Archive for the ‘Conversations’ Category


What You Thought 10 Years Ago.

In January of 2010 I asked If Tucson needed a U of A / Downtown Planning Interface effort with Neighborhoods.  Since then we spent well in excess of  1.5 billion dollars.  It included a $200,000,000.00 street car, 7-10,000 luxury student beds, residential projects valued at $500,000,000.00 and hundreds of millions in commercial starts within a mile radius of Tucson’s core hotbed of development….and still counting. Unfortunately we also have seen losses in traditional family oriented home ownership in the core.  You may be interested in what you said about this ten years ago.  Do you like what you see today?  Are we creating enough opportunities for a robust home ownership bordering the university and within our great historic centers like downtown and the 4th Avenue District?   Here are some thoughts you shared in 2010; paraphrased from memory:

  • Chuck Albanese, Architect and former dean of the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, CALA – Embraces the idea. Would like to see the architectural community involved. It is a good time for discussion
  • Gal Witmer, Architect, Member of WUNA long term university area resident and representative. She supports supports embracing these sensitive issues
  • Robert Vint, Architect, Preservationist and president of Vint Associates – Thinks it is a great idea and a good time for it.
  • Jim Mazzocco, Senior City Planner. Something like this is needed. Nothing specific addresses this issue. The City would have to manage the creation of any new plan for it to functionally work and be administered.  The City of Tucson’s budgets are too impacted to embrace a major effort.


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Screen shot 2014-07-03 at 12.46.50 PMJarrett Walker is an international consultant in public transit planning and policy, including the links between transit and all aspects of community planning and urban structure.  His clients include transit authorities, cities, developers, and non profits – anyone who wants to make better use of public transit as a tool to support resilient communities and social inclusion.  he will be speaking publicly on the 11th of July @ 5PM, 88 E. Broadway ( Unisource Building).  You can download a flyer here:  Jarrett Walker Flier

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How America’s 4th largest city can abandon its addiction to cars – Salon.com.

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Jarrett Walker Coming to TucsonScreen shot 2014-06-30 at 10.39.40 PM

Jarrett Walker, international consultant in public transit planning and policy and author of the highly recommended blog HumanTransit.org (and the 2011 book Human Transit: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives) will speak in Tucson the evening of Friday, July 11.

Tucson Talks Transit: With Jarrett Walker
Friday July 11, 2014
5:00 reception, 6:00 presentation
TEP downtown HQ, 88 East Broadway

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Talk upThe pursuit of happiness is an important right in the declaration of independence.  As it turns out,  there is more to it than just a  phrase in the 1776 document.  Now, that notion is a recognized measurable gauge of community and individual well-being.   How this relates to our pursuit of better process in planning Tucson’s core is the measure of social capital necessary for effective and harmonious  action.   Anita Fonte talks about that in her new book, Talk Up Tucson: An Exploration of Community Happiness and Prosperity,  The book focuses on an internationally known  concept that links levels of happiness and prosperity to our well being.  The book reflects on Anita’s  Tucson experience and the work of her company, Community Renaissance.   Following consulting work with Kimley-Horn and the RTA,  she decided to write.  From talking and meeting with community leaders and people in Tucson’s development world she published comments and conclusions that gauge our social capital in building a more inclusive process thereby, more “happiness” for everyone.   Her book is available at Antigone Books and Mostly Books

