By Recker McDowell —
Andrea Alley is one of Scottsdale’s next generation of leaders and advocates impacting the city’s path on key issues. Alley first got engaged in Scottsdale politics and community affairs during the 2016 vote on the Desert Discovery Center. Alley, who lives in southern Scottsdale, then got involved in the redevelopment of Papago Plaza. She was also a co-chair of For The Best Scottsdale, the campaign that spearheaded the landslide passage of three city bond questions last year.
“I am much more capable of inspiring change than I ever believe before,” Alley said.
Alley continues to try to encourage other younger residents and entrepreneurs to get involved in Scottsdale’s path forward. We caught up with Alley who talked more about her background, on how to navigate social media, and her hopes for Scottsdale’s present and future.
What first sparked your interest in getting involved in the Scottsdale community and politics? What inspired you, got you going?
In 2016, I began following the DDC story pretty closely. I engaged in conversations about it on social media and wrote a couple of articles, through which I connected with many of the movement’s leaders. Shortly after Prop 420 passed in late 2018, I wrote an article about the redevelopment of Papago Plaza that gained a fair amount of attention, much more than I ever anticipated. I spoke at council for the first time that December, as a supporter of the overall redevelopment but a critic of the multi-family element. I’ll never forget the developer and architect approaching me afterwards, telling me that they looked forward to working with me. I had no idea what that meant at the time – I’m sure they didn’t, either – but it was the beginning of a professional passion I had never once considered in, of all things, politics and development.
Last year I served as co-chair of the city’s bond PAC, which passed the first comprehensive bond package in 19 years. Now, I co-chair Scottsdale 2020, a collaborative effort that helps inform residents on policy, planning, and facts surrounding Scottsdale’s most pressing and controversial issues.
What have you learned about the community since getting involved?
Scottsdale is full of passionate and engaged residents from north to south. Often, those minds clash regarding what is the best course forward for the city, especially in regard to future development and everything it affects. Being a co-chair on the 2019 bond campaign taught me that when reasonable people from all sides of any issue come together, we can make great things happen for everyone in our city.
Where were you born?
I was born in New Jersey, but I always tell people that the only reason I wasn’t born here is because my dad’s job took us temporarily away for a couple years. They owned their house in Sherwood Heights the whole time, and we moved back when I was one. So, I’m basically a native.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced since getting involved?
While finding my footing over the past couple of years, I spent a solid 18 months in research and professional networking. This turned everything I thought I knew on its head – and there was no way to process that and work toward what I believed in without doing so publicly. To say I was horrified how some former allies dealt with this change is an understatement, but people will say anything from behind the safety of a computer screen. What did not change is my deep belief that the people of Scottsdale are smart, well-meaning and have the best of intentions in their views and opinions. The biggest challenge is helping people see a much bigger, and very complicated, picture and that often what they say they want, and what they fight for or against, are diametrically opposed.
What is your best advice for others who haven’t been involved but want to make difference?
Whatever your thing is, jump in with both feet – Scottsdale needs you! Don’t believe the “us vs. them” narrative – it’s not real, nor is it productive. Be ready to be a target of someone, somewhere, about something, at some point. Be yourself. Be kind, and open-minded, but not spineless. Lead with empathy, not ego. And above all, have a collaborative spirit, where no one has to lose in order for you to win.
What is your best advice for navigating social media?
If you remember one thing – and one thing only – about social media, let it be this: there are people out there who will obsessively stalk and screen shot E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G you say.
What is your vision for Scottsdale? What change would like to see?
While we consistently are listed in the top ten, I am on a personal mission for Scottsdale to become known as the number one healthiest city in the country. From our greenbelt, to the priceless McDowell Sonoran Preserve, to our economic vitality, to the abundant sunshine and healthy eating options, the opportunities are boundless. More specifically, not many consider the role that our buildings and community spaces play in our well-being. As things grow and shift into the future, I want to help bring the first Well Certified projects to Scottsdale and help developers and architects find ways to create and re-envision places with human wellness in mind.
As for what I would change, I want to see the “developer” stigma turn around. I hope to help residents understand that the work developers do is not to be feared and shut down, and likewise help developers see the opportunity in collaboration with the communities where they invest. We are a growing city with a lifestyle for everyone – from the young professional in Old Town who doesn’t want a car, to the horse rancher on acres of property in the Cactus Corridor, to the family in our established subdivisions, to the retiree enjoying a day of tennis in Scottsdale Ranch, and more – there is no reason that the way our city is laid out and planned that those things cannot coexist.
What is the best thing about the city?
I have lived here almost all of my 40 years, with the exception of a short stint in Gilbert… no offense to our neighboring town, but after four years I couldn’t’ wait to get back to the excitement of Scottsdale. My husband and I make it a point to keep our tax dollars in Scottsdale, whether we’re enjoying a beer by the lake at PHX Beer Company, tossing barbells at Next Level Performance, buying clothes for our growing kids at Fashion Square, meeting for a business lunch at Volanti, enjoying date night at Fellow, procuring my favorite blueberry CBD at Your CBD Store on 5th Ave, getting our cars maintained at Car Repair Company, working remotely from Sip, having our dogs groomed and cared for at Scottsdale Veterinary Clinic, or enjoying a happy-hour-turned-all-nighter bar crawl in Old Town with our friends… the list goes on. And yet, when we need an escape or a dose of Vitamin N, we can walk to Papago Park or the Greenbelt, and our Preserve is an easy drive up the 101. Scottsdale’s lifestyle diversity from the urban south to the rural north and our close proximity to some of the most beautiful parts of our state are priceless, and this variety of amenities is worth protecting – which means we both preserve our open spaces and low density areas AND create quality – dare I say, disruptive – urban destinations in our urban core.
What is the city’s biggest challenge?
I am a strong believer in community, professional and municipal collaboration in regard to urban planning. Scottsdale has done a great job with this already with the addition of the Area Character Plans to the General Plan, which were necessary to address the varying needs throughout our city as we grow. Heading into the next General Plan update, I hope to see more residents to do their research, whether it’s candidates, issues, or developments in their area. There are influencers and candidates who rely on voters not knowing the answers to these questions, instead relying on soundbites and hysteria to amass a following. Residents should understand the consequences of saying no to things as much as they think they understand the consequences of saying yes. Informed residents build strong communities.
Where were you born?
I was born in New Jersey, but I always tell people that the only reason I wasn’t born here is because my dad’s job took us temporarily away for a couple years. They owned their house in Sherwood Heights the whole time, and we moved back when I was one. So, I’m basically a native 🙂
What are your hobbies and interests outside of your community work and civic engagement?
As a family, we get out hiking and exploring as much as we can. Shooting range followed by craft beer date nights are a favorite of ours. I’m a podcast, personal development, and wellness junkie. I really miss being able to go out dancing with my girlfriends. I’m currently working toward becoming a Well Accredited Professional, which, believe it or not, is fun for me and earlier this year I set out on my own as a freelance marketer, writer, and consultant. You can learn more about what I do at www.aealley.co.