Archive for the ‘Ideas’ Category

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The second of Drachman Institute’s 3-part series of transit-related talks took place Friday, August 15th at the Drachman Center, 44 N. Stone Ave., Tucson.  The event started with definitions of  what TOD (Transit Oriented Development) means and how to support density & diversity.   The streetcar is a start, but sustainability of that success has to be larger network with the right development.  In a related post, Jarrett Walker & Associates calls this economic zone  our network map for high frequency transit routes.  The challenge will be reasons to invest.  Kelly Iitzen talked about demographic survey analysis.  Laura Jensen explained GIS mapping of  base demographic regions, zoning areas, bus routes and an array of other data overlays.   Jacob Bintliff from the San Fransisco Firm,  BAE Urban Economics put it together with recommendations for strategic investment planning. (more…)

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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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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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Transitions and Synergy

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACORE BaNC (Core Barrio and Neighborhood Coalition)  hosted a public forum on the Infill Incentive District Overlay at the Ward 6 office on May 28th.  Adam Smith crafted a great response to a set of questions given before hand.  The IID has only had 10 projects as of May 2013.  Some are enormous and a majority are more inconsequential.  A resonating factor that has neighborhoods wanting to opt their boundaries out of the district focuses on perceived failures in transitioning from large projects to a sensitive neighborhood context.  If there is one factor that will make or break the IID concept, it is these transitions.  (more…)

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Screen shot 2013-05-30 at 9.42.45 AMA 3rd city-neighborhoods meeting at the Community Resource Campus on May 6th, 2013 ended on a low note.  Neighborhood leaders grilled staff with questions intended to bolster their voice in the planning process.   These meetings originated with Pro Neighborhood’s final 2012 funded project; a year-long symposium of process exploration hosted by Jefferson Park NHA.  View their White Paper.    Q@A was directed to staff comprising four topics; neighborhood input, neighborhood support, transparency and new student housing projects.  The sticking point was “neighborhood input”.  Staff sounded stuck in a familiar box and neighborhood leaders wanted ideas.  So, as the inquiry moves forward later in the Summer, the focus will be on how to push staff outside the proverbial box. 

Two more things to think about are Plan Tucson and a new impact fee program.  Plan Tucson is completing it’s public process.  Read chapter 4, planning implementation.  It mandates new specific plan updates of area and neighborhood plans.  The assistant city manager has used the term “village plans”.  These can consolidate neighborhood plans.  Its a good thing only if neighborhood leaders are deep in the process.

Look for a new impact fee program.  Regarding SB1525, the City must re-write their  impact fee program allocation to be more specific to benefit districts with tighter use criteria.  There is a chance that may work for neighborhoods, but it is another process that needs neighborhood advocacy.   A smarter impact fee structure coupled with a proactive investment strategy is another possibility in planning that could deal with transitions in high impact areas between mega dorms and neighborhoods.

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Screen shot 2013-04-11 at 8.10.31 PMPALOLO SOLERI (June 21, 1919 – April 9, 2013).  Now, with only his legacy and futuristic forms in our memory, Paolo Soleri’s contributions will be live on internationally.  His concepts will be  moved forward by new generations of Architects and Planners.   His work is an important force in the shape of future human settlements.  He was known for bold ecological forms and a revolutionary design concept he called Arcology His legacy will be impacting as futuristic minded planners seek the right answers to what sustainable urban habitat is.  27 years ago I attended one of several weekend  seminars at Arcosanti  to further understand arcology.  An account of one of Soleri’s seminars was published in Solar Earth Builder Magazine:  Arcosanti Solar Greenhouse, A Hope for The Future.  

A polar opposite of modern building and planning stereotypes, Arcosanti was known as “philosophy in action”.   It soared beyond a pure philosophical proposalArcosanti and Soleri’s nearby residence compound at Cosanti gave architectural substance to his ideas.  Soleri perfected the notion of sustainability before it was a household buzzword.  He is the Frank Lloyd Wright of sustainable urban form.  His work will guide future studies of habitat in a challenging era of global warming and critical urban design problems.

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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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For Mayor Rothchild’s re-cap on 21 incentives,  view:  Tucson Clarifies Available Incentive Programs | Arizona Builders Exchange.  Also view this pdf list of key planning incentives:  City Business Incentives.  You can also view a little back ground on the UOD scope in The City of Tucson wants to create four areas of development around  streetcar line.