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“Imagine Greater Tucson (IGT) released the results of its 2-year study, Looking Forward, A Vision for a Greater Tucson Region.   PlanTucson is winding up its citizen participation phase of the City’s writing of a new General Plan for the coming ten-year period.  I would expect that City staff will be looking at the IGT document as one source of data to consider.  One of IGT’s nine principles is Quality Neighborhoods.   On p. 19, eight values for them are listed.  The three I find most relevant to mid-town, and, therefore, most in need of specific clarification, are…” Ruth Beeker.    CLICK on Imagine Getting Compacted to read the rest of Ruth’s article.   Many believe that the IGT and Plan Tucson are generalized goals.  In the eyes of core neighborhood leaders, the correct vision has to emerge from their impacted communities. Pro Neighborhoods a long time Tucson  community foundation was victim of recent budget cuts.  It’s last funded project is a Neighborhood Symposium Project; presented by Jefferson Park Neighborhood.  It’s panel presentation is set for January 26th, 2013.  The focus is on neighborhoods and a strong voice of direction in their future.  The next planning meeting is on Monday, October 29th, 7pm, at the  International School of Tucson, 1701 E Seneca.

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The August 23rd Overlay Seminar was a rundown of  bullet points outlining 6 overlay topics.   You can download the following power point pdf files by clicking on the titles:  1) Legal limitations 2)  Downtown Links  3) Grant Road  4) Main Gate District  5) Urban Overlay District and  6) Infill Incentive District.  Representatives from Pima County, Marana, Oro Valley and Suarita also summarized their experience with overlays.  Community acceptance to zoning overlays was acknowledged by City Planner, Jim Mazzocco as an area in need of serious work.  He stressed that streamlining the Main Gate Overlay was something he would not want to repeat and pointed to DowntownLINKS as a better model.  The Main Gate District worked for business interests but not local residents.  A poignant moment in the seminar was a partnered presentation by  Neighborhood leader Ruth Beeker and Developer Jim Campbell.  They spoke on the right planning,  failures in the Main Gate Overlay public process, and a need for plans that afford certainty and predictability to residents and developers.  The core of Tucson is under pressure and planning areas targeted for rezoning overlays is necessary whether it is a two year specific overlay district planning process or part of a broader master plan.  Either way, communities need to be deep in a process free of pressure.

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Click here to read:  Neighborhood association ought to back Main Gate project, by Robert Lanning, Architect.   Published by the Daily Star.   Here are some other points to consider:  An edge / transition strategy is necessary.  It is missing.  One way it can happen is with a sub-regional downtown / U of A master plan that outlines what is coming so neighborhoods know what kind of final input they need to be prepared to engage in.  The MGD skirts this.  It is a fast track style re-zoning which is developer driven.  If the project is like the $35 million dollar“Vue on Apache” in Tempe, Neighborhoods might have reservations.  Not only is neighborhood input necessary in driving our best urban planning but to imply neighborhoods can not be part of a plan omits a key part of the picture.  Watching the frustration of developers and neighborhoods year after year speaks for itself.  Many agree that the transition is or should be the stretch of property just east of Euclid, but what does it look like?   Are there plazas, hard-scape, sidewalks, trees and base development of low masses, including some of the fine historic structures creating the idea of being walkable and pedestrian friendly.   A good transition insures this and when you look at historical structures that might be part of this, you have to see beyond the weeds.  Map courtesty of WUNA.

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The Official Website for the Main Gate Overlay District re-zoning   The following are PDF links that can be clicked on and downloaded.  This will cover information about this rezoning that is  helpful for citizens to understand it:

“The City’s Plan”     WUNA’s Plan, a Visual    →   Rezoning Map   →   City Manager’s Letter (Descriptive)  →    Adoption Letter  

For information regarding opposition to the overlay and citizen view-points, please view WUNA’s official website and facebook sites:    westuniversityneighborhood.org,   facebook.com/nowayoverlay.   Send inquiries to WUNA’s official email address for the referendum action:  nowayoverlay@gmail.com

