Archive for March 12th, 2010

Community-University-Urban Interface

Looking at a new paradigm in Tucson planning


As planning committees kick-start urban growth in troubling times with a variety of quick fix and limited urban overlay initiatives, we have a urgent opportunity to widen our cone of vision to include a urban university interface focus. This broader view can assure the success of  the core development we want.  To make this happen, we need a solid  consensus from the community of neighborhoods, architects, developers, and planners.  It is important for initiatives now in progress to include this urban emphasis around the University/Downtown Interface to maximize  credibility and support.   Yet, a single issue that stands in the way is the perennial reluctance to pursue successful resolution with residents on the preservation of their neighborhoods.   The time is now.  Tucson’s Mayor’s stated in his 2010 public address: “…no economic development project is more important to our City’s future than downtown…” Consider that no economic development can be complete without a successful interface between community, university and urban development.  The intent of this website is to draw a constructive view towards this focus and support work currently underway.

A bold consensus has to emerge  for an urban university interface.  The area defined roughly by the 1989 City of Tucson’s University Area Plan is ready for an overhaul and inclusion of  the adjacent urban core with strong linkages to the University.  Policies and plans need to define a powerful counter-balance at the public side of the UA Campus boundaries.   An Urban expression of housing and commerce is a key component.   Conflict resolution that will derive from a preservation consensus is another.    Timing is crucial.  An Interface strategy along with other key planning documents and strategies need to be embedded within the upcoming Tucson General Plan referendum and part of revitalization.

It is time for a forum of representative stakeholders and community members interested in fostering the right response to these issues; an interest in determining the direction in which all our efforts can be  inclusive of a total core vision and develop solid community support.  Join the conversation.


  • A new drive for urban sustainability challenges a modern market approach towards defining a workable vision inclusive of 20,000 new U of A oriented  housing suites to be built along urban links, edges, and core areas.
  • The 1989 City of Tucson’s University Area is ready for a broad modern overhaul, giving certainty for neighborhoods and developers.  It can’t assist our recent creation of the enabling City of Tucson Neighborhood Preservation Zone (NPZ) Ordinance that is subject to recent state property rights protection. The original NPZ committee had unsuccessfully touched on some of this focus.
  • Preservation can be achieved through attraction using bold modern planning and marketing strategies.  Neighborhoods zones surrounding the University of Arizona campus boundaries are an asset.  A focused consensus and growth strategy can redirect the  blindsided impact of  incompatible internal development over a relatively short period of time.
  • More than a dozen threatened university/downtown area neighborhoods do not have enough assurance for long term survival.   This neighborhood context is worth preserving and can emerge as asset vital to an enduring vision for the adjacent community and the University of Arizona.  The Universities urban and campus boundaries beg for  a bold interface vision which will solidify their edges and draw complimentary residential growth into their interiors.
  • Urban planning initiatives now in progress, intending to positively impact Tucson’s core development has a better chance of success with these gaps filled.


More than just a collection of houses; the neighborhoods surrounding the University of Arizona are a “context” of older homes and historic districts.  They positively impact the University and can do even better.  Chunks of this context are vanishing at an accelerating rate.  Yet, Tucson’s broad voter base that is not strongly attracted to our urban core, still see the University itself is a City treasure and want to visit the campus and its sporting events.   Many would like it to be more than a quick in and out experience centered around sporting events.  Decades of insufficient market accommodation has not fully capitalized on the possibilities that this market potential can offer nearby urban-university core areas.   A vision  for an urban-university interface can not only preserve this context; it can lure visitors from places in and around Tucson.  Within the current planning paradigm, much of our university area residential context has a limited certainty of survival.  This lack of certainty encourages dis-investment in preservation.  The Neighborhood Protection Zone Ordinance (NPZ) was created to help protect this context, but can’t do enough because of property protection laws passed in 2006.  Our best role models are Sam Hughs, Blenman-Elm, and West University neighborhoods.  They either have achieved stability through historical market  attraction or have  pre-prop. 207 protection in place.  One can look to WUNA to see how this stabilization has influenced investment and the look of private moderate scale student housing  at 2nd street and 2nd Avenues.   Achieving this quality in the  unprotected neighborhoods more or less unlikely without powerful market magnets in the right places.

Century old university area single detached family housing districts and historic assets are being dismantled because of this planning vacuum while the need for alternatives and incentives for a bold interface remain unmet.  Incompatible internal infill has been random and unplanned,  while weakening the identity of place that has evolved over 100 years.   Residents and the University alike have mutually treasured this heritage.  A successful vision dealing with this issue is also critical to the University’s optimal Success.   This “place” is what creates context and a quality of living worth preserving.  Market strategies can protect it where regulation is failing.

The Mayor knows this now and has stated an interest in dealing with the issue in a way that also supports identifying growth areas.  Right now, there are few sources of problem free investment for the development community around the University.   In the absence of alternative and strong incentives, developers increasingly take the path of least resistance which is in the heart of neighborhoods where protection is weak.   A real consensus of where and how development should occur is not present.  The NPZ ordinance, in fact, is an example of how regulation  is undermined and not enough.  These challenges can be overshadowed.  It can happen with the support of community stakeholders demanding what it is that they really want to see happen.


  1. What current efforts  address  these issues?
  2. Where do current planning mechanisms fall short?
  3. What  added plan or planning update is needed?
  4. How do we gain maximum public support?
  5. What do these visions mean to the general plan?
  6. How do we gain support from neighborhoods.
  7. What compromises and sacrifices are needed?
  8. How is development directed through market attraction.
  9. How do we form a consensus on preservation.
  10. How do we start while economic reconstruction supports growth?
  11. How do these efforts  supported by the general plan update.
  12. Can are residents, developers and the university satisfied.
  13. How do we do this with exigency in troubling times.

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