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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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Tucson’s urban university core is full of rich old neighborhoods that are both victims of unplanned growth and advocates for preservation.  The larger picture of preservation is the context that make these neighborhoods an urban refuge for family living environments which is worth preserving.   As student housing demands migrate closer to the university, neighborhoods must make  choices between orderly housing blocks,  located along the right activity corridors or random  unplanned group homes and defacto apartment compounds.  The choice is clear and neighborhood edges with the right underlying zoning can be legitimate candidates for housing density near a major university.  How do we plan this?  One problem that vocal critics of planning like West University Neighborhood, is that there is no enforceable plan to insure a compatible transition to their interior.  The closest document is the U of A area plan which is only suggestive and some infill overlays along the edges which have angered home owners and do not work correctly.  Another problem is no voice of consensus.   Tucson lacks a University Area Housing Body or Commission that would be that voice of reason to influence the right planning decisions.  Developers are frustrated because they feel neighborhoods want to save everything and won’t make choices.  Some developers proliferate controversial “mini-dorms”.  Feldmans Neighborhood  is a case history.  It has essentially lost its north half to this new context of group homes and had an opportunity in 1997 to be an HPZ.   Jefferson Park Neighborhood is also threatened.  West University is protected by its Historic zoning overlay, the HPZ,  which can’t be used in new areas because of prop. 207, but it’s edges are an ongoing issue.   The logical direction is for mayor and council to appoint a specific commission that can make the tough decisions about specific planning omissions,  adopt residential and commercial edge incentive plans, guide a re-write for university area plan and  embed key language and references into the upcoming Tucson General Plan scheduled for public referendum before 2015.


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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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University neighborhoods want edge protection, but urban edges still need the right development, so what gives.  Many recent attempts at UA housing infill along key edges have stalled or pulled out all together for one reason or another.  “The District at UA” is the latest serious attempt at housing infill along a key urban edge.  Its location is the site of the now demolished old YMCA site in the southeast  arterial corner of West University Neighborhood (WUNA).  You can pull up drawings and elevations @ the City of Tucson’s PRO site.   The “District” is a nice looking project, reflective of the Infill district and UA housing needs, but falls in vacuum of necessary guidance to make it work for everyone.  The issue for WUNA is a transition to low density and respect for its interior.  The district plans do not do the job well enough.  The project narrowly skirts WUNA’s  local historic preservation zone (HPZ) and abuts 5 historic homes also outside of the HPZ with five story construction.  Property owners afraid of the project are selling out to avoid it and as a result, the homes will likely be leveled and the issue will just move in closer to the interior of WUNA or  shifting 5 homes to the North @ WUNA’s boundary.   This really points out the need for an edge development strategy.

The District is not a bad project.  It just falls into a planning vacuum.  the closest document we have to give any guidance is the City’s UA Area Plan – pdf download.  It is 22 years old and doesn’t say much about edges, infill, transitions or incentives.  A badly needed update could morph it into an  underlying document to incentive overlays much like the infill district itself, which is also linked in with its own sub overlay proposals for urban development; downtown.  The Infill Incentive district (IID) also impacts The District at UA project, but lacks discussion of an edge strategy.

What frustrates neighborhoods is the inability to regulate out of  the incessant encroachment of bad infill.  Unlike WUNA, most have no HPZ protection making the issue much more threatening to their survival.    2006 property protection laws canceled out any new regulation or new HPZ’s  as a means to expanding protection to neighborhoods that need help.  What could happen is for the City, the UA and the UA neighborhood community to come to grips with the right edge development vision and preservation strategy; basically, a common consensus for the area.  It’s  clear that the UA states in its own master plans that supporting the viability and attraction of its adjacent neighborhoods is key to its own success, so why not?   It’s all part of the big picture.  There just isn’t any action or incentive to help that vision along and the City of Tucson is painfully silent on these issues.  Neighborhoods are desperate to do something.  Consider for instance that UA neighborhood, Jefferson Park (JPNA), over run by mini dorms, is now investing its own resources to force the City of Tucson to simply define what an R-1 use is.  R-1 zoning abuse alone,  is tearing apart a lot of single family residential context around the university.   Like the FNA’s precedent design manual, the  JPNA NPZ design manual may not insure  the kind of protection they want, so they becoming more politically proactive.

Nonetheless, plans like the downtownLINKS, the streetcar plan,  the evolving downtown core district and others do exist and good things will happen as a result.  Its just time to extend our expertise to the issue of edges and transitions impacting many UA residential neighborhood assets that surround the University.   If no comprehensive edge vision occurs at all, these plans can take some of the pressure off neighborhoods by attracting density and infill housing around the 4 mile streetcar route and the downtownLINKS corridor.   Imagine how much greater an impact a community consensus could add.  That it positive attraction.   The University should know this, otherwise they wouldn’t talk about how important surrounding neighborhoods and  developers are to  their master plan.  The UA is also a key factor in this happening, so they need to speak out.  Downtown development has languished since its mid 20th century hey day.  The UA’s expansion plans downtown and support for infill housing development could possibly turn the tide.  Consider just the start of their plans;  a down down arena and  a downtown campus one block from the streetcar line.

As the visionary architect, Jaime Lerner, of Brazil’s City of  Curitiba puts it;  “It’s possible”  It’s possible for Tucson.  It’s possible for neighborhoods.  It’s possible for the U of A.  It’s just possible.

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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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