Opinion:  Ordinance # 10968, Main Gate District Optional Urban Overlay excludes substantive citizen involvement.  It was adopted through quick a 90 day re-zoning.  Now, with citizens initiating a referendum petition to overturn the re-zoning, it looks larger in public scope than a re-zoning process can handle.  The re-zoning adopted on February 28th, is described by proponents as a good thing for business as Mayor Rothschild proclaims “Tucson is open for Business”.  It addresses  shortcomings in infill and growth along transit, namely the modern street car route.  The City of Tucson had a comparable alternative that contained real elements of public inclusion and met criteria for density.  Mayor and Council chose staff’s plan that favors the immediate probability of issuing  building permits.  See Campus Acquisitions  In the larger picture, this rezoning action sets a precedent for more overlays done in a manner that continues to limit substantive citizen input.   A citizen based sub-regional master plan would be a clearing and could pave a smoother road for approvals of future overlays.  As Tucson digs out of its recession, more overlays will be coming.   Citizens need input on these.   UUI

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Main Gate Urban Overlay District, UOD; reflections on its February 28th Adoption – See “Sacrifice Zone” for an explanation of UOD’s.

The City of Tucson could have supported another plan put together by WUNA (West University Neighborhood Association) that would have maintained the respect of core neighborhoods and still be a significant plan; apparently, without an immediate anchor like the one adopted.  A dilemma; maybe?  M & C chose the plan that satisfied the most immediate needs of a handful of property owners, developers and one major interest, out of town.  It is in fact a legitimate and seemingly legal choice, but one that City leadership will have to live with now, because it has ignited something beyond just WUNA’s interests.

To make this clear however, the choice to adopt that particular plan was not about design, creativity or density. I wish that was said.  I can’t be sure what the choice was about, but it showed how disregarded citizen input really is.

Clearly,  the underlying problem is an absence of a sub-regional master plan that has core neighborhoods at its heart.  Such a plan could be referenced in the 2013 general plan referendum and could guide UODs and work in the spirit of the UOD enabling ordinance;  preservation through attraction.  At best,  city planners think this is too hard to do, but that kind of certainty is a legitimate part of any esteemed university city that chooses to embrace an integrated quality of life befitting of our University of Arizona and our City of Tucson.  The U of A area plan is very inadequate and the UODs are looking like a ruse to neighborhoods.  WUNA is another slain lamb here.  I am not saying this can’t be fixed, but that damage is done.  So now,  the projects that come out of the MG UOD will get permitted just a little bit quicker.

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Locals protest Main Gate plan, building criteriaArizona Daily Wildcat   

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“The city’s controversial minidorm ruling will almost certainly be settled in court. But the issue reflects a lack of planning on the parts of the city and the University of Arizona to address the growing need for more student housing”  Daily Star –  Read the rest of the article right here

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Tucson residents don’t want to imagine exploding gas prices in a typical sun belt city designed to rely on lots of roads.  That day of reckoning is moving upon us and the message is fewer cars and more sustainability.  These notions might reflect in current trends to provide student housing that will rely on the modern street car and other public transportation.   The University of Arizona recently reached a goal to house freshman students on campus. Now, developers want to tap into the rest of the market for high density sustainable housing projects with one of the first,  looking to be  The District at UA. Not withstanding, the anxiety of homeowners, West University Neighborhood is particularly unhappy with it because its edge relationship with the neighborhood is too abrupt.  That is simply, an omission of planning that the UA and City of Tucson choose to ignore.  Nonetheless, the District still speaks more of an urbanized housing future than popular inefficient alternatives. This is a question about the  balance between an urbanized university and its neighbors.

The market driver is the 30 thousand perennial UA students scattered around a few dozen neighborhoods.  They are a shifting market geared towards much less driving. That begs the question; will the vacuum that this shift creates, be in-filled with better and more stable single family housing around the U of A.   As vehicle-free high density housing projects are built, market pressure will lessen to build vehicle dependent group home style mini-dorms, which lease as fast as they are built right now; to make a point.   They are the antithesis of sustainable student  housing.  Now, as the City of Tucson sees it, group homes are not actually a residential use in its recent zoning determination.  The alternative scenario is more urbanized student housing solutions and re-vitalized single family zones surrounding the U of A.

