In the 1960s, Maryvale, Arizona, was a thriving, working-class community. Over the past several decades, the community has struggled with crime and poverty, and its residents have lower levels of education than other areas of Phoenix and in Maricopa County. Mike and Cindy Watts want to restore hope and opportunity.

‘Moving ahead at the speed of trust’

The One Square Mile initiative is a hometown tribute for Mike and Cindy Watts.

Mike and Cindy Watts grew up in Maryvale, a community on the northwest side of Phoenix. Created in the 1950s as Arizona’s first master-planned community, Maryvale was where the couple went to high school in the ’60s, met and dated. Maryvale was home to them then, and part of their hearts have been there ever since — after more than five decades of marriage and a partnership that built one of the Southwest’s most successful businesses, Sunstate Equipment Co., from the ground up.

With this mandate and the Wattses’ gift, the college began applying ASU’s knowledge and resources to create programs to transform communities nationwide. But one program, the One Square Mile Initiative, starts closer to home: Maryvale.

Watts College Dean Jonathan Koppell says One Square Mile is a concept shift for addressing societal challenges, away from interventions in multiple challenge areas — education, health, transportation, employment — to a single geographical area.

  • economic opportunity and housing;
  • awareness of and access to health and social services;
  • safe, affordable, accessible ways to get around;
  • and opportunities for youth engagement.

1. Awareness of and access to health and social services

Supporting community gardens in Cartwright schools

“The Cartwright district had a piece of land that had been vacant — full of tires, just kind of an eyesore. Before we engaged with them they had turned this eyesore into a garden area. Now the district actually uses some of the produce in their food services, and the garden is run by food service staff from the district. They’ve also added garden sites at some of their elementary schools, but they’ve struggled with keeping volunteers to manage those gardens and to improve the main garden.

myPlan App for gender-based violence

“The Office of Gender-based Violence at Watts promotes the myPlan app, which students and people in the community can use to find resources if they are facing dating or relationship violence. The app is a nationwide program, and they wanted partners in an area like Maryvale to figure out how to speak to the community to promote using such an app. We brought together community block watch leaders and women to expose them to this app and talk through their concerns: Would this work for you? What could make it better? They were able to tell us the Spanish translations that were used were not dialectically appropriate for the folks in this focus group.”

2. Safe, affordable, accessible ways to get around

Pedestrian Fatalities Research Working Group

“Dean Koppell met with the Phoenix city manager to discuss some of the challenges in west Phoenix and Maryvale specifically. One of the top issues is pedestrian safety. Phoenix is one of the most dangerous cities in the country for pedestrians, and Maryvale has specific hotspots where a lot of tragic accidents occur. At the same time, we were talking to the community to understand people’s concerns and the challenges of getting to work, to services or even just to shopping. They told us it’s really dangerous to cross these really big streets. There’s a lot of speeding, as well as limitations and questions about public transportation.

3. Opportunities for youth engagement

School and club sports expansion and support

“Through our meetings we identified an unfortunate lack of high expectations for young people. Some of the confidence-building and leadership opportunities young people can get through extracurricular activities and sports were lacking. ASU has the School of Community Resources and Development that trains the parks administrators and the sports administrators of the future, and some of our faculty members jumped right in with the school districts, asking how they could help them problem-solve and raise funds.

  • After one of the traffic meetings, a member of the Estrella SuperMoms Blockwatch group tweeted, “Today a great conversation, #security, high speed cars and accidents on N.75th Ave. Thanks for the interest in the subject!”
  • “To see all of the work that they put in,” one attendee wrote after a meeting about the community garden, “all of the ideas they came up with, even with the barriers and them being unable to be in the garden and in the community (due to COVID), was just amazing. Whenever I see their projects, I just get so excited. These [ASU] students see what we see and what we feel.”
  • Another comment read, “They listened, asked awesome questions, brought up things we didn’t even think about before. And the ideas just make us really excited. To be able to see that it’s achievable with things we already have (we don’t have millions of dollars), you know we could do these things. Those students see that.”

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About ASU Foundation

The foundation, a subsidiary of ASU Enterprise Partners, is a private, nonprofit organization that raises and invests private contributions to Arizona State University. It is one of Arizona’s oldest nonprofits.

ASU Foundation, one of Arizona’s oldest nonprofits, raises and invests private contributions to Arizona State University.