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ASU student aims to clean up Phoenix canals

ASU student standing in front of a Phoenix canal
April 20, 2015

ASU student Will Novak has a plan to beautify the 181 miles of canals that run through Phoenix.

The project recently received an ASU Innovation Challenge grant, which awarded him $2,000 from the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies to start his project of cleaning up Phoenix canals.

“It would be nice if they were nice. They should have trees and benches, and places you can sit and relax, and water fountains,” said Novak, who is studying public service and public policy in the School of Public Affairs, part of the College of Public Service and Community Solutions.

The Phoenix native plans to use the grant money by starting with the section of the Grand Canal from Central Avenue to 7th Street. This particular section runs across just a few residential homes and three Valley high schools. Novak hopes to partner with these high schools and have them contribute to his project.

“It would be the easiest thing in the world to go to the art classes and get one foot by one foot tiles and have each student paint something of whatever they want – and then you could affix those to the concrete. So now you’ve got a mosaic of student-produced art along the canals,” Novak said.

He hopes these steps to beautify the Phoenix canals can make them more welcoming to families or young people in the area, comparing his idea to places like Paris, New York and Rome.

“You think of these romantic cityscapes and they’re places you want to kiss someone, or be near someone, or have fun, or walk your children, and we don’t have enough of those spaces,” Novak said.

Novak said it’s hard for people to imagine the potential of the canals now because they are so far from where he wants them to be. However, he hopes that by putting his grant toward this half-mile section he can show people how the canals can be turned into a beautiful and fun space for a relatively low amount of money.

Novak says one of the best things about his project is that he feels he is starting with ASU’s approval. He believes that if people hear that a unit within ASU is backing the beautification, then other companies will jump onboard as well. He still needs to get the approval of the Salt River Project (SRP), the company that manages the canals, before he can start on the actual implementation of his project.

Last September, Novak spearheaded a similar campaign, called the Better Block Project, where he and other local residents added art displays, crosswalks, benches and street signs to help make 1st Street in Phoenix a more walkable environment.

Novak credits his citizen engagement and community building professor Daniel Schugurensky for encouraging students to apply to the ASU Innovation Challenge and for being an excellent mentor. He hopes to have the first new-and-improved canal along the Grand Canal Trail completed in spring 2016.

Written by Kennedy Munter

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