On a bigger planning level, Tucson’s latest vision project,   Imagine Greater Tucson (IGT), actually introduced a survey of what Tucson citizens want to see happen to the greater Tucson region at the Marriot Hotel on April 7th.  Out of (9) focus areas, the University of Arizona and the subject of Urban Planning were (2) of these.  Our problems are all around us.  Its a matter of identifying and solving them,  unlike Tucson’s past vision exercises.



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On May 22nd West University Neighborhood Association (WUNA) sponsored a public charrette focused along its interface with the University of Arizona.   Bill Mackey of Rob Paulus Architects introduced the forum with a brief historical overview of density comparisons.   WUNA welcomed the suggestion that its transition areas could benefit from creatively placed density increases   It currently has a density  4 to 5 dwellings  per acre compared to our foothills which is 1 unit per acre.  The charrette focus was along the street car route.   Approximately 30 participants split into groups to study the area bordered by Speedway, Park, Euclid and 6th St which is shown in the attached clickable thumbnail. Properties in the area comprise a variety of owners which are candidates for creative re-development and higher density.    Charrette participants discussed pros and cons, ideas, uses, functional issues and transition concerns along existing homes situated at the corner of Speedway and Euclid.  Dean Cervelli of CALA, the College of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, talked about an upcoming  studio focus on interface design and planning issues.  Jane McCollum of the Marshall Foundation provided input on her concerns for the focus area.   WUNA has taken a bold first step to engage in a dialogue that will encourage many other neighborhoods to get on board, deriving ultimate support from the University and the City of Tucson.   WUNA plans to continue its lead in this discussion as  the modern streetcar project develops, which runs through the center of its historical neighborhood.   Many other sensitive neighborhoods stands to gain increased stability and identity as the momentum for re-inventing Tucson’s core continues.  A dynamic interface between Tucson’s urban core, the university  and historical neighborhoods will benefit all of Tucson.   Join the discussion.  Get involved.

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The May 4th Urban University Interface exploratory meeting sparked some ideas worth pursuing.  With the LUC Committee busy completing its LUC revisions and the Downtown Core District Plan, neighborhoods need to look towards their own improvements using similar incentive strategies.  Individuals from West University, Feldmans, Jefferson Park and Blenman-Elm Neighborhoods converged with architects, planners and community members to engage in a conversation about reversing a 3 decade trend of deterioration and dis-investment in key university neighborhood edges and interiors.  Discussions centered around stabilizing key residential edges around the university through incentive strategies paired with similar  strategies to accommodate compact student housing solutions in appropriate areas outside of neighborhoods .  Hopes are to attract faculty, UA employees married students, upper year students and many potential home owners and families back into university neighborhoods.   Below are some discussion tools that were used during the meeting.  CLICK  ON MAP TO ENLARGE

The remainder of the agenda included thoughts about the 2009 UA campus planning strategies and its stated interest in expanded housing opportunities, current neighborhood pressures and the current status of the LUC planning committees work in downtown core revitalization areas.

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The university area community, developers, and planners are invited to an informal meeting at the Ward 6 office, 3202 East 1st Street, on May 4th @ 7:30Pm, large meeting room, to explore the future of neighborhoods surrounding our University and its downtown linkages.   The ward 6 office is just south of Walgreens, east of Country Club on 1st street.  See you there.   This is a privately initiated meeting forum and not a Ward 6 initiative.   People with diverse knowledge of UA neighborhoods and development have been invited to share opinions.  There will some brief  summaries and discussion on the City of Tucson’s  recent downtown initiatives,  neighborhood concern relative to the status of contextual preservation and how the new NPZ ordinance is working or not working,  the University of Arizona’s master plan, edges, and more.  The focus is on an Urban University Interface; stabilizing edges vis-a-vis complimentary private expression of urban form that ultimately enhances preservation of our neighborhoods.  What do you want to see happen?  What are we preserving? What are our options?  How do we get this ball get rolling?   See intent statement.

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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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