of experiences available to them in downtown, and the community benefits from the talent and energy the students can bring to making the best downtown possible. It’s as they say, a ‘win-win’ situation.”

Find out what this years’ students learned and how the class has impacted their perceptions of downtown at ENCOUNTER THIS! Community Encounters Showcase.  At this free public event, groups of students who have worked together will show the community what they’ve learned and share how it has changed their perspective.

If You Go

When: Thursday, December 5, 7:00 pm

Where: A.E. England Building, Civic Space Park

Cost: FREE to public, but reservations are appreciated. Reserve your space now.

Contact:; 602-496-0557.