Planning lessons from Tucson


My wife and I just returned home from an amazing week in gorgeous Tucson, Arizona. Unlike many places visited, it was easy to come up with many more than ten planning lessons from this beautiful desert oasis. While we adore Tucson, it, like most large cities, has some issues to overcome. These are included in the list, as well. The list of planning lessons is provided below in no particular order of importance.

We are eagerly anticipating many more trips to discover the varied panorama and secrets of this magnificent city. Thank you, Tucson for a great visit and a hearty Southwestern welcome. Peace!

  • Residential and commercial developments can be designed and built in a manner which beautifully compliment the surrounding natural environment.
  • The Sonoran Desert is an absolutely stunning ecosystem. Anyone who thinks it’s a wasteland or it’s there to be exploited for mining, is completely off their rocker.
  • You gotta love a city that preserves its historic neon signs. Well done, Tucson! (more on this in a future post)
  • Tucson is and has been an amazing palette for architectural experimentation.

  • Innovation, particularly in the arts is fostered by cities which are situated in a breathtaking visual setting.
  • Freeway overpasses and abutments can be more aesthetically pleasing when they are allowed to be designed with artistic flair and not uber engineered.

  • Detroit is definitely not the only city in the country with clear and sudden boundaries between the haves and the have-nots.
  • Sprawl in the desert is as ugly as any other environment – perhaps worse because it can be so visible.
  • Cities that celebrate and embrace their varied cultural influences are far more interesting than those that do not.
  • Mountains make a stunning backdrop to most any vista, but when combined with the desert, the effect is even more dramatic.
  • Classical architectural styles look really silly and out-of-place in the desert.
  • A major university in Midtown is a substantial blessing to both preserving historic neighborhoods and maintaining quality of life.
  • It’s unfortunate that Tucson lost many of its historic barrios to growth and redevelopment, but unlike other places, the city has learned from those past mistakes to be a leader in historical and architectural preservation.
  • Tucson is proof positive that dark-sky standards can work for large cities too.
  • Similar to previous observations from Boulder, Colorado; cyclists, pedestrians, and hikers were visible everywhere, as was the infrastructure to support both active and passive recreation. It also makes for a healthier community.
  • A great and varied food scene can go a long way towards bridging cultural differences, while also bringing the city positive notoriety and press.
  • Every large city in America needs to have an avant-garde street like Tucson’s eclectic and whimsical N. Fourth Avenue.

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