Monday, January 18, 2010

A "River Walk" in the Desert?

This is the first time I have been in Arizona for a couple of years. Since my last visit here, Scottsdale has engineeered a "River Walk" (pictured below) as part of its downtown development plan. I don't know whether the more famous River Walk in San Antonio, Texas was the inspiration, but the Scottsdale River Walk is not especially attractive. In another sense, however, it does make for an interesting analogy with the San Antonio River Walk.

As Rob Glennon notes in his brilliant 2002 book, Water Follies, San Antonio's River Walk (pictured below) is based on a fake - or "Disneyfied" - river that ran dry early in the 20th century. The river has been artificially recreated by pumping increasingly scarce groundwater.

One important difference between the San Antonio River Walk and the Scottsdale River Walk is that the water for the later is not groundwater, but comes from Arizona's allocation of Colorado River water. In fact, the Scottsdale River Walk really should be referred to as a canal walk, more properly analogous to, but still less attractive than, the one in my hometown of Indianapolis (pictured below). To the extent that the development along the canal in Scottsdale shades it from the hot sun, reduced evaporation may be an environmental benefit